A bucolic sunny afternoon on Labor Day weekend …..one of our last summer forays! My husband Paul, the intrepid trail blazer, found a walk at the Mountain Meadow Preserve in Williamstown, Massachusetts complete with stunning views of Mt. Greylock in the distance.
The sun was strong and bright; a hot day. We walked slowly uphill through a fragrant meadow.
Even with the warm temperature, we saw signs of fall; milkweed pods hung languidly from their stalks and we were delighted to come across late summer wildflowers. The air smelled sweet; at the edges of the field we peered into the cool woods. Ferns were starting to turn brown and gave off a slightly nutty aroma; almost like coconut.
We have been gifted with yet one more talented gardener’s summer bounty. We also had a rather large amount of stale sourdough bread hanging around from the Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton, MA; our new addiction!
Stuffing is one of my favorite cold weather comfort foods. I came up with a dish that combines my love of stuffing. It was a good use for stale bread and also for a surplus of cherry tomatoes. The combination of the crunchy savory bread moistened with chicken stock and vegetables full of flavor was irresistible; even better with a glass of chilled rose!
Savory Tomato Bread Pudding
3 cups stale sourdough bread cut into medium cubes
1 medium onion chopped finely
1/2 bunch lacinato kale chopped, tough center stem removed
5 mushrooms chopped
1 medium zucchini chopped into small pieces
1 cup chicken stock (more if needed) If you have home made stock on hand, this would be great.
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbled
12-13 cherry tomatoes halved
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To Make Bread Pudding:
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy saucepan.
Add chopped onions and saute until slightly softened over medium heat.
Add dried herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
Add mushrooms and zucchini and saute about 5 minutes until mushrooms release their liquid and zucchini starts to soften.
Add kale and cook a few minutes.
Remove pan from heat and add bread cubes. Add chicken stock a bit at a time to let the bread absorb the liquid slowly. If the bread mixture seems to dry, you can always add a bit more stock.
Pre heat oven to 375 Degrees Farenheit
Place mixture in a lightly greased casserole dish.
Place tomatoes on top of the bread/vegetable mixture and sprinkle feta cheese over the tomatoes.
Pour a good glug of olive oil over the mixture and bake about 35-40 minutes until the tomatoes start to burst, the mixture bubbles and the bread is crunchy and browned around the edges of the pan.
The days have visibly shortened and the end of summer is just around the corner. I console myself with the late season bounty of tomatoes and the appearance of Italian prune plums and best of all, Plum Tart. The recipe will appear soon in another post!
The fall rush of concerts and teaching has started, but I was determined to sneak in a few more spontaneous walks and hikes.
Case in point: Hallockville Pond in Dubuque State Forest in Hawley, Massachusetts. It was a bright beautiful morning with low humidity; I got my practicing and concert work out the way and we decided to hit the road. One last free day! Dubuque State Forest is a bit of a slog to get to, but well worth the effort. I wanted to remember the beauty of summer; the gift of time.
We met our friends Peter and Caroline at the park and took off for a leisurely walk around Hallockville Pond.
Fragrant pine needles lined the forest floor with views of the peaceful pond peeking through the trees. I held back from the others to take pictures and listened to their exuberant voices echoing through the woods as they discussed philosophy, economics and coffee.
This summer the water level in the pond was very low with interesting grasses and algae that sprouted up around the pond.
In the spring we often come to the pond to see the early trilliums and other wildflowers. On our late summer walk, we were surprised to come across trillium plants with bright red berries. I discovered the following from an article by Annie Reid from the Westborough Community Land Trust: Nodding trillium spreads slowly in its woodland setting. The flower develops into a single red berry with many seeds. Birds may spread a few of the colorful berries, but most berries simply split open and drop the seeds on the ground. Ants then spread the seeds, as they find them and carry them to their nests to feed on tasty parts on the outside of the seeds.
I will look forward to seeing the first trillium blooms next May!
I am not much of a gardener; my excuse is that we have too much shade, deer and groundhogs! Luckily I know several talented gardeners and I am the grateful recipient of their summer bounty! Recently I was gifted many sweet cherry tomatoes and zucchini. What to make??
Tomato Pie immediately came to mind. I always remember fondly the tomato pie that the late writer Laurie Colwin wrote about in her book Home Cooking. Mary O’Brien served the savory delicious pie for many years in her iconic teahouse Chaiwalla in Salisbury, CT. I decided to make my own version of tomato pie with a favorite vegan biscuit crust.
I caramelized an onion, broiled some zucchini slices with olive oil and layered this over the spelt biscuit crust with halved cherry tomatoes, toasted walnuts, feta and fresh rosemary. I drizzled olive oil over the top and baked the tart in a hot oven until the tomatoes burst and browned lightly. We ate this with a green salad and it was so good; the tomatoes so sweet, that I almost forgot to be sad that summer was over!
End of Summer Tomato Tart
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup hot water
1/3 cup canola oil
13-14 ripe cherry tomatoes- cut in half
1 medium onion thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini sliced into thin rounds
1/4 cup toasted walnuts (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4-1/2 cup feta cheese- crumbled
freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
To Make Tart:
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pan, add sliced onion and cook until onions are soft and lightly browned; about 20 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.
Place zucchini slices on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bake in oven until soft and starting to brown. Set aside.
Make Biscuit crust:
Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
Add canola oil and hot water. Stir until just combined.
Lightly grease a round baking dish or glass pie plate with butter. Press biscuit mixture into bottom of the dish.
Reduce Oven to 350 Degrees F.
Sprinkle onion mixture over crust. Place zucchini rounds and cherry tomato halves over onions. Sprinkle walnuts, feta cheese and chopped fresh rosemary on top. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and more freshly ground pepper.
Bake about 30 minutes until tomatoes start to brown and burst and the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes.
On the second night of our Iceland adventure, we had dinner in the small town of Selfloss about an hour from Reykjavik. The charming Tryggvaskali Restaurant is housed in a historic building that was built in 1880 and since 1900 has been in continually in operation; either as a store, inn or restaurant.
The building even has it’s own ghost. According to local lore: “On September 30, 1929, there was a loud knock on the west door of Tryggvaskála, and when Óli J. Ísfeld, a restaurateur, opened the door, he saw a tall and thin woman with an 8-10 year old child with her. This vision disappeared from the restaurateur as quickly as it appeared. Testified later that it was a maid who was supposed to start at Tryggvaskála that day, but had died during the summer, without it being reported in Selfoss. She had been paid in advance for the work, and throughout the years the staff of Tryggvaskála have felt that they have been helped at times of stress.”
From our table by the window we looked out at lupines hugging the shore of the pristine Olfusa river.
The fish in Iceland was incredibly fresh with many meals featuring either cod or salmon. At the Tryggvaskali restaurant I noticed an unusual appetizer on the menu; whale tataki with garlic soy wasabi and sesame seed. I had to try this, I wasn’t sure when I would have the opportunity to sample whale again! The fish was lightly grilled and similar to sashimi. The texture was a tiny bit rubbery but the flavor was delicate and briny.
For entrees we enjoyed beautiful presentations of pan fried ling cod served with garlic potato salad, grilled corn and honey glazed carrots and salmon with pesto and charred broccoli over barley.
We had many excellent meals, but one simple lunch stands out. We found the Geirabakari Kaffihus totally by accident. Once we left Reykjavik, the landscape changed dramatically, stark and atmospheric with waterfalls cascading down mountains that at one time were covered with trees.
On a cloudy overcast day, we drove down a desolate road and approached the small town of Borgarnes. We were looking for a place to have lunch, not setting our sights too high.
Geirabakari Kaffihus stands next to a few nondescript small businesses, slightly run down around the heel. But when we entered the bakery, we were met by the yeasty aroma of freshly baked goods and the cafe was filled with local people queued up to the counter. Keeping with the plan of the trip to indulge in whatever we wanted to eat, we chose flaky buttery croissant sandwiches filled to the brim with ham, cheese, cucumbers, lettuce and tomato; all covered with a creamy dill sauce. This was accompanied with mugs of rich steamy hot chocolate- simply delicious!
Way too soon, our Iceland adventure was coming to an end. On our last day of the trip, we returned to Reykjavik. For dinner that evening we had made a reservation at the Public House, a trendy gastro pub with Asian influences. The best way to describe the eclectic menu would be Asian Tapas. We ordered probably too much food: vegetable dumplings; crispy tacos with roasted beets, goat cheese, fig jam and truffle mayo and grilled lamb kebabs with miso, ginger and pickled cucumbers with sesame seeds. I am not a great fan of lamb, but this was the most tender and full of flavor lamb that I have ever tasted. The spicy and assertive flavor combinations from the various dishes were perfect with mugs of frosty Icelandic beer!
We left a tiny bit of room for two desserts: skyr panna cotta with coconut and salted caramel and strawberries with oat crumble and strawberry sorbet; then it really was time to travel back home!
Many of the restaurants and cafes that we visited offered excellent fish chowders; all unique and equally delicious. What they all had in common is that they were not thick and gluey like some New England fish chowders.
This past week I found myself with a surplus of sweet fresh corn and fish chowder came to mind. I channeled all of the Icelandic chowders that I had tasted and came up with up with a chowder filled with corn, cod, leeks, potatoes, celery and onion; garnished with crisp bits of prosciutto, scallion and parsley. This would also work with shrimp or chunks of salmon. You can also add a few pieces of fresh kale; I was lucky to be given the most tender kale from a friend’s garden. We ate this with hunks of rosemary sourdough bread from the Hungry Ghost Bakery and a salad of fresh greens and local tomatoes with balsamic dressing. A glass of chilled rose would also be lovely with this! Enjoy!
Summer Fish Chowder
1 /2 pound cod cut into chunks
3 medium red potatoes cut into small pieces
1 onion finely chopped
1 medium leek, rinsed well finely chopped
4 ears fresh corn
2 stalks celery finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
few pieces fresh kale torn into small pieces (optional)
a few tablespoons of finely chopped parley
2 scallions finely chopped
1/8 pound prosciutto
2 tablespoons flour
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add corn. Cook briefly for one minute and remove corn from pot.
With a sharp knife, scrape corn kernels from cobs and place in a small bowl. Put corn cobs back in pot and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Strain liquid and reserve stock.
In a clean soup pot, heat olive oil over and add onions.
Saute until onions soften slightly.
Add leeks and celery- cook for about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over mixture and combine well.
Add potatoes, thyme, bay leaf.
Add stock- it should come to about 1/2 way up the pot.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Cover pot and simmer until potatoes are soft and then add corn and pieces of fish. Cook only a few minutes, just until fish flakes easily.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
In a small pan heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add prosciutto and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towel and break into small pieces.
Add garnishes of scallions, parsley and prosciutto if desired.
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.
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……
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
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
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup soy or almond milk
3-4 very ripe peaches peeled and thinly sliced *
1/4 cup instant tapioca
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.
Mix together honey and cinnamon. Microwave until mixture melts.
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!
When planning our recent trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the restaurant scene in Iceland. I had heard that the food was boring and not very creative; I decided to plan with an open mind and with not very high expectations. What I discovered was a vibrant food scene that has changed greatly in the last few years. We found restaurants that used the freshest, often locally sourced ingredients; the food was creative and lovingly prepared.
The first day of our trip was spent in Reykjavik; we arrived early in the morning and dropped off our bags at the charming Apotek Hotel. We asked the desk clerk to recommend a good bakery and her eyes lit up. She said, “You must try Baka Baka for the most delicious pastries”. We decided early on that for this trip there were no holds barred; we were going to enjoy as much sugar and rich food as we wanted! We headed down the street, walked up a small hill and saw the open door of Baka Baka beckoning to us.
As we entered we were welcomed with the rich smell of coffee and freshly baked pastries. We ordered a yeasty fragrant Cardamom Bun filled with almond paste and enjoyed it with coffee and a pot of herbal tea that had the light delicate taste of currents.
The plan for our first day was to explore Reykjavik and at the the same time try to stave off jetlag. We spent the next few hours walking slowly around the quaint streets and adjusting gradually to the lovely cool windy temperature of 50 degrees F!
The time flew by and we were ready for our first lunch reservation at Hosilo, a small unpretentious restaurant on a quiet side street. The other diners were young Icelanders and as we waited for our food to arrive, we enjoyed listening to the lyrical sounds of the Icelandic language. The food was creatively presented; I started with an appetizer of “watermelon” sushi-cool, rosy slices of fruit in a savory gingery sauce. Expecting the taste of raw fish, my taste buds were jolted awake- a good remedy for my sleepy mind!
I had some of the freshest and most tender shrimp I have ever tasted with house made pasta, basil, tomato and roasted garlic.
It was all bathed in extra virgin olive and served with a slice of crunchy parmesan toast.
We were starting to fade quickly, but thought a walk down the hill to the harbor and to the Harpa Concert Hall might revive us.
Luckily for us, we discovered that there was a short interactive visual installation offered; Circuleight. As we entered a large gallery, we were surrounded by animations that were inspired by eight natural elements: lava, glacier, water, algae, micro organism, flora, basalt, and volcanic gas. If you waved your hand or came close to one of the images, the image would respond to the motion; it gave the effect of the artwork improvising. The installation was accompanied by a score written by the Icelandic composer Hogni Egilsson. I found a place to curl up, leaned against one of the walls and immersed myself in the experience; although I confess, I fell briefly asleep! It was time for a short nap at our hotel.
Just an hour of sleep and we were refreshed and ready to continue on our culinary adventures of the day! For dinner, I had a made a reservation at The CooCoo’s Nest. From our hotel, we walked a few miles to the quirky, newly developed section of the waterfront with art galleries, specialty food shops and restaurants. CooCoo’s Nest was opened in 2013 by Anna and Lucas Keller.
A passionate chef, Lucas is originally from California and trained and worked in Italy. Since opening, the restaurant has gained a loyal local clientele.
It was Taco Tuesday, so we ordered the sampling menu of 3 different tacos that included tequila marinated fish with guacamole, shredded cabbage and spicy sour cream; slow cooked lamb, salsa verde and pickled raddish; and a vegetarian taco with sweet potato, charred broccoli and a spicy romesco sauce. They were delicious and the flavors danced in our mouths.
We ate our dinner outside the restaurant at a picnic table and watched young families strolling by; several of which were licking ice cream cones. Glancing to our right we saw an inviting ice cream shop- well one more treat for the day!
An interesting flavor was listed on the wall that looked very similar to my last name- “Danskur lakkris”. I asked for a taste and the young clerk told me that the flavor was Danish licorice. Very nice, but I settled for a double dish with dark chocolate and lemon ginger crunch and then enjoying our ice cream, we walked oh so slowly back to our hotel; the sky still bright blue in the late evening. Shortly after we returned to our room we fell into a deep slumber!
Thus ended our first day in Reykjavik. Coming soon…. one more Icelandic blog detailing the other food highlights of our trip; some from restaurants where the food was simply but expertly prepared in lovely peaceful settings.
Late last winter, when we started to plan our trip to Iceland, the thought of soaking to our heart’s content in a hot thermal pool was the balm that got us through the dark days of the latest omicron wave. And here we finally were, peering into the largest thermal spring in Iceland at the Krauma Baths in Borgarnes, Iceland!
Krauma Thermal Baths is one hour from Reykjavik and next to one of Europe’s most powerful hot springs. With a temperature over 212 F; the water bubbles vigorously up from the earth. In the above picture, my intrepid travel buddy Carol is obscured by steam from the spring.
We walked up a path to the thermal baths and the gracious attendant ushered us into sleek contemporary changing rooms where we showered and changed into our suits. As an added treat, we had reserved fluffy white robes. There were several pools heated to different temperatures; around 39 C / 102F.
At the present moment, during the most recent heat waves and climate change woes, the thought of submerging my body into a hot tub, is not at all appealing! But, stepping outside in a wet bathing suit with an outside temperature of 50 Degrees and a stiff artic wind blowing, it was an amazing feeling to slowly sink into a hot thermal pool; all tension melting slowly away. This was not a touristy site; small groups of hardy North Europeans were enjoying tall glasses of frosty beer while soaking in the pools. After one sip of beer, I believe I would have drowned!
I did make somewhat of a thermal spa faux pas; I saw a smaller pool with no other guests in it and thought the privacy would be nice. I climbed in eagerly and then let out a bit of an uncouth yelp; the water was ice cold. I realized too late that this was the pool to use after exiting from the sauna!
Krauma is open year round; I love this picture of brave souls in the winter enjoying the hot springs! An image that is a good antidote to our current high temperatures!
After we soaked to our heart’s content, I mentioned to Carol that I believed I was “cooked” and ready to return to earth! Our next stop was to our lodging for the night, a charming unspoiled B&B nestled in the hillside; Hotel A, in nearby Kirkjubol, Iceland. We had a lovely dinner, more to come about this in the next blog. The next day at breakfast I noticed a dark brown bread on the bread board and added a slice to my plate along with fresh fruit, a bowl of skyr and smoked salmon. I spread the bread with fresh blueberry jam and it was delicious. The bread was hearty, slightly sweet and full of flavor. I asked the young desk clerk about the bread and he immediately looked it up online for me and printed a recipe. Originally Icelandic Brown Bread was steamed in a thermal pit overnight. When I returned home, I looked at several online recipes and decided to try a recipe from King Arthur Flour. Some recipes require baking the bread all day in a low oven or in a slow cooker. The King Arthur recipe called for 2 hours in the oven. I decided to try this method and modified the amount of sugar. I replaced the honey in the recipe with a small amount of Agave Nectar and used a smaller amount of dark molasses for flavor and color. And, the bread was very easy to make! The recipe calls for baking powder, baking soda and buttermilk and there is no yeast or rising time involved. The texture of the bread improves greatly after a day and was delicious sliced and toasted; spread either with butter or jam. The bread would also be lovely with smoked salmon and dill or other savory toppings.
Icelandic Brown Bread
4 1/2 cups stoneground dark rye flour ( I used Bob’s Organic Flour)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/8 cup molasses
Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center position.
Weigh flour or measure it by gently spooning into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, and molasses.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring to combine.
Transfer the batter to a lightly greased 9 inch loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with foil.
Bake the bread for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and remove the foil from the pan. Leave the loaf in the turned-off oven for another 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn out of the pan onto a cooling rack.
Cool completely before slicing thinly and serving with butter or your favorite savory toppings.
Store leftover bread tightly wrapped at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.
I was convinced that something would prevent my friend Carol and I from traveling to Iceland. At the last minute, either my husband or I would get Covid or some other emergency would come up; but the heavens smiled in our favor and as the plane lifted up into the clouds, Carol and I held our hands tightly together and said, “We did it”!!
So many choices and things to write about the trip. I have decided to write a three part blog. The second post will be about geothermal pools, volcanos and the Icelandic brown bread that I am going to attempt to bake. The third post will be a foodie’s delight; a road tour of the restaurants and cafes that we visited- even with all of the hiking and walking that we did, I managed to put on a few pounds!
With all of the disturbing events in our world, I hope you enjoy the next few entries as a brief respite!
We spent the first two days of our trip in quaint and charming Reykjavik and could easily have spent a week there walking around interesting neighborhoods, visiting museums and enjoying excellent restaurants and cafes.
After our stay in Reykjavik, we headed out in our rental car, about a 3 hour drive along the coast to the western peninsula towns near Anarstapi. I was not prepared for the breathtaking and unusual landscape.
Brilliant purple lupines lined coastal inlets and mountainsides.
Volcanic rock looked as if it was tossed randomly in the fields.
Often, we were the only car on the road with sheep slowly crossing the road.
So many things to share; a hike between the two small towns of Anarstapi and Hellnar stands out. From our cozy lodging, Fosshotel in Anarstapi, we walked to the trailhead for a 4 mile hike along the sea cliffs. The rocky path, high above the ocean, was strewn with volcanic rock.
Wildflowers dotted the rugged landscape with the cries of seabirds reverberating from the cliffs.
The air was bracing, clear and invigorating; my four layers of sweaters and winter raincoat a perfect match for the sudden blasts of artic air- and this was in July!!
At the end of the hike, there was a treat awaiting us; the path led up a small set of stairs to cozy and atmospheric Cafe Fjoruhusio. The tables were covered with embroidered place settings with patterns of tiny wildflowers. The air smelled of coffee and fresh baked pastries; cinnamon mingling with butter and chocolate.
An outside deck overlooked the cliffs and the ocean.
Sykr, Icelandic yogurt, appears in many dishes. After securing a lovely spot on the deck, we ordered a piece of Blueberry Skyr Cheesecake. I am normally not a big fan of cheesecake, but this cake was light, full of tangy flavor and had a blueberry topping; irresistible! Just a few bites were all I needed; any more and I don’t think I would have felt light footed enough to make the return trek back over the craggy and rocky trail to our hotel!
That night we had a delicious dinner at the Fosshotel and since it does not get dark at all this time of year, we were able to take one more small walk at 9 PM. Just down the road, we saw a small weather beaten church; it looked like the metal structure had withstood many storms. Next to the church was an ancient graveyard overlooking the sea.
There were hours of daylight left, but shortly after returning to our room, we fell into a deep sleep. I woke briefly in at 3:00 AM and the sun was still shining brightly!
More to come………
We made it back safely home, without incident and knock on wood, no Covid! As we entered the customs hall at Newark, I was expecting to be met by throngs of sweaty, exhausted travelers. There were at the most 20 people in line. Amazed, I asked the elderly African American guard: “Where are all of the people”. He remarked dryly, “Don’t ask questions, just pray to G-d!!”
During the trip, we enjoyed desserts, ice cream and treats with abandon. After all, we did not want to miss out on anything! One day, we had three desserts (although we did share them)! Back home and to reality, I was thinking fondly about the rich Skyr cheesecake that we devoured happily. I decided to create a version with no refined sugar, healthy and guilt free. I perused a few online versions and here is what I came up with. I made the crust from whole grain flax crackers rather than sweet graham crackers and sweetened it with a bit of coconut sugar. I added a handful of toasted walnuts and some lime zest and instead of butter used a vegan butter substitute, although melted butter would also be fine.
For the filling, I used plain lowfat skyr (I used the Siggi brand) and added some pureed wild blueberries. The best part was the substitute for whipped cream. Here is a bit of kitchen magic: I put a can of whole fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight and the next day opened it and scooped out the solids. Beat together with monk fruit sweetener and vanilla, it miraculously morphed into what looked like whipped cream and it was delicious!
Blueberry Skyr Pie
12 Back to Nature flax flatbread crackers
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons lime zest
3 tablespoons melted butter ( I used Kite Hill plant based butter)
1/8 cup coconut sugar
1 cup Wymans wild blueberries
2 cups plain low fat skyr
1 can full fat coconut milk ( refrigerated overnight)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
1 cup fresh blueberries
To make pie:
In a small saucepan place blueberries and slowly bring berries to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until berries release their juice and berries soften. Place berries in a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and press down on solids. Refrigerate until cold.
Make pie crust:
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Place crackers and toasted walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Process until crackers and walnuts are finely ground. Place in a bowl and add cinnamon, lime zest and coconut sugar. Mix well and then add melted butter. Stir well and place mixture in the bottom of a pie pan. Pat firmly and place in oven. Bake about 8-10 minutes until crust is lightly brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Make whipped coconut:
Open can and carefully remove the solid coconut from the top of the can. Place in a mixer and start to slowly blend. The mixture will start to lighten- add the vanilla and monk fruit sweetener and beat on a high speed until mixture resembles whipped cream. Set aside.
Place skyr in a large bowl- slowly fold in whipped coconut mixture and then carefully fold in strained blueberries.
Place mixture in pie crust and smooth over evenly. Decorate with fresh berries and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. We liked this light dessert so much that we are bringing a tartlet version to our friends in Boston as a house gift this week!
AND: Here is the Icelandic Tree of the Week from Reykjavik!!
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!
I sit cross legged on the ground and as a fresh cool breeze washes over me, I look around and I am completely content. 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!
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!
Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Indigo Bunting, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Wood Thrush, Emerson Collard Dove, Gray Catbird, Red Wing Blackbird; strolling through the gentle hills and meadows of the Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Stanfordville, New York; we were serenaded by a symphony of bird song.
A friend had told us about an app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called Merlin. It quickly identifies the bird call and a picture appears next to the name of the bird. For the amateur birder, this is simply quite amazing!
The Buttercup Sanctuary is a haven for the many species of birds that flourish in the tall grasses and meadows.
We stand still and listen carefully to the delicate bird calls; breathing in the lightly perfumed air, is that wild honey suckle? We are drawn into the beauty that surrounds us.
At the top of Kite Hill in Ancram, New York, we sat in the rustic gazebo that over looks the Catskills and the Taconic Range. We turned on the merlin app and there it was; a bobolink with its reverse tuxedo and light yellow capped head, singing its distinctive throaty song!
On another cloudy day at Kite Hill, we caught a quick glimpse of a bobolink sitting on a bird house.
Wikepedia mentions that an old species name for Bobolinks is Rice Bird, because of the grain that they like to eat. The English “Bobolink” is from Bob o’ Lincoln, describing the call. I came across this lovely poem written by William Cullen Bryant titled Robert of Lincoln.
Robert of Lincoln
Merrily swinging on briar and weed, Near to the nest of his little dame, Over the mountain-side or mead, Robert of Lincoln is telling his name: Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; Snug and safe is that nest of ours, Hidden among the summer flowers; Chee, chee, chee.
Robert of Lincoln is gaily drest, Wearing a bright black wedding-coat; White are his shoulders, and white his crest; Hear him call in his merry note: Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; Look what a nice new coat is mine, Sure there was never a bird so fine. Chee, chee, chee.
Robert of Lincoln’s Quaker wife, Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings, Passing at home a patient life, Broods in the grass while her husband sings: Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; Brood, kind creature; you need not fear Thieves and robbers while I am here. Chee, chee, chee.
Modest and shy as a nun is she; One weak chirp is her only note, Braggart and prince of braggarts is he, Pouring boasts from his little throat: Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; Never was I afraid of man; Catch me cowardly knaves, if you can ! Chee, chee, chee.
Six white eggs on a bed of hay, Flecked with purple, a pretty sight! There as the mother sits all day, Robert is singing with all his might: Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; Nice good wife, that never goes out, Keeping house while I frolic about. Chee, chee, chee.
Soon as the little ones chip the shell, Six wide mouths are open for food; Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well, Gathering seeds for the hungry brood. Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; This new life is likely to be Hard for a gay young fellow like me. Chee, chee, chee.
Robert of Lincoln at length is made Sober with work, and silent with care; Off is his holiday garment laid, Half forgotten that merry air: Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; Nobody knows but my mate and I Where our nest and our nestlings lie. Chee, chee, chee.
Summer wanes; the children are grown; Fun and frolic no more he knows; Robert of Lincoln’s a humdrum crone; Off he flies, and we sing as he goes : “Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink; When you can pipe that merry old strain, Robert of Lincoln, come back again. Chee, chee, chee.
– William Cullen Bryant
Organic cauliflower was on sale at our local food coop and I thought it would be nice to try to recreate the Sicilian cauliflower from Gigi’s Trattoria an excellent Italian restaurant in Rhinebeck, New York. I cut the cauliflower into small florets and parboiled them for a few minutes. I sliced some onion thinly, heated some extra virgin olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan and caramalized the onion. I tossed the drained cauliflower in a bit of flour and then added this to the onions along with some lemon juice, capers, salt and pepper. You can also add a handful of golden raisins. I put the pan into a hot oven and let the mixture cook until the cauliflower was crispy and nicely browned. The dish is good as a side with roast chicken or served over whole wheat pasta sprinkled with grated pecorino cheese and more freshly ground pepper.
Crispy Cauliflower ala Siciliana
1 small parboiled organic cauliflower cut into small florets
1/2 medium onion sliced thinly crosswise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flour
To Make Cauliflower:
Pre heat oven to 425 Degrees
Cut cauliflower into small florets and add to a medium pot of boiling water. Cook for a few minutes and softened a bit and then drain well. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan. Add sliced onion and cook until the onions start to color and caramalize.
Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon flour and add to pan. Add fresh lemon juice, capers and salt and pepper to taste.
Place pan in hot oven and cook stirring occasionally about 1/2 hour until mixture is crispy and nicely browned.
The trail at Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary in Worthington, Massachusetts starts off on a straight path that was once a farm road. Gnarly old trees line the edges of meadows where farms once flourished; known as “wolf trees”, we were curious to learn more about the origin of the name. Here is a very interesting article from Berkshire Natural Resources Council interspersed with pictures from our walk.
Debunking the “Wolf Tree”
During the early 19th century a vast portion of the New England landscape was cut and cleared for agricultural use. At the peak of deforestation, 60 to 80 percent of the land was cleared for pasture, tillage, orchards and buildings. However, some trees remained in pastures as shade trees for livestock, along boundaries, or grew later along rocky outcrops and fences.
During farm abandonment, primarily from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, pastures and fields developed rapidly into forests and the old, wide-spreading pasture trees were encircled by young trees. Many of these older trees are still prominent features of our forests and are commonly known as wolf trees. This terminology came from foresters in the late 20th century who believed that the wide-spreading, old trees were exhausting forest resources and should be eradicated to make way for profitable wood, much as wolves had been eradicated from the landscape because they were viewed as harmful predators that exhausted forest resources
As forestry practices transitioned to more integrated methods, the perception of “wolf trees” began to shift. Today, best forestry practices reflect the need to keep many of these pasture trees in the landscape because they are very important to wildlife.
These giants provide a location for animals to communicate via scent marking, and have attractive features like large limbs, decaying limbs, wide branching patterns, wrinkled bark, and cavities. The relatively young surrounding forests don’t have these diverse characteristics, proving that these relics from another time are truly anchors to the forests we experience today.
Like the wolf trees now being appreciated for all their contributions to ecological health, the wolf is also being more deeply understood and appreciated.
Full of character, this tree was the inspiration for a recently featured “Tree of the Week”in my last blog.
If all goes well, in a few weeks, I will be traveling to Reykjavik for an adventure with my dear friend Carol. The weather there at this time of year is cold, rainy and windy. I decided to treat myself to a new pair of water proof hiking boots. After trying on a pair of hiking shoes with the brand name Oboz, the young and helpful salesman at LL Bean asked how they felt. I told him that they were extremely comfortable but also being an oboist, it was quite a surprise to find the brand name of a shoe seemingly, if not intentionally named after my instrument! He may have been amused or confused; I am not sure which!
I plan to break the shoes in the for the next few weeks on our hikes and then my Oboz will travel to Iceland; I will look forward to writing about our adventures and discoveries!!
I was inspired to offer a short musical interlude!!
Sometimes the inspiration for a new dish will come together from a few left over ingredients. In this case it was mashed potatoes made with kefir and vegan butter and a surplus of sourdough breadcrumbs made from an old loaf of Hungry Ghost Bakery whole grain bread. I imagined a kind of a vegetarian shepherd’s pie with a crispy potato topping. In a large pot, I sauteed some onion, garlic and leeks in olive oil and then added whatever vegetables were in the bin; carrots, zucchini and lacinato kale. I added a small can of diced tomatoes with their juice, a small can of rinsed organic garbanzo beans and a small bag of corn from Howden Farm that I froze last summer. Seasoned with curry powder, turmeric and ground coriander, I placed the mixture in a baking dish, topped it with the mashed potatoes and sprinkled it with the sour dough bread crumbs. I poured a few glugs of love oil on top and baked it until it was bubbling and the top was golden brown and crusty. It was delicious with a green salad and slices of fresh crusty sour dough bread!
Curried Vegetable Shephard’s Pie
2 carrots cut into small pieces
1 medium zucchini cut into small pieces
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 medium leek rinsed carefully and finely chopped
1 cup lacinato kale- finely chopped, tough ribs removed
1/2 cup frozen corn defrosted
1 small can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 small can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and more for top of casserole
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup sour dough bread crumbs (any bread crumbs would be fine, panko crumbs would also be good.)
To Make Shephard’s Pie:
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Saute onion until soft, add leeks and cook a few minutes more, add garlic and cook one more minute. Add spices and cook about 4 minutes.
Add carrots and zucchini and cook about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook about 10-15 minutes. Pour mixture into a casserole dish. a Cover top with the mashed potatoes and then the bread crumbs. Pour a few glugs of olive oil over top and cover with foil. Bake about 30 minutes until mixture starts to bubble. Remove foil and cook about 15-20 minutes more or until the top starts to brown and crisp up.
AND: Instead of a the usual “Tree of the Week“, Here is the “Most Unusual Squirrel of the Week”!! This little fellow held still long enough on my patio to get a close pic-I have not seen him scampering through the woods again!