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!!

Spooky Sounds and Anthropomorphic Trees!

Sugar Free Spiced Apple Pie

Brilliant blue skies, vivid oranges, yellows and reds; this year the change of season seems especially beautiful!

With so much negative news in our daily lives and anxiety about the coming election, my hope is that this Halloween blog will bring a bit of humor, enjoyment and some delicious food to you!

On our recent walks through the woods, I have closely observed the burled and gnarly bark of the trees and with a slightly overactive imagination, I happily anthropomorphized their unique personalities; some scary or with attitude, others shy, wise, scared and surprised or just plain silly!

My first prize goes to to a tree with a big “schnozs”!

Other categories:

MONSTERS:

HUMOROUS:

WISE:

EVIL:

ATTITUDE:


SCARED AND SURPRISED:

SHY:

This little fellow reminds me of a Giocometti sculpture

Alberto Giacometti

CREEPY TOES:

Last weekend after walking at the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, Massachusetts, we drove around doing some leaf peeping and discovered a steep and dark dirt road with an old cemetery; an excellent spot for this slightly creepy, spooky and eccentric improvisation!

This week with excellent local apples, I made a spiced sugar free apple pie- I like to mix a few different varieties of apples; I particularly like the Honey Crisp variety. I use plenty of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom and I make the pastry crust using a recipe from Julia Child’s, Mastering The Art of French Cooking. The recipe calls for a combination of butter and shortening and it makes an easy to work with crust that is both tender and with a buttery flavor. For my version, I use whole wheat pastry flour and whole grain spelt flour which gives it a wonderful nutty taste. The apples are so full of flavor, that no sugar is necessary, although this would taste great with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Sugar Free Spiced Apple Pie

Ingredients for filling:

5-6 apples- peeled, cored and sliced into thin pieces.

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cardamom.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Pastry Crust:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt four

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter

3 tablespoons non-hydrogenated shortening (I like the organic Spectrum brand)

3 or more tablespoons ice water

Make the pastry crust:

In the bowl of a food processor combine flours, salt, butter and shortening until just combined.

Add the ice water and process until a ball shape forms. You may need to add more water a tablespoon at a time.

Take the ball of dough and cut into 2 pieces and refrigerate at least one hour. When you want to make the pie, bring the dough back to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees

Bring pastry dough to room temperature.

Roll out one of the balls of dough to fit a deep pie dish.

Place filling in pie dish.

Roll out next ball of dough to fit over top of filling.

Trim and crimp edges together.

Make an egg wash with one lightly beaten egg and brush over top of pie. This will make the top of the pie bake with a golden color.

Bake aprox. 40- 45 minutes until filling is bubbly and the top is golden brown.

I leave you with a vintage Halloween treat- a clip from the “talking trees” scene from the Wizard of Oz!

Enjoy and Stay Safe!! Happy Halloween!!

An Ode to Summer Wildflowers

Original Plum Torte

Ashintully Gardens-Tyringham, Massachusetts

In our neck of the woods, the leaves are just starting to turn- a perfect time to remember the incredible beauty and variety of wildflowers that we saw this past summer on our walks through fields, marshes and the woods!

Going through the pictures that I took, it was impossible to pick just a few, so here is a wildflower extravaganza from early spring to late summer! I know the names of a few, but need help identifying many of the flowers- so please help me! Send your comments!

Name that flower!

Here is a short improvisation titled “An Ode to Summer Wildfowers” for alto recorder- I was inspired by a field of late August Jo-Pye weed and the idyllic summer day at a peaceful lake on Savoy Mountain in Western Massachusetts.

As the days start to shorten noticeably, I am always heartened when I see Italian prune plums at the farm markets. It’s time to make Plum Torte! The New York Times always publishes this beloved and much requested recipe: Original Plum Torte.

I decided to tweak the recipe to make it healthier. Instead of sugar I used Monk Fruit sweetener, which has a very low glycemic index. In the place of white flour, I used whole wheat pastry flour and a small amount of corn flour. For the topping I used just a sprinkle of coconut sugar, also with a low glycemic index. We thought the result was delicious, not too sweet and the tart flavor of the plums was perfect! I hope you enjoy this!

Plum Torte

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Monk Fruit Sweetener * see note

1/2 cup unsalted butter softened

1/4 cup corn meal

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 eggs

24 pitted Italian prune plums or fewer larger plums (I used 8 plums)

1 tablespoon coconut sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon for topping

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs one at a time.

Add flour, baking powder, salt and beat on low speed until just mixed.

Spoon mixture evenly into a pan or glass pie dish of 8, 9 or 10 inches.

Place the plums skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with coconut sugar and squeeze lemon juice over top- I used a quarter of a lemon, but more would also be nice! Sprinkle with cinnamon- again as much as you like.

Bake aprox. 40 minutes until fruit is bubbly and a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool completely.

Note: I use Lakanto brand Monk fruit Sweetener and I have seen it at Whole Foods and my local food coop. It looks just like regular sugar and the sugar replacement is 1:1.

This is a perfect cake to usher in the Jewish New Year which starts this Friday.

Best Wishes for a Sweet and Happy New Year! Please be 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!