We almost missed this little known gem. We were on our way back home from a hike in Western Massachusetts. I had a jingle formulating in my head that I wanted to try out- for those new to my blog, I have been playing short improvisations on my recorder, Native American flute and oboe on woodland trails, mountain tops and other inspiring locations. We did a quick search for interesting sites in the area and found Windsor Jambs; a beautiful waterfall with a strange name and unusual rock formations.
The rocks were stacked sideways and as the local folklore goes, the original settlers in Windsor, Massachusetts named the spot Windsor Jambs because the rock formation in the falls reminded them of the jambs of a fireplace or a doorway. We followed a path along the falls and I was able to find a lovely spot to play the tune that was percolating in my head! As I started to play, I heard a group of people chattering through the woods-my first thought was one of trepidation -“I hope they don’t get too close to me” and “should I stop playing”? As the group rounded the bend in the path, I saw that this was an extended African American family that included grandparents, parents and a few children; one young girl was carrying a guitar case. They were all wearing masks and as they saw me, they stopped at a respectful distance and as they heard me play, a look of surprise and happiness came over their faces. It was almost as if they had come across a magical wood sprite, albeit a very mature one! I heard the group make a collective sigh of delight. It felt wonderful to play for my small but appreciative audience, and in these times of the pandemic, this was all I needed- I was performing! As I watched the family continue on their walk, I imagined that the young girl carrying the guitar case was also going to find a beautiful spot to take out her guitar and play a piece of celebration for a family member’s birthday or milestone achievement!
The last few days have been quite chilly and the leaves are starting to turn. I love this time of year when I can once again make soups and stews that simmer on the stove for hours in my trusty and well worn cast iron pot!
Our talented gardener friend Jerry, brought us the surplus from his garden: onion, leeks, carrots, cabbage, parsnip and kale; so I was inspired to make “End of Summer Friend’s Vegetable Garden Soup“! From my fridge, I added celery, chicken chorizo sausage, a can each of white cannellini beans, diced fire roasted tomatoes, and some Italian farro- a delicious grain that is a nice substitute for barley.
“End of Summer Friend’s Vegetable Garden Soup”
1 onion finely chopped
1 large leek rinsed well and finely chopped
1/2 small cabbage sliced
1 parsnip chopped
1 carrot chopped
a few pieces of kale- tough stems removed and chopped
1 stalk celery chopped
2 or 3 chicken chorizo sausages diced
1- 8 ounce can cannellini beans
1/2 cup Italian farro
1- 8 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in heavy large pot
Saute onion and leeks until softened
Add vegetables and rest of other ingredients
Cover with water and bring to a boil
Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about 1 1/2 hours.
I served this with sour dough bread slices that I rubbed with garlic, poured on a bit of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled the bread with grated parmesan cheese.
I broiled them until the bread was crisp and toasty!
Enjoy! And we will get through this time- VOTE!!!!!
AND, we made our first fire in our woodstove the other night!
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!
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
24 pitted Italian prune plums or fewer larger plums (I used 8 plums)
1 tablespoon coconut sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon for topping
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!!
These past few months have given me the wonderful gift of time. I also have the good fortune to live in a place of great natural beauty. Since the middle of March my husband Paul and I have taken many beautiful walks and hikes in the Berkshires and Northwest Connecticut. One of my biggest challenges during the pandemic has been not being able to perform with my colleagues and with my group Hevreh Ensemble. I did play two socially distant outside concerts this summer and it felt wonderful to play music with others! The situation we find ourselves in gives one the choice to create virtual projects or to play solos. A creative outlet slowly took shape as I started to bring along my recorder and Native American Flutes on our walks. This past summer I have been playing short improvisations on mountain tops, woodland trails, marshes and ponds. Here is a short improvisation from the Skiff Mountain Preserve in Kent, Connecticut.
One of the most beautiful walks we have taken this past summer has been at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts about forty minutes from Northampton. We discovered the site 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!
William Cullen Bryant was born in 1794 and grew up in Cummington, Massachusetts, where his first poem was published at the age of 13. His most famous poem “Thanatopsis” was published in 1817 when he was practicing law in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He went on to become the editor of The New York Evening Post. He was a passionate abolitionist and was instrumental in helping Abraham Lincoln win the presidential election. He was also a dedicated conservationist and horticulturist and used his editorials from the New York Evening Post to support Frederick Law Olmsted’s plans for Central Park.
When we approached the Bryant Homestead for the first time, we were struck by the serenity and peacefulness of the area. It felt as if we had stepped back in time- it was a hot summer day and in the late afternoon sun, as we listened carefully, we heard only birds and the gentle whirring of insects, but no sounds from cars or other engines. The air had a delightful stillness to it. From Byrant’s boyhood home, which is now a museum (closed during the pandemic), we walked down the gentle slope of a meadow and came to the Rivulet Trail. As we entered the cool dark woods from the bright hot sun of the meadow, the sweet, musky, spicy and calming scent of the pine trees enveloped us. The tall pines, some over 150 feet, stood reaching toward the sky like stalwart soldiers. They swayed gracefully, as the sunlight wove intricate patterns through the tops of the trees. Bryant loved this trail and it is the inspiration for many of his poems.
I played this improvisation on the Pine Tree Loop part of the Rivulet Trail.
Interspersed throughout the walk are several placards with Bryant’s poetry.
Since our initial visit we have returned many times to walk through these serene woods. It has been a dry summer and the Rivulet that runs along the path had no water, but this past weekend we arrived just as a rain storm had passed. As we stepped into the woods, the air was misty and cool. The pine floor of the woods was soft and each step felt like there was a cushion underfoot. As we walked down the gentle slope, the peaceful gurgling sounds of the Rivulet accompanied us.
The trees and moss were dark with moisture and different varieties of mushrooms and fungi poked their tiny heads out of covering of leaves, pine needles and tree trunks. The woods were quieter than usual and a lone owl hooted into the distance.
During his lifetime, William Cullen Bryant returned many times to the Rivulet Trail. We will look forward to visiting in the fall as the leaves turn and then again in the spring where we hope to see the delicate spring Yellow Violet that Bryant describes lovingly in this poem:
On our way home after our most recent excursion to the trail, we stopped at Taft Farms in Great Barrington to stock up on their excellent summer bounty. That day we purchased tomatoes, berries, zucchini, peaches and CORN!
It was a stormy day and when we arrived at the store, there was a tremendous downpour along with the ominous news of a possible tornado in the area. The other intrepid patrons were all wearing their masks and keeping a reasonable social distance from each other, but I was touched by an elderly man standing alone in front of me in line. He had come out in the storm to buy a single pumpernickel bagel from the store’s bakery- he held it up to me apologetically and said,”I only wanted a bagel”. I believe that he also came for a bit of social interaction, as brief as it was!
I am not much of a gardener, however, I am the happy recipient of surplus from our friends gardens. My refrigerator filled up with red beets from our talented gardener friend Jerry, so it was time to make Summer Borscht! Red beets are one of my favorite foods and I love Borscht-a sturdy winter version with meat, potatoes, carrots, dill, onions, garlic and tomato is wonderful, but I mostly crave Summer Borscht. I was wondering recently why I like beets so much. Is it in my Eastern European DNA? I read that there is a chemical in red beets that causes a feeling of well being! Summer Borscht– I ate way too many bowls of it in Poland when my group Hevreh Ensemble was on tour.
Lublin, Poland 2018
I tried to recreate it and lately I have been happy with the result. Red beets simmered until tender, peeled and diced with plenty of chopped cucumber,radish,dill, scallions or chives; seasoned with brown rice vinegar, salt, pepper, honey and plain yogurt. Left alone for a few days in the fridge to meld all of the flavors together, it is wonderful with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and maybe a hard boiled egg sliced on top. This also freezes well and if you defrost a bowl of it with some ice crystals left in it, the taste is a bit like red beet granita! A perfect summer dish!
4 or 5 large red beets
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced radish
1/2 cup minced dill
1/4 cup diced scallion or chives
salt and pepper to taste
brown rice vinegar to taste* see note
1 or 2 tablespoons honey to taste
1/2 or more plain yogurt
Scrub Beets well and if large cut in half
Cover with water in a medium sized pot
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
Cover and cook until tender
Save water that beets were cooked and strain into a large bowel
Let beets cool completely
Peel Beets and cut into small dice
Add diced beets along with cucumber, radish, dill and scallions or chives into reserved beet liquid
Add brown rice vinegar to taste- start with a small amount and add more as desired.
Stir in yogurt and honey
Add salt and pepper to taste
Refrigerate for at least a day to let flavors meld
Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream
Add a sliced hard boiled egg on top if desired
Note: I do not specify exact amounts of brown rice vinegar, honey or yogurt. After the borscht sits for a day or two, you can add more seasonings to your taste.
I will leave you with one more summer treat. We try to cook without processed sugar. The peaches this summer have been so sweet that they do not need any other sweetener. We came up with a sugar free peach/strawberry pie. I hope you enjoy making this recipe!
Sugar Free Peach/Strawberry Pie
3 cups strawberries
3/4 very ripe peaches
2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of cinnamon
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
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.
Bring a pot of water to boil
Place peaches in boiling water for a minute or two and the skins will slip right off!
Slice strawberries and peaches and place in a medium sized pot
If you want a sweeter pie, add 1/2 sugar to fruit
Make a slurry with the cornstarch and a small amount of water
Simmer fruit over medium heat until the fruit releases it’s juices and the fruit softens a bit.
Mix in cornstarch and cook briefly until mixture thickens and the color of the fruit mixture turns clear.
Add pinch of cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Lightly flour counter top
Roll out one piece of dough and fit into a pie plate
Pour fruit mixture into pie plate
Roll out second piece of dough and cut into strips
Lay strips in a crisscross pattern over filling
Sprinkle with cinnamon
Bake until crust is light brown and filling bubbles aprox. 40 minutes