Autumn in Chelsea: Himalayan Art at the Rubin Museum

Rubin Museum of Art

I am back to my fall teaching schedule at Hofstra University in New York where I teach oboe, recorder and chamber music. I often combine my trip to New York City with food and art explorations. The crisp cooler air is energizing and I am excited to head out to visit art museums and galleries and to discover more of the wonderful ethnic neighborhoods and small restaurants that make New York City so unique.

One clear and sunny Saturday morning I decided to go to Chelsea; an area on the West Side of Manhattan that stretches from 14th street to the upper 20’s; from the Hudson River to the west and to 6th Avenue to the east.

The neighborhood is known as the center of the city’s art world with over 200 art galleries and recently has seen good a good deal of gentrification. When I was a young music student at Juilliard, my boyfriend at the time lived on a block in Chelsea that had seen better days. The windows in his walk up apartment faced a dark courtyard where feral cats fought and the sound of their loud screeching made a caterwaul that reverberated against the walls- very peaceful. One day, two cats engaged in an especially ferocious battle flew through an open window and landed with an unceremonious thud on the floor of the apartment. I’m not sure who was more surprised; the cats or the people!

Walking down a Chelsea street the other day, I passed by glitzy new high rises, trendy art galleries and fancy restaurants.

I had planned to visit The Rubin Museum of Art, which features masterpieces of Himalayan art. I arrived before the museum opened and decided to visit Chelsea Market, just a few blocks away.

Chelsea Market is housed in an enormous old factory that once was the National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. Built in 1913, the building stretches from 9th to 10th Avenue and fills up a whole city block.

Vendor stalls were selling everything from falafels, sushi, dumplings, noodles, Tai food, etc. Side by side with upscale stores and outposts were of some of the best NYC bakeries. The maze of hallways was somewhat overwhelming with sensory overload. In a small dose it was exhilarating; an atmosphere supercharged with energy and extravagant Halloween decorations.

Walking slowly through the labyrinth of hallways, I enjoyed looking at colorful and vibrant works of art displayed on the walls.

I saw one of my favorite all time bakeries, Amy’s Bread, which makes some of the most delicious bread in the city. At this point, I was just browsing and admiring.

And then I succumbed to temptation; ahead of me was an outpost of the famous bakery/restaurant Sarabeth’s. According to her website, Sarabeth Levine first began her business in 1981 making her family’s unique 200-year-old recipe for Orange Apricot Marmalade at her apartment in New York City.

Manhattan’s Chelsea Market Sarabeth location operates a 15,000 square foot jam manufacturing facility and a 4400 square foot wholesale bakery, café, and retail shop. It was great fun to walk through the bakery. It is setup so that the first thing one sees is the manufacturing facility. I joined in with the tourists and watched the bakers making croissants and English muffins!

Everything in the bakery looked delicious; I chose a pumpkin muffin to savor on my trip home and I was delighted to see a homey pig ceramic figure above the counter.

It reminded me of my own antique 3 little pigs that grace my kitchen window sill.

I headed back to the museum and after the frenetic energy of the Chelsea Market, entering the peaceful and serene atmosphere of the Rubin felt like a calming balm. Himalayan art is featured; including the cultures of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan as well as the interrelated traditions of India, Mongolia and China. The artwork in the exhibitions depict figures and symbols where sacred images play a prominent role.

The museum was founded by art lovers Shelley and Donald Rubin in 2004 and is the site of the former store, Barney’s-a bastion of New York fashion and celebrity.

There was s0 much to take in, with six floors of art and exhibits. I concentrated on a few masterpieces that were rich with depth and complexity.

“Wheel of Existence”- The Rubin Museum of Art

Rubin Museum of Art

And then it was time to savor the pumpkin muffin that I had purchased from Sarabeth’s for the two hour drive home. I bit into the top of the muffin strewn with toasted walnuts and a light crunchy glaze. The texture of the muffin was light but moist, not too sweet and with hints of nutmeg and ginger; pure perfection!

The cooler days have also put me in the mood for cooking with long simmered dishes that fill the house with enticing aromas. I have made countless stews, braises and soups in my heavy blue La Creuset cast iron enamel pot. I like to think that the pot has absorbed it’s own particular character with the many flavors of food cooked in it, but it was starting to exhibit wear and tear, with a stained scratched cooking surface. One day while perusing an online sale from Sur la table, I decided to treat myself to a new bright red La Creuset pot; a tad larger and all the better to make larger amounts of recipes for our guests! For the first dish that I cooked in the pot, I decided on a chicken stew made with red wine, shallot, onion, mushroom, red pepper, thyme, basil, oregano and plenty of garlic. Served over whole wheat rotini, accompanied by sauteed broccoli rabe, freshly grated pecorino cheese and more red wine, it was wonderful first act for my new pot!

Fall Chicken Stew

Ingredients:

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 cup red wine

1- 28 ounce can crushed organic tomatoes

4 shallots finely diced

1 medium onion finely diced

1 large red pepper cuts into thin strips

5-6 button mushrooms cut into quarters

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To Make Chicken Stew:

In a large heavy cast iron pot, heat olive oil.

Add boneless chicken thighs to pot, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and brown well on each side.

Add chopped onions and chopped shallots; saute until translucent and slightly softened. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes.

Add dried oregano, thyme and basil.

Add sliced red peppers and chopped mushrooms cook about 3-4 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes and about 1 cup water. You can always add more water later if the mixture is too dry.

Add red wine and bring mixture to a boil.

Cover pot and reduce to a simmer.

Cook over low heat for about 1 hour until chicken is very tender and vegetables are soft.

Adjust seasoning as desired.

ENJOY!

AND: As always, here is the “Tree of the Week.”

“Feeling a little nervous “

HAPPY AUTUMN!

Cornmeal Peach Cake and Joe-Pye Weed at Steeple Top!

Steeple Top Reserve- New Marlborough, MA

I have been enjoying collecting my notes for the next Iceland Post; Part 4: Foodie Heaven. I got waylaid this week by the lusciously sweet fragrant peaches that have appeared in our local farmers markets and also by August sightings of Joe-Pye Weed. Foodie Heaven will return shortly!

The weather finally broke and it was possible to walk again without feeling the oppressive heat and humidity weighing down on me. My husband Paul had gone out for an early morning hike with a friend (not an early riser here!) I made an executive decision that there was to be no practicing this day; I headed out for the Steeple Top Reserve in New Marlborough, MA. We often went there during the pandemic because there were usually few people. I was in the mood for quiet contemplation and to be completely alone. So, it was just me for the entire 2 mile loop, although I wasn’t really alone; I was accompanied by many bugs and the mosquitos also had a lovely time!

The Steeple Top trail winds through woods down a small hill to a marsh area with many species of birds, cat tails, tall grasses and wildflowers. It was a bright clear day with gentle breezes.

I stood on a small wooden walkway over the marsh and the air washed over me. I noticed one of my favorite wildflowers; dusky mauve colored Joe-Pye Weed. The plant is named after a New England man who used the plant medicinally to help with Typhus.

Joe-Pye Weed

Here is a backstory: Joe-Pye Weed always reminds me of going to visit colleges with my daughter and mother in Ohio. We were driving down a small two lane highway near Oberlin, when my mother said loudly from the back seat of the car,” Yo, Joe-Pye!” In her excitement, the words spilled out of her mouth and we had a collective giggle. Now, whenever my husband and I see our first Joe-Pye Weed in mid August, we happily call out, “Yo! Joe-Pye!”

As I continued on my walk through Steeple Top, I came upon several clusters of Joe-Pye; a butterfly with intricate patterns and bright colors perched on the top of a flower.

I stood mesmerized by the scene and I was able to take pictures to my heart’s content, but staying still also allowed the mosquitoes to continue their feast on me, so I moved on……

Steeple Top Preserve

The peaches have been wonderful this summer; juicy, fragrant and full of sweet flavor. I have bought way too many several times and tried to think of a use for the surplus peaches that were almost overripe. I love cobblers of all kinds and was thinking about a cake that was not very sweet but with a cobbler like topping. I used the same basic cake batter for my Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumb Teacake and added cornmeal to the dry ingredients. I cut up the peaches full of juice and added a good quantity of instant tapioca. This made a great chewy topping that reminded me of boba (tapioca pearls) used for bubble tea. I used no sugar in the peach mixture, the peaches were already sweet enough, but made a quick syrup to pour over the the fruit before baking. I mixed some cinnamon with a few tablespoons of honey and put it in the microwave briefly. I drizzled this over the peaches and sprinkled on just a bit more cinnamon. Baked until the peaches were bubbly, this turned out to be irresistible. It is great for breakfast or fancied up with vanilla ice cream or whipped coconut cream for dessert. I hope you enjoy this cake!

Cornmeal Peach Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup fine cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

1/2 cup soy or almond milk

Topping:

3-4 very ripe peaches peeled and thinly sliced *

1/4 cup instant tapioca

Glaze:

1 heaping tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F.

To make cake batter:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Add egg, vanilla, canola oil, soy or almond milk and mix together just until the batter is smooth.

Make glaze:

Mix together honey and cinnamon. Microwave until mixture melts.

Assemble Cake:

Lightly butter a square baking pan. Pour in batter and spread evenly over pan.

Pour peach mixture over top of batter.

Pour honey glaze over top of fruit.

Bake in middle of oven until fruit is bubbling and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

* To peel peaches, bring a pot of water to boil. Add peaches and let sit a minute or two in the water and then remove. The peels will slip off easily!

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“Feeling a little bleh”!

Cardinal Flower- Thousand Acre Swamp New Marlborough, MA

HAPPY SUMMER AND STAY COOL!

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

Thompson Finch Farm- Ancramdale, New York

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

Thompson Finch Farm- Ancramdale, New York

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumble Tea Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup soy or almond milk

1/2 cup thinly sliced apple

1/2 cup thinly sliced strawberries

Crumb Topping:

1/4 cup oats

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

1/4 cup toasted pecans

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder

1/4 cup coconut sugar

pinch salt

1/4 cup kefir

Make Crumble:

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

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

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

To make cake batter:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Add egg, vanilla, canola oil, soy or almond milk and mix together just until the batter is smooth. Add fruit and stir to combine.

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

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

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“Is He Really Running Again??”

Devil’s Paint Brush- Bryant Homestead Cummington, MA

HAPPY SUMMER!

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!!

Ukrainian/Russian Roots

From: The Dansker Family Memories by my grandfather Sam Dansker

It is always terrible and disturbing to hear news about war torn countries. Learning about the horrific invasion of Ukraine brought up intense feelings of outrage and disbelief. I realized that this was especially difficult because these are my roots. This morning I received an email with an urgent update from the the World Union for Progressive Judaism from a rabbi that is presently in Kyiv.

My father’s family is from Russia; I have heard stories my whole life and this is what I know: the family was very poor, my grandfather had 9 siblings; they all made it to America except one child who died at the age of 3. They were devout orthodox Jews and were constantly under the threat of attack by Russian Cossacks, they were able to leave in 1914.

From The Dansker Family Memories

This week, I reread a memoir that a cousin helped my grandfather Sam put together in the 1980’s and this is what I have discovered: I knew that both of grandparents were born in Russia, but I never knew from what part of the country. Grandpa Sam was born in a small town in Ukraine called Bazalya, not far from Kyiv. I learned that in the 1900’s, Volhynia Province in Ukraine was part of the former Russian Empire that included Lithuanina and Poland. I learned that my great grandfather played the fiddle and that in addition to Russian, they spoke Yiddish. Between 1910 and 1914 all Jews were expelled from their villages; my grandfather was 13 at the time. They were lucky to have family in St Louis and passage was bought for their harrowing trip to America.

Cleaning out my vegetable bin, I was trying to decide what to toss out and place in our compost bin. In the back of the vegetable drawer was a sad bag of red beets with the greens rotted and an old ignored head of cabbage with the core starting to mold. I thought about our family before they left Russia and how food insecure they were; I didn’t want to waste any food. It was easy to wash away the old leaves and I decided a hearty Ukrainian Borscht would be the thing to cook!

It was interesting to me that this week the NYT Cooking Column said they were getting a lot of requests for Borsht recipes. Sam Sifton said in his article: “The letters are a reminder that cooking is a cultural act: a way to feel connected, to support, to acknowledge the world and perhaps to understand it better.” NYT Cooking

I listened to Bach Cantatas as I chopped up the vegetables; making the soup was deeply soothing and seemed to be best way to channel my thoughts and prayers for the Ukrainian people.

Ukranian Borscht

Ingredients:

1 stalk celery chopped

1 medium onion chopped

3 or 4 red beets- peeled and cut into small cubes. The beets are easier to peel if you cook them in a pot of water for about 20 minutes. Save the liquid they were cooked in and use in the soup pot. Make sure to wear an apron, this is a messy job!!

3 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped

2 red potatoes cut into small pieces

1/2 head cabbage cut into thin slices

2 carrots peeled and cut into small pieces

2 bay leaves

Serve with chopped fresh dill and sour cream

1/2 small can diced tomato

honey to taste

1-2 tablespoons white vinegar to taste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Serve with chopped fresh dill and sour cream– I used plain yogurt.

To Make Borscht:

Heat a large soup pot and add olive oil. Saute onions until soft, add garlic and cook briefly.

Add all other vegetables and other ingredients.

Cover ingredients with water, chicken or beef stock (use enough water or stock to come up almost to the top of the pot.)

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and cook for about 2 hours.

Adjust seasonings.- add more vinegar or honey to taste. The soup is best if it sits for a day before eating to let the flavors meld together.

Serve with plenty of chopped fresh dill and a big dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

The soup is wonderful with fresh buttered rye bread!

ENJOY!!

My grandma Bella made a strudel that I have never seen elsewhere in Europe; Austria, Germany, Hungary or the Czech Republic. The pastry was not flaky, but more like a pliable soft dough that would be used for Rugelach. The dough was rolled out thin and I remember that it was filled with chopped dried fruit, raisins, walnuts and it was dusted with cinnamon sugar. I regret that I never made strudel with her. I went on a google search and found a Russian style mixed/dried fruit strudel. It sounds very similar and this will be my next baking experiment. Stay tuned!!

AND, as always, here is the “Tree of the Week”! I imagine that the caption is being read by a strong Ukrainian woman!

“Don’t Even Think of It!!”

Stay Safe and Warm!!

Autumn at the Drury Preserve

White Bean & Escarole Soup with Orzo

This past fall came and went quickly, with a whirlwind of events and now we will soon finally be seeing the last of T….! In the midst of all of the commotion and noise, we discovered yet another place of great beauty and tranquility where we can decompress and catch our breath; the Drury Preserve in nearby Sheffield, Massachusetts.

The Nature Conservancy opened the preserve in 1997 and it consists of a gentle three mile loop that traverses through marshland, woods and a bucolic pond with views of Mount Race.

Returning several times in October and November, I was drawn into the gradual transition from the beginning to the end of fall. Each time I visited, I felt my breath slowing down as I observed the subtle changes occurring around me. The combination of the light reflecting on the water and the delicate leaves made me think of Japanese prints.

One chilly November morning, I pre-soaked a few cups of white beans and we set out on a walk to the Drury Preserve. When we returned home, I drained and rinsed the beans and in large heavy pot, sauteed an onion, added the beans, a sprig of rosemary, diced carrot and celery, a small can of diced tomatoes, bay leaf and dried thyme. In the back of my cheese drawer, I found an old parmesan cheese rind from DiPalo’s in NYC. This adds another layer of flavor and depth to the soup! I covered everything with cold water, brought the liquid to a boil and then reduced the heat to a slow simmer for a few hours until the beans started to soften. I added a head of ecscarole torn into small pieces, mashed a few beans with a wooden spoon, added salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and cooked the beans about an hour more until the mixture was creamy and a bit thickened. If you have orzo or pasta on hand, you can cook this up and add it to the soup before you plan to eat it. I served the soup with freshly ground pepper and grated pecorino romano cheese on top. The two sharp flavors reminded me of the simple but delicious Italian dish, Cacio-e-pepe; basically pecorino cheese and black pepper on pasta! I will plan on making this dish soon!

Wistfully, I thought about how much I miss going to DiPalo’s in Little Italy; people watching and listening to conversations about what the other customers were planning to buy and cook and best of all, getting free tastes of delicious cheese from the generous owners Lou and Sal DiPalo. Once when I handed over my credit card, Lou DiPalo looked down at the name and proudly announced, “We’ve got a DePaolo here”! When the pandemic is over, I made a pledge to myself to never complain about waiting in a long line to be served!

White Bean and Escarole Soup with Orzo

Ingredients:

2 cups dried white beans

1 medium sized onion finely chopped

1 carrot diced

1 stalk celery diced

1/2 small can diced tomatoes

1 head escarole torn into small pieces

piece of parmesan rind

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

freshly ground pepper

salt* see note

grated pecorino romano cheese

To Make Soup:

Soak beans- either overnight or using the quick soak method.

Overnight- cover beans with cold water.

Quick Soak- cover beans with cold water, bring to a boil and then turn off heat. Cover and let sit for a few hours.

Drain and rinse beans.

Add beans and other ingredients, except escarole, salt and orzo to a large pot and cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer Cook for a few hours until beans start to soften. Mash a bit of the beans with a wooden spoon to thicken the soup.

Add Escarole and cook at a simmer covered until beans are completely broken down and the soup has a thick velvety texture.

Cook a cup or so of orzo according to the directions on the package. Drain and add to the soup.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To Serve:

Pass around grated grated pecorino romano cheese

Add freshly ground pepper

Note: It is best to add salt after the soup is almost finished. The beans will toughen if salt is added to early in the cooking process.

ENJOY!!

AND- here is my Tree of the Week!

“If you keep lying, see what happens??”

Please stay safe and warm!!

Hemlock Heaven at Bear Swamp!

Easy One Bowl Vegan Peanut Cookies

Thanksgiving weekend: Saturday was a cloudy chilly day with intermittent rain showers and the grey sky was spitting snowflakes. In the afternoon it suddenly cleared and a bit of serendipity occurred. We were headed for the Bear Swamp Trail in Ashfield, MA. After taking a few wrong turns, ahead of us was a back entrance for the trail with only one other car parked in the lot!

As we entered the woods, the sun was shining and we were enveloped by a canopy of lush verdant hemlocks. Some were towering and majestic and hundreds of smaller baby hemlocks lined both sides of the trail, so many, that it appeared to be a groundcover.

We thought that the nursery of tiny trees were seedlings, but a local forester from Northwest, CT explained to us that they were most likely sucker plants originating from a larger tree. It made me wonder what conditions cause certain species to thrive; rich soil, access to a good water source? We also often see unusual and beautiful fungi that thrive on old trees and moss. On the other hand, what conditions and events cause despots to thrive and control masses of people? What allows deadly viruses to run rampant?

I will leave this for the historians and scientists to ponder. For the moment, it was time for me to thrive in my kitchen with my wonderful new oven and try to recreate the vegan peanut butter cookies that I am addicted to from the Woodstar Cafe in Northhampton, MA! From the cafe’s website menu, I knew that the ingredients included almond flour, ground flaxseed, crunchy peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla and baking powder. I had no idea of the amounts, so I took a chance and guessed. The great news is that the result was really delicious -not quite a chewy as Woodstar’s – lighter and not so sweet, and maybe this is not good; just as addictive! I discovered that a few pieces of Lily’s Stevia Sweetened Chocolate eaten with one of the cookies, tasted like a healthy version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup! AND, they are very easy to make!

EASY One Bowl Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

Pre-heat oven to 350

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper

Ingredients:

1 cup crunchy peanut butter* see note

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1 teaspoon baking powder

To make cookies:

In a medium sized bowl, mix together peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla. Combine well with a large spoon.

Add almond flour, ground flax seed and baking powder. Mix well, the batter will be stiff, but not dry.

Form batter into small balls- I made 15, but you could make fewer larger cookies.

Press gently with a fork to make a criss cross pattern.

Bake in middle of oven for about 1o minutes until the bottoms of the cookies are light brown- the cookies will still feel quite soft.

Note* I used peanut butter that was salted. If you use an unsalted brand, add about 1/2 teaspoon salt to the batter.

Let cool and Enjoy!

For those new to my blog, I need to explain that I am a bit obsessed with trees and I love to anthromorphize them! Here is my “Tree of the Week”!

“Is it safe to come out yet? Is he really going away??”

Please stay safe!!

A Well Seasoned Wok!

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts

The other day, after dropping off some soup for a friend that is recovering from an illness, we were looking for a short walk and decided to head towards the Wethersfield Estate and Gardens in Amenia, New York. We knew that the gardens were probably closed for the season, but the area around the estate is beautiful. We parked our car at the beginning of Pugsley Road, close to the entrance to the gardens and were treated to expansive views of the surrounding hills and farmland. With all of the leaves down, the sky is open and the patterns of the bare branches are intricate and mesmerizing. I love observing the subtle combination of browns and tans with the contrast of purple and red berries.

It was a brisk and windy day-after we returned home we treated ourselves to hot chocolate made with unsweetened almond milk, cocoa powder, a few chunks of dark chocolate and a pinch of monk fruit sweetener. Paul made steamed almond milk to go on top with a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg.

For dinner that evening, I took out my trusty and very well seasoned wok; checked available ingredients and decided to make Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts.

Many years ago, I took a Szechuan Chinese cooking class at the New School in New York City. I still use not only the same wok that I bought in Chinatown, but also many of the cooking techniques taught by a wonderful instructor, Norman Weinstein. I had no idea at the time that Norman would become one of the most beloved cooking instructors and knife sharpening and technique experts in the city! After each class, we would gather around a big table to share the food that we had learned about and prepared. Paul and I had recently started living together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He very sweetly offered to accompany me home and would arrive to each class with impeccable timing just as the food was set out!

I recently read about a technique called “velveting” chicken, pork or seafood that creates a soft tender texture. This works! I thinly sliced 2 boneless chicken breasts and marinated them briefly with tamari, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar and a few drops of hot sesame chili oil. I made a slurry with some cornstarch and water and mixed it with the chicken mixture. I gathered together the rest of my ingredients; finely chopped ginger and garlic, broccoli that was steamed and cooled in an ice bath, cooked and drained soba noodles and the final sauce of more tamari, brown rice vinegar, chili oil and sesame oil. The French call this mise en place. Once you actually start to cook the dish, all goes quickly!

One of the most important tips that I remember is how to heat the wok before starting to cook. Over a high heat, place the wok and heat until it starts to smoke. After this, add a small amount of canola or peanut oil and heat that until it starts to almost smoke; now you are ready! Add the chopped ginger and garlic and cook it stirring with 2 wide spatulas in a circular motion for a few seconds- it’s important to keep everything moving so it does not burn. Then add the chicken and marinade mixture and continue to cook the same way until the chicken is cooked through. Add the broccoli, stir well for a minute or so and then add the soba noodles, peanuts; stir briefly and add the final sauce along the edges of the wok. Adding the sauce this way utilizes the heat of the wok to bring out the best flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli, and Peanuts

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts thinly sliced (the chicken was still a bit frozen and this made it easier to slice thinly)

1 medium broccoli crown- steamed until crisp tender. Remove from heat and quickly rinse with very cold water or place in an ice bath. This will retain the bright green color and texture.

1 package soba noodles- cooked and drained.

1/2 cup (or more to taste) roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

Marinade:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hot chili oil (or more to taste)

Cornstarch slurry:

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with water to make a smooth paste

Sauce:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon (or to taste) hot chili oil

To prepare:

Heat wok as described above

Add oil bring back to high heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook briefly.

Add chicken and cook until done. You can cut a small piece with your spatula to check if the inside is not pink and it slices easily.

Add broccoli and stir briefly.

Add soba noodles and peanuts and stir together for about a minute.

Add sauce alongside the wok and stir all together briefly.

Enjoy!!

The good news is that as I am writing this blog, our new stove is being installed. I will now have an oven!! The kind technicians are masked safely up and the windows are all open for maximum air circulation. I can think ahead for plans for our small Thanksgiving feast this year!

Here is the menu plan so far: A Turkey Breast Roulade based on a NY Times recipe by Ina Garten, (but mine will also have a sour dough bread stuffing with shallots, pecans and mushrooms), braised greens, steamed cauliflower with lemon, garlic, olive oil and capers, and a nod to past Italian American Thanksgiving feasts; Broken Oven Zucchini Lasagna, that I wrote about in a recent blog! Dessert will be a sugar free Apple Pie. We will look forward to ZOOM meetings with our daughter and her partner Katie’s family and with Paul’s brother. And, as some people are suggesting, maybe next summer we can all meet together and hug as much as we want!!

Here is my “Tree of the Week”

“Oh my”- maybe this week he will finally go away!!”

Happy Thanksgiving- please stay safe!

Apple Valley Overlook

Spicy Shrimp with Roasted Green Beans

The day after we tried to visit the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail, we made another attempt, but still no luck! The parking area was even more crowded and there were way too many people. So, continuing our “going with the flow” theme, we ended up taking a beautiful walk at the Apple Valley Overlook in nearby Ashfield, Massachusetts. The day was cold and so clear that we could see the mountains of Vermont in the distance! This was a few weeks before the election and as we walked we discussed possible outcomes, never imagining the challenges to our democracy that would occur after Biden became President elect!

Even though it was cold and quite windy, I was inspired to play a (chilly) improvisation on my recorder, although this might be the last one until spring!

Before heading home, we made one last quick visit to the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts- the woods were getting ready to be tucked in for the winter!


We first discovered the site this past summer totally by accident. A copy of the New Yorker magazine was almost about to join an anonymous pile of books and other old magazines. Luckily, Paul picked up the May 25th issue and read about a writer named Alan Weisman who has taken refuge at his rural Massachusetts home during the pandemic. He is the author of the 2007 best seller, “The World Without Us”. In the book, all life on earth has vanished, a bit too apropos for our time! In the article, Weisman shows the interviewer the lovely wooded trails on the Bryant Homestead property. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead has become a special place for us and we have made many return trips.

We had just gotten back into the car when a bald eagle flew overhead, so close that we could see the eagle’s beak; it hovered over us for a few seconds, swaying gently back and forth on a current of air with it’s enormous wing spread. I felt an immediate sense of calm and resoluteness; perhaps this was a sign that all will be well with our democracy!

When we got home, I did a quick search in the refrigerator and found a red onion, a few shrimp, a handful of green beans and a bit of feta cheese. I marinated the shrimp for a bit with a few cloves of garlic minced with a tablespoon of salt, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and smoked Spanish paprika. In a small oval shaped cast iron pan I caramelized the red onion. I heated the broiler to high, added the green beans (which I had steamed), placed the shrimp and the marinade on top and broiled the mixture until the shrimp and green beans were crisp and lightly charred. I added a bit of feta and broiled it until the feta was bubbly and browned on top. Served with crusty bread or brown rice; or better yet both, this will help to fortify us for the next coming weeks!

Spicy Shrimp

AND, here is the tree of the week!

Title: “What are we gonna do now??”

Please stay safe!!

A Song of Joy!

Election Day Lentil Soup

What a week this has been; awaiting election news, hoping for the best and dreading possible outcomes!

My best coping strategy was to take long solo walks on Kelsey Road in Sheffield, Massachusetts. It is surrounded by mountains on one side and a protected nature preserve with wetlands on the other. On Election day, I tried to create a “news blackout” policy and after teaching my online students, headed out to Kelsey Road in the late afternoon. I found myself drawn into closely into the idyllic beauty encompassing me. It was deeply calming.

After a mostly sleepless night, the day after the election was a challenge. I was thankful to have the distraction of my online students and in the late afternoon headed out to Kelsey Road again. I noticed that the tamarack trees were just changing color and in the late afternoon light, they seemed to take on a golden glow.

I walked briskly for about three miles; forgetting the shorter amount of daylight, and on my return, was treated to a beautiful sunset.

After this, it was time for some serious comfort food! Earlier in the day, between students, I started a big pot of Lentil Soup; with carrots, onions, celery, diced tomatoes, kale, bay leaf, coriander, cayenne, cumin and chicken chorizo sausage. When I arrived back home, I heated up the soup, removed the bay leaf and with an immersion blender pureed a bit of the soup to make a creamy texture. Served with toasts made from an old loaf of multi-grain bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, it was the perfect antidote! I hope you enjoy this recipe!

“Election Day Lentil Soup”

Ingredients:

2 cups dried lentils-rinsed and picked over

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 large carrot finely chopped

1 stalk celery finely chopped

6 large pieces kale, stems removed and torn into small pieces

1 small can diced tomatoes

2 chicken chorizo sausages, cut into small pieces

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried coriander

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper- more if desired

salt and pepper to taste

To Make Soup:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot.

Saute onions until they soften slightly.

Add spices and cook a few minutes more.

Add vegetables and lentils

Cover with water, about 2 inches over the vegetables and lentils.

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Cover pot and cook about 1 1/2 hours until vegetables and lentils are very soft.

If you would like soup to be thicker uncover pot and cook a bit more until soup thickens.

At this point you can let the soup sit on the stove for a few hours to let the flavors meld- this is where the walk comes in!

To serve: bring soup back to a simmer, remove bay leaf and using an immersion blender, puree a part of the soup. This will give the soup a nice creamy texture.

Adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper.

Take a big breath and ENJOY!!

BUT, it was Saturday November 7th, that was historic and remarkable. Paul and I were about to enter the Mass Pike, heading out for a hike, when an announcer from NPR interrupted Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and said there was a special message. I was driving and looked over at Paul with hope and as the announcer said that Biden had just flipped Pennsylvania, I started to sob with joy, squeezed Paul’s hand way too hard and made the wise decision to pull the car off to the side of the road!! I took a few deep breaths of relief and I think the whole world has also done so!

My Hevreh Ensemble colleague and dear friend Laurie Friedman says it all in this video! The joyful sounds of the Shofar rang loud and clear from Laurie’s Brooklyn rooftop!!