Kite Hill and Galumpki!

Watching hawks soaring freely and effortlessly on thermals at Kite Hill in Ancram, New York gave me hope that we will soon have more freedom-I have just had my second vaccine!

In the next few weeks, I will spread my wings and I can rehearse again with my group Hevreh Ensemble and we will be able to invite couples over for dinner and maybe even go to a museum! On our Kite Hill walk with distant views of the Catskills, my spirits began to soar!

Kite Hill- Ancram, NY
Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

At the top of the field is a small rustic gazebo that overlooks the distant mountains. This will be the site of my first outdoor spring musical improvisation!

Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

But, perhaps not so fast! The recent events that happened to a good friend’s daughter, brought to mind the kind of experiences that the famous Yiddish novelist Issac Bashevis Singer wrote about; characters that are often victim to cruel and unusual twists of fate!

Here is a true life story (with fictional names) that is akin to a modern day Yiddish Folk Tale!

Rena Hilfemacher is a gifted and accomplished photo journalist who works for several top New York City publications. During the pandemic she has ridden her bicycle tirelessly (no pun intended) on assignments throughout the city; many of them potentially exposing Rena to the covid virus. This past year, she has taken over 10 covid tests, thankfully all negative. When the vaccine became available in New York for certain age groups, she became somewhat of a maven in finding hard to get appointments for her parents, uncle, her parent’s friends, etc.- she was an online dervish- nothing could stop her! She thought wistfully that it would be wonderful if she too could get vaccinated. Rena had heard from a friend that if one volunteered with a soup kitchen, you would be eligible to be vaccinated; so this is what she did. She spent an afternoon, masked and socially distanced helping out in a soup kitchen; it was very rewarding and then at the end of the day, she received the document that she needed to sign up to get vaccinated.

This is where it starts to get interesting. A few days before Rena volunteered at the soup kitchen, one of her assignments was to photograph a family in their home and to document their struggles during the pandemic. The family was masked and she had on a double mask, but the thought had been at the back of her mind, that maybe she should get tested, just to be safe.

As she walked down the street, she saw an ominous looking black van with the following lettering, Covid-19 Testing: Lab Q and a placard next to it said, “Skip the Line.” A small voice of reason in her head, said “Walk away, now!” But then, her impetuous side took over, “Why not-what could it hurt, I’ll know quickly if I was exposed and then I can go get my vaccine!!

The result came quickly and unfortunately the test was positive. In shock and disbelief at this disturbing news, upon the advice of her mother she decided to get another test. This thankfully, came back negative and she breathed a big sigh of relief. However, unbeknownst to Rena was that her first positive test had been reported to contact tracing and soon after, she received a text stating that she needed to receive two negative tests and in the meantime she was required to quarantine for 10 days. Contact tracing recommended that she go to Bellevue Hospital for a test, as the tests done there are reported to be trusted and accurate.

She followed this advise and went to Bellevue, took the test and then went back home to her cozy quarantine to await the verdict. The results came back and said she was negative- great news- but not so fast!! They texted her shortly afterwards and said that the vial had been dropped and the contents had been contaminated, so could she come back for another test??

Again, luckily the result was negative, but in the meantime, contact tracing reached out to Rena and asked that she fill out an online report 2 times a day and the last I heard, Rena is finishing up her quarantine. In the meantime, her friends hearing about her prowess at getting vaccines for people, have been texting her-“Can you find me an appointment?” She did have a bit more free time for the next few days, so why not!! I am reminded of the old Yiddish proverb: “Mann Tracht, un Gott Lacht”- “man plans and god laughs!”

*Good news update: Rena finished her quarantine and was able to get an appointment for the Moderna vaccine at the Jacob Javits Center this weekend for herself and also for a friend who is a reporter!

This short story put me in the mood for some Eastern European comfort food and I thought of a big casserole of stuffed cabbage or in Polish, Galumpki!

Galumpki is a satisfying but very heavy dish; often made with pork or beef and smothered in sour cream. It might also be served with sauerkraut that has been cooked with crunchy bits of meat and mashed potatoes. Just imagining all of this makes me feel like a stuffed cabbage!

Thinking about a making a lighter version, brought to mind a quirky, very creative vegan restaurant that we visited a few years ago in Pittsburgh, called Apteka. The cuisine features food from central and eastern Europe. The food is entirely vegan and we came away after a meal feeling satisfied but not overfull. I checked out their current menu and this week the dishes included: Koltlet Selerowy- a celery root schnitzel with dilly potatoes, dressed beets, cabbage slaw, leek and apple and horseradish sauce! Another special this week is roast endive with black currant raisins, sour cherry vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. They also offer potato pancakes with celeriac remoulade, smoked cabbage and prune paste.

I decided to create light and healthy stuffed cabbage that also would fit in the category of comfort food. Cabbage rolls appear throughout central and eastern Europe with different names and versions. The name golabki means “little pigeons” in Polish referring to the roll’s rounded shape. The Czech and Slovak rolls are called holubky and Serbian and Croatian rolls are sarma- all unique and delicious! I am not sure what category my cabbage rolls would fall under, but I channeled my eastern European roots and carried on!

I made a tomato sauce with lots of vegetables including onion, garlic, zucchini, carrot and kale seasoned with dried thyme, paprika and hot pepper flakes. I cooked it all up and then pureed it with an immersion blender. For the filling, I had some leftover parsley pesto(that I made with parsley, toasted walnuts, garlic and olive oil), brown rice, sauteed shallots and mushrooms- seasoned with dried sage and thyme, a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. I stuffed the mixture into cabbage leaves, poured tomato sauce over it and baked it all until the cabbage rolls were tender and the sauce was bubbling and aromatic. To serve the dish, I thinned a bit of non-fat yogurt with water and poured this over the top of the cabbage rolls.

So, here they are! This would be great with a glass of cold frosty beer and some really good dark rye bread smeared with softened butter! I hope you enjoy making these!!

Vegetarian Galumpki

Vegetarian Galumpki

Ingredients:

6 cabbage leaves from 1 small green cabbage

For parsley pesto:

1 bunch organic Italian parsley

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 clove garlic

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rest of ingredients for filling:

1 cup cooked brown rice (I used organic brown basmati rice)

2 shallots finely chopped

3-4 mushrooms finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of cayenne pepper or more to taste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 large can whole tomatoes

1 carrot finely chopped

1 small zucchini finely chopped

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 /2 cup kale, stems removed, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

To make Galumpki:

Prepare cabbage:

Remove core from cabbage and run hot water into the cored area to help in removing outer leaves. Remove 6 leaves and remove any thick ridges, this will make it easier to fold the rolls into packages. Keep remaining cabbage for other use.

Make Sauce:

In an large pot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and over medium heat, saute onion until it softens, add garlic and saute a few minutes more.

Add chopped zucchini and carrot- saute for a few minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and add kale, bay leaf, thyme, paprika and red pepper flakes.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes. This can also be made the day before.

Remove bay leaf and blend with an immersion blender until the sauce is smooth. It’s fine for small chunks of vegetables to remain!

Adjust seasoning and set aside.

Make Parsley Pesto:

Wash parsley thoroughly with cold water, cut off ends of stems. Don’t worry about drying the parsely, the extra moisture is good!

Place in food processor with garlic, toasted walnuts and olive oil.

Process until mixture is coarsely chopped.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

If mixture seems too stiff, add a bit more olive oil.

For this recipe, use 1/2 cup. You will have leftover pesto for another recipe!

This can be made a few days before, keeps well and is also great over whole wheat pasta!

Make rest of filling:

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add chopped shallots and saute for a few minutes until softened. Add chopped mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release their juices.

Add brown rice to onion mixture. Stir in 1 cup of the parsley pesto, 1 teaspoon ground sage, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Assemble Galumpki:

Pre-heat oven to 350 Degrees

In a medium size casserole dish place half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Divide filling into 6 portions. Place a cabbage leaf on a plate and place a portion of the filling in the center. Fold both sides of cabbage leaf in towards each other and then fold from bottom to top. Place seam side down in dish on top of tomato sauce. Continue stuffing rest of rolls. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the rolls.

Cover pan tightly with foil and bake about 45 minutes until cabbage is easily pierced with a sharp paring knife. Uncover and bake about 10-15 minutes more.

Yogurt Sauce:

1 cup non-fat plain yogurt

mix yogurt with water until the consistency is pourable, but not too thin!

Let sit for a few minutes and then pour yogurt sauce over the top of the galumpki.

ENJOY!

AND: I leave you with The Tree of the Week!

“I’m grumpy because I didn’t get any galumpki!

STAY SAFE!

Provence Revisited: Part Two

Cassis Calangues, Cassis France

Even for a person who enjoys the cold, I can now say enough! I am more then ready for spring! There are promising signs, the days are getting visibly longer and the dirt roads have turned to mud! This week most of the snow melted. So, this is an excellent time for Part Two of Provence Revisited.

In my blog entry from February 7th, Provence Revisited, I talked about my trip to Provence in 2017, made possible by a Professional Development grant from Hofstra University. The main goal of the grant was to learn about the cultivation of oboe cane (the species of cane is called arundo donax) that grows in southern France. For the trip, I was accompanied by my good friend Amanda. The plan was to spend three days visiting cane plantations and interviewing the growers in Hyeres and the surrounding area near the Mediterranean Sea. No hardship there!!

Arundo Donax Cane

After that, we would have another three days to travel around Provence, with visits to Aix en Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites, including a visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. AND, of course food played a major part of the planned itinerary!

Our trip started in Cassis, east of Marseille in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. Cassis is a quaint Provencal fishing village that is famous for the stunning and majestic Cassis Calangues; white limestone cliffs formed over 120 million years ago. We took a boat ride through crystalline blue water where we were treated to views of the magnificent and regal Calangues cliffs, that have inspired so many painters and artists; a wonderful way to start our adventure.

Cassis Calangues

Cassis, France

There were so many places that we would have liked to visit, but an excellent decision was to visit Aix en Provence; a small charming university town with beautiful architecture and bustling with energy! We checked into our hotel, Hotel en Ville; chosen partly because it was in walking distance of our lunch reservation at Chez Feraud! For this trip, I was looking for restaurants that were charming, unpretentious and most importantly offered great food. Chez Feraud did not disappoint!!

The food was excellent- I ordered a vegetable terrine that looked liked a beautifully arranged mosaic and a fish entree; grilled red mullet with black olive tapenade and roasted potatoes- but it was the dessert that I still remember clearly, simple poached figs served over homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce! The only problem was that it was now time to walk to our next destination; Musee Granet. The only desire I had at the moment was to sit in an outdoor cafe and people watch; so this is just what we did!!

Chez Feraud- Aix en Provence

After we finally recovered from lunch- icy lemonade with fresh mint helped- we slowly walked to the museum. Originally started in 1766 as a free drawing school, the museum has grown to it’s present size to include over 12,000 works and masterpieces. The day we visited, there was a special exhibition of contemporary works of art that were edgy and boldly colorful.

The next morning we drove to a leafy neighborhood in the Lauves Hill section of Aix to visit Atelier Paul Cezanne. In 1901, Cezanne bought a plot of land that at the time was open countryside. He built a simple two story house and from 1902 until his death in 1906, he worked here daily in his studio. After viewing the studio, I walked outside to the garden in the back of the house; surrounded by the lush greenery, I sat quietly enjoying the sense of history.

Atelier de la Paul Cezanne

Atelier Paul Cezanne

The next day we headed up into the hills towards Apt. Our hotel was in the town of Gargas about an hour from Aix. Picking hotels sight unseen can sometimes result in not perfect outcomes. But in this case, I was delighted that the clientele in the charming Mas de la tour, was not touristy, and included a French motorcycle group and a group of handicapped youths on a field trip. The rooms were charming and very reasonable priced. Housed in a 12th century structure that once was an abbey, it was not far from the beautiful hills towns of  Roussillon, Gordes and Bonnieux.

We checked into the hotel and then it was time for our lunch reservation in the medieval village of Bonnieux at L’Arome, across the street from a breathtaking view of the hills.

Bonnieux, France

Usually my recollection of memorable past meals is on the mark, but here I only remember that the food was delicious. Perhaps the stunning scenery distracted me and the fact that I was sitting on a terrace in the middle of Provence in a medieval hill town! My only regret is that I did not obsessively take pictures of the beautifully plated food. Here is one picture of my appetizer, almost too beautiful to devour, which I do remember that I happily did!

L’Arome- Bonnieux, France

That night, overly full from lunch, we had dinner in our hotel’s cozy outdoor courtyard restaurant. I remember that the food was good, but the best part was observing the other guests and the hotel’s friendly dogs that eagerly visited the tables. Amanda snuck a bit of her beef daube, that was a bit gristly, to one of the dogs!

The next morning we drove to the charming small city of Apt, famous for it’s bustling open air market place held every Saturday at the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance. The streets are filled with small stalls that sell everything from fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread and pastries to colorful fabrics, pottery and antiques.

Marketplace, Apt
Marketplace, Apt

I purchased a small tart made from puff pastry, filled with figs and almond paste. I placed it in my bag for later in the day when a snack was called for. And, this is one of my favorite parts of the trip: our next stop was the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Gordes. Started in 1148, the monastery still has an active religious community of monks that gather together seven times a day for prayer. The monks are famous for their cultivation of lavender. As my friend Amanda navigated our rental car around the steep and narrow roads, I took out my fig tart and as I took a bite, the fragrant scent of lavender wafted into the car! Heaven on earth!!

Abbey de Senanque Monastery
Abbey de Senanque Monatery

The monks have very generously structured their daily life to allow the public to tour the monastery. The tours were in French only, and I could only pick out a few words or phrases, but it was lovely to listen to the fluid and musical language as we walked through the chapels and cloister areas.

When I am traveling, I sometimes find that the unplanned discoveries are often very rewarding. Driving along a back road, we saw a sign that said La Boutique du Molin and we pulled off the road to investigate. It turned out to be an artisanal olive oil cooperative where the growers from the area bring their crops to be processed into olive oil. The friendly and helpful owners offered to give us a tour of the facility and they talked about the process of making olive oil. Then, we had an olive oil tasting where we sampled many different flavors of olive oil. It was fascinating to discover the different character and taste of each oil. And, of course we ended up purchasing a good number of bottles for friends and family.

We flew into Marseille and our original plan was to drive back to Marseille and spend our last day in France touring around Marseille before we returned home. We got to Marseille late in the afternoon- the steep and narrow streets of Marseille were very difficult to navigate our car through and by the time we found our hotel, New Hotel Bompard, a small nap was in order. We did not get to visit some of the places on our itinerary: the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde, Parc Borely, and the Chateau Borley (museum of decorative art)- this will have to be for another trip!

Then it was time for our dinner reservation at Chez FonFon. We walked down the steep and crowded streets to the restaurant, located in the old fishing port. Across the street from the restaurant was a crowded open air night club- it looked like a movie set from a Fellini movie. Chez FonFon is known for it’s excellent Bouillabasisse specialties, but after a few days of indulgence, I was not that hungry. I ordered a small appetizer of grilled fish and this was perfect along with some bread and a glass of wine! Afterwards we walked around the port and then very slowly back up the long hill to our hotel and very welcome beds!!

Chez Fonfon- Marseille

So, back to reality! Every day it seems as if we are getting closer to our new normal and if all goes well, more freedom. Writing this blog has awakened my desire to travel again! The other day, a simple dish of roasted red and yellow peppers brought back memories for some of the bright flavors that I tasted in Provence. The peppers can be served over pasta, grilled fish or chicken and with some crusty French bread and a glass of Rose wine, you can imagine that you are sitting on a terrace in Provence!

Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers

Ingredients:

2 red peppers

2 yellow peppers

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To make peppers:

Pre- heat oven to 450 degrees

Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. Slice into medium size strips.

Place on a large baking sheet and pour a few tablespoons of olive oil over peppers. Mix together with your hands.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast peppers for about 20-30 minutes, stirring about every 5-10 minutes with a spatula.

Roast until peppers are soft and start to caramelize.

Serve over pasta, grilled fish or grilled chicken.

Enjoy!

arundo donax- wild oboe cane

As we drove down the hills back towards the Mediterranean, Amanda noticed that the vegetation had dramatically changed and she said, “There it is, on the side of the road- wild oboe cane!”

My over packed suitcase made it safely back home with Rosé, a huge bag of oboe cane from Daniel Rigotti and of course olive oil! AND, I can happily report that I checked out several of the restaurants and hotels that we visited and they seem to all have survived the pandemic! Perhaps a return trip may happen in the not too distant future!!

Stay Safe!

Hummocks, Flarks and A Vegetarian Indian Feast!

Kelsey Road: Sheffield, MA

This week I had planned on writing Part Two: Provence Revisited, but I was sidetracked by pristine fresh snow; a brilliant white palette for animal tracks and reflections of light. Provence can wait, for now it’s back to winter!

Our invigorating walks in the cold have been mostly on side roads and our steps are careful; plodding and heavier. Between wearing sturdy winter hiking boots and the snow covered roads, it feels as if my feet carry me along like the thick and heavy tread of snow tires! The slower pace gives one the advantage of noticing more and I am enthralled by the patterns of light and shadows on the snow.

Wild Turkey Tracks

A small puddle of water on the side of the road is transformed into an exquisite ice sculpture.

On Kelsey Road in Sheffield MA, we walked by a small marsh and Paul remarked that he thought that the tiny bumps and indentations covered with snow were called hummocks. I thought that they looked like a magical colony of snow elf dwellings! After checking on Wikipedia, we read that shallow wet depressions in swampy areas are also called flarks.

Walking along the road, we had a good deal of fun making up silly word combinations, but quickly realized that we needed to call on our dear friend Hal Ober, an amazing poet and writer. He writes a blog called The Old Hatchery. We asked him to come up with a fitting limerick and he willingly complied. Here it is!

Hummocks and flarks. Hummocks and flarks.
It’s enough to flummox the Brothers Marx!
Compounding the task with a limerick ask?
Why, I’d sooner recline in a hammock with sharks!


AND, then Hal also wrote a poem!

Boggier(but not a limerick)

A hummock’s a hollow,
A flark is a mound.
No, sorry! 
I’ve got that the wrong way around.


If you slog through a bog
Here’s a field note to savor:
A hummock’s convex
And a flark is concaver. 

Or picture a sine wave.
Why? Just for a lark.
The crest—that’s the hummock.
The trough is the flark.

Thank you Hal!!


AND, According to Wikepedia

In geology, a hummock is a small knoll or mound above ground.[1] They are typically less than 15 meters (50 ft) in height and tend to appear in groups or fields. It is difficult to make generalizations about hummocks because of the diversity in their morphology and sedimentology.[2] An extremely irregular surface may be called hummocky.[3]

An ice hummock is a boss or rounded knoll of ice rising above the general level of an ice-field. Hummocky ice is caused by slow and unequal pressure in the main body of the packed ice, and by unequal structure and temperature at a later period.

Hummocks in the shape of low ridges of drier peat moss typically form part of the structure of certain types of raised bog, such as plateaukermipalsa or string bog. The hummocks alternate with shallow wet depressions or flarks.

Strange as it may seem to some, especially this week with the whole country in crisis with a deep freeze, I love the cold weather. I find I have more energy and focus. After a long walk, I am ready to come back indoors and cook to my heart’s content. With a fire blazing in the woodstove, food can simmer on the stove for hours while I practice, plan for future concerts, read and write. In the summer, I feel languid and lazy. I am always trying to keep the house cool and cooking in general suffers.

While walking the other day, I passed a small farm that raises Highland cattle. Originally from the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, their heavy fur is suitable for strong winds and colder temperatures. I was able to get quite close and could see puffs of steam come out of their noses as they exhaled. They seemed very contented in the snow; I think I might have found some kindred spirits!

**********************************

Safely back inside, I began to think about dinner. For the holidays, my daughter gave me a cookbook by the Israeli/English chef Yotam Ottolenghi called Flavor. Well known for his innovative recipes using a wide range of flavor combinations, his most recent book features plant based recipes. This is perfect for us. These days we are leaning towards a mostly vegetarian diet for a number of reasons: health, environmental concerns and I also happen to love the many different cuisines that use vegetables in flavorful and creative ways; Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian; the possibilities seem endless. Looking through the book, I saw a recipe for Tofu Korma that sounded delicious. Luckily the day I made it, we were snowed in- it took most of the day to prepare! The recipe with instructions will appear at another time!

Tofu Korma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Flavor

I decided to make an Indian vegetarian feast that was a bit less labor intensive. I made the following dishes over two days: Day One- Curried Vegetables, Kidney Bean Dal and Brown Rice. Day Two – Indian Pan Fried Cauliflower and Whole Wheat Naan along with leftovers from the previous night! A true feast!

Curried Vegetables
Kidney Bean Dal
Indian Pan Fried Cauliflower

The pan fried cauliflower, seasoned with cumin and black mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger and garlic is based on a recipe by David Tanis who is a contributor for the NYT Cooking column. Tanis has worked as a chef for many years at the renowned Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse; on my wish list to visit! I found the cumin and black mustard seeds in out of way container of Indian spices that I had purchased a while ago from a wonderful store called Kalustyan’s in Manhattan. Ideally spices should replaced after a year and I know that my supply is getting a bit old. Kalustyan’s has a great online store to order spices, but I think I will hold out until I can visit Curry Hill, the area between Lexington Avenue and 25th to 30th streets. I will also plan to visit Pongal an excellent vegetarian Indian restaurant in the neighborhood and will most definitely order a dosa!

Whole Wheat Naan

The naan was surprisingly easy to make; the only ingredients were whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and yogurt. I kneaded the dough in my mixer with a dough hook and they cooked very quickly on a hot griddle. The fun part was holding them over an open gas flame with tongs and they puffed up!

Curried Vegetables

Ingredients:

2 carrots cut into diagonal slices

1 zucchini cut into diagonal slices

1 cup frozen green beans

6-8 cherry tomatoes

1 medium onion diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Vegetable Curry:

In a large saucepan pan, heat olive oil.

Add onions and saute until they soften and turn light brown.

Add garlic and ginger and saute about a minute.

Add cumin, salt & pepper to taste and curry powder and saute for two minutes.

Add vegetables and saute for two minutes.

Add a bit of water and cover pan. You can always add more water if the mixture gets too dry and the vegetables are not soft enough.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are soft about 30 minutes.

Remove cover from pan and cook for a few minutes. You want a thick mixture-if there are bits of caramelized onion, garlic or ginger on the bottom of the pan this is good! Stir them up into the mixture.

Enjoy!

Kidney Bean Dal

Ingredients:

2 cans organic kidney beans drained and rinsed

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bay leaf (if you have fresh curry leaf, this would be great!)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro for garnish

To Make Kidney Bean Dal:

In a medium sized pot, heat olive oil.

Add onion and saute until it softens.

Add garlic and ginger- saute one minute.

Add turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until onions are soft and liquid is almost gone.

Uncover and cook a bit more until all liquid is gone.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Enjoy!

Indian Pan-Fried Cauliflower

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small cauliflower, cored and sliced into 1/2 pieces

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

1/2 cup frozen peas

To Make Cauliflower:

Heat a large saute pan or cast-iron skillet over medium to high heat.

Add the oil and when it is hot, add cauliflower in one layer. Let it brown and then stir. Season with salt and pepper and cook about 5 minutes more.

Push cauliflower over to one side of the pan and add a bit more olive oil.

Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and tumeric and when the mixture begins to sizzle, add ginger and garlic.

Add peas and stir well.

Add water to almost cover vegetables, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Cover pan and cook until the cauliflower is tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10-15 minutes, the timing can vary.

At this point, you can cook the mixture a few minutes more to brown and crisp things up.

Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Naan

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

small pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons non-fat yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

lukewarm water

To Make Naan:

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, pinch of sugar, salt and yeast.

Place the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl, this is because salt will adversely effect the yeast if the are mixed together while still dry.

Add yogurt and a small amount of water and knead briefly to make a smooth dough. You can continue kneading by hand for 5 minutes, but I used the dough hook on my mixer for 5 minutes and it was fine!

Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until it is doubled in size.

This is one of the fun parts- punch the dough down and knead for a couple more minutes.

Make 6-8 portions of the dough into balls and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. The dough will rise again a bit more.

Lightly dust a working surface with flour and roll the balls into ovals or circles, do not roll out too thin.

Heat a skillet on medium-high heat, place the rolled whole wheat naan over the heated skillet and cook on both sides. You will notice brown spots come on the top and the naans will puff up with air pockets. 

This was my favorite part. If you have a gas flame, you can optionally cook it directly over the flame once it is partially done on the skillet and let the breads puff up over the open flame!

You can smear some butter over the hot breads if desired!

ENJOY THE FEAST!!

Happy Rest of Winter! For the warm weather lovers, spring will be here soon! Stay warm and safe!

An addendum: hummocks and flarks on today’s snowy walk on Kelsey Road!

Provence Revisited: The Search For Illusive Oboe Cane!

Photo: Jean-Francois Rico D’Addario Cane Plantation- Hyeres, France 2017

What a few weeks! Trump is finally gone and it seems like we have woken up from a bad dream! Add to this, Paul had a health scare, but thankfully all is well. The trails are icy and hard to navigate and it is really cold out there, so long walks will be curtailed for a while! We both are feeling a bit of cabin fever and impatience as we wait for the vaccine and financial relief for so many people that are suffering. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for a little escape to a happier and warmer time; with memories from a trip to Provence that I took in 2017. This was part of a Professional Development Grant from Hofstra University titled: “The Search for Ellusive Oboe Cane.”

First, a bit of context:

One of the challenges of being an oboist is that in addition to playing an aerobic and difficult instrument is that one must also carve their own reeds. It is a precise skill learned over many years; at times the process can be Zen like, but it can also be a major source of frustration. Reeds are notorious for playing beautifully and then, with a small change in the weather they can become unresponsive and difficult to play.

We oboists have earned a reputation for being slightly eccentric, also thinking we are under appreciated because of what we have to deal with daily. This short and very humorous YouTube video perfectly illustrates a typical oboist!

Oboe, Clarinet, Saxophone and Bassoon reeds are made from a species of cane called Arundo Donax. Sorry for the pun, but Paul calls it donax don’t tell! It thrives in hot humid climates with some of the best cane grown in Southern France. When I was thinking about ideas for possible Professional Development Grants, the thought of visiting the source of reed cane intrigued me and of course, it did not hurt that this was in Provence! When I mentioned my idea about the trip to oboists, their eyes would light up and they would say,” What a brilliant idea!” When I brought up my plans to anyone else, the comment was, “You are going to Provence and will spend your days in hot and humid cane fields?” Then, they would politely smile. I was delighted and honored when I was awarded the grant and here begins the adventure:

First, I needed a knowledgeable tour guide. I was very fortunate to be connected with Jean-Francois Rico who lives in Nice, by Rob Pollan, the husband of the wonderful repair person Kristen Bertrand. For several years, Rob worked for D’Addario Woodwinds and knows many of the cane growers in France. Jean-Francois was the perfect guide. His grandfather was the founder of Rico Reeds. In addition to owning Rico Reeds, he has also worked as a professional photographer. He knows all of the cane growers in the area, is fluent in both French and English and loved having the chance to visit old friends and acquaintances. He was also a wine and food connoisseur; a match made in heaven! Each night during our trip, Jean-Francois would suggest a restaurant and also made suggestions about which Rose wine to sample. One night at dinner, as he was describing regional dishes and cooking techniques, my travel companion Amanda and I nodded our heads eagerly in recognition. He seemed a bit surprised and then said: “for Americans, you two seem to know an awful lot about food”!

Along with my intrepid travel partner and good friend Amanda, we spent three days traveling around and meeting many of the different cane growers in the Var Region of Provence. Not only did Amanda think of good questions to ask the various cane growers, she was also an excellent driver and in our standard six speed Peugot, she expertly navigated the myriad difficult rotaries and hairpin curves on the windy mountain roads! Under the backdrop of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea in Hyeres France, we visited the cane fields and learned a great deal about how the cane is grown and then dried for a year before it is ready to be used to make reeds. Hyeres is in a beautiful and un-touristy section of Provence; on the Mediterranean, not far from Marseille.

When we settled into our first hotel, Hotel Mercure, in Hyere, I knew I was in cane country; the walls were decorated with reed cane!

On the first morning of the trip, before our meetings started, we drove around the village of Hyeres and enjoyed the exquisite scenery.

As we rounded a corner, there it was there was-right in front of me- wild Arundo Donax growing on the side of the road! I asked Amanda to stop the car and I jumped out to get a photo!

Arundo Donax is a plant in the grass family and is not directly related to bamboo. Ancient reed instruments used the same material. It is also cultivated for woodwind reeds in Spain, Turkey, China, Argentina and Mexico. Perhaps I also need to travel there!

Our first visit was to the MARCA FRANCE cane plantation and the knowledgeable and cordial manager Nicolas Righi explained the process of harvesting, curing and then processing the cane to us.

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

 The stalks are harvested only after 2 years of growth. Harvest time is mid-December through March and is said to take place on the new moon. I came to understand that most of the cane cultivated on the plantations is processed to make clarinet and saxophone reeds. Oboe cane is usually harvested in the wild and the sources are a closely guarded secret! I gently pried a bit to learn about some of the locations and was also gently rebuffed!

The wild cane is not coddled with fertilizers and irrigation, so the resulting diameter of the cane will be smaller; perfect for oboe reeds! I also noticed that cane was often grown next to or close by vineyards; cane and wine seem to like the same soil. The area around Hyeres is also known for excellent rose wines- more on the wine later!

An important but tedious job is sorting the cane by the size of the diameter; a painstaking and precise job.

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

We next visited Rigotti Cane in nearby Cogolin. I was excited to meet owner Daniel Rigotti, as I have used his cane for many years. The company was managed by his father Franco until 2012. Daniel was very gracious and even though it was the middle of a busy work day, he took us to meet his parents. They invited us into their lovely home for tea and cookies and then treated us to lunch at a delightful small cafe. Cogolin is just 15 miles from Saint Tropez, but it is a small un-touristy Provencal village. It was a very hot day; the restaurant was outside under a covered patio. I remember that I was sweating so much I could hardly enjoy my salad of mixed greens with goat cheese toasts. Our gracious hosts offered us glasses of chilled rose; it was a perfect day that I will always remember. I felt that we were truly experiencing and sharing another culture.

In the cane fields with Daniel Rigotti and Jean-Francois Rico.

We also had the wonderful opportunity to visit the D’Addario Woodwind cane plantation in Hyeres and to meet Philippe Weibel an expert horticulturist.

photo: Jean-Frqncois Rico; with Philippe Weibel, D’Addario Cane Plantation

Coming out of the hot blazing sun, I entered a lush and verdant grove of Arundo Donax plants. Surrounded by the giant stalks, it felt as if I was in a humid tropical forest. Philippe jokingly greeted the plants and lovingly described some of the techniques he used to encourage the optimal growth of his charges. He picked up a clump of soil and crumbled it in his hands. He knew by feel exactly what the soil needed. I observed that under his stewardship, the plants grew to be strong and healthy; large in circumference, perfect for clarinet and saxophone reeds, but this would not be used for oboe cane!

Along with bags of tube cane, I had purchased a rather large number of bottles of rose wine and olive oil to take back home as gifts. Before we left the D’Addario Plantation, Philippe made sure to give me expert packing advise to make sure my treasures made it safely back!

The next three days were spent traveling around Provence, including visits to Aix in Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites including a wonderful visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. This will be part of the next Provence installment: Provence Revisted- Part Two!

Back to the cold snowy winter!

I think a recipe that invokes memories of summer and plenty of sunshine is in order; with a dish that has evolved over a number of years. When our daughter was small, each summer we would travel to Deer Isle, Maine where we rented a house with our dear friends Carol & Hal Ober and their son Matthew. After a day of swimming and hiking on the island, we always made dinner together. This would also sometimes involve a Blueberry Pie that we got from one of our favorite restaurants, The Fisherman’s Friend in Stonington, Maine. With the freshest ingredients purchased from roadside stands, we often put together a casserole that included eggplant, tomatoes, plenty of garlic and maybe also some zucchini and parsley. Topped with some bread crumbs and a bit of feta cheese, it was delicious! I believe it was Hal who first coined the phrase, “Here is a little dish I like to call Eggplant Provencal”!

The other day, I got firm fresh eggplant and a bunch of organic parsley in my coop order. I cut the eggplant into thick slices, placed it in a strainer and sprinkled it with salt to remove any bitterness.

Good tomatoes are nowhere to be found now, but a large can of whole peeled tomatoes cut into chunks, substituted nicely! After I rinsed and patted the eggplant slices dry, I added just a bit of olive oil to lightly coat the pieces and broiled the eggplant until it was golden brown and crispy. I layered the eggplant and tomato sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley. I topped the dish with breadcrumbs and olive oil and baked the casserole covered with foil wrap for about 40 minutes until the eggplant was soft. I removed the foil and baked the dish a bit more until the top was nicely browned and the juices were bubbly.

This is a perfect dish for the middle of the winter- served with a crusty baguette and a glass of rose; we can dream of warmer, safer days!!

“A Little Dish I Like to Call: Eggplant Provencal”

Ingredients:

1 firm large eggplant

1 large can whole tomatoes

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped

olive oil

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* If you have capers or pitted black olives on had, this might be nice to add.

To Make Eggplant:

Pre-heat Broiler

Slice eggplant into thick slices and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse and lay on a few sheets of paper towel and pat dry.

Place eggplant on a baking sheet and lightly coat with olive oil.

Broil each side until browned and slight softened.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place half of tomatoes on bottom of a medium sized casserole dish.

Layer eggplant on top and sprinkle with the garlic.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Add remaining tomatoes with their juice on top and sprinkle on the parsley.

Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on top.

Cover tightly with foil and bake about 40 minutes until the eggplant is very soft.

Remove cover and bake about 10 minutes more until top is nicely browned.

Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes and ENJOY!!

This is also great the next day!

As I write this, the wind is howling outside and our latest Nor’easter is almost finished.

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

The Bullitt Reservation and Andre Soltner’s Roast Chicken!

A few weeks ago on a visit to the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, Massachusetts, there was so much snow on the ground that we could not access the trials.

We walked along a dirt road near the trial and as we looked off into the woods, we saw an owl perched high in a snowy tree. The brown and white markings on the bird blended in with the stark winter landscape. The owl sat majestically observing all around him and then suddenly his wings opened into a wide span and he flew off through the still air; effortlessly and smoothly without a sound.

This past year, my husband Paul has become a maverick trail sleuth and I have become the guinea pig in chief; sometimes complaining a bit about mud, heat, losing our way on the trail, the steep elevation; but in the end, always willing! He has found many unusual and out of the way trails and nature preserves. The Bullitt Reservation is one of his new excellent finds! The gentle trail is nestled between mixed woodlands, farm buildings, streams and fields on 3,000 acres of protected land. We often only encounter a few other people on the trail and feel the lovely stillness in the air.

Paul enjoys delving into the historical background of the various sites that we visit; it enriches our appreciation for each trail or land trust and it creates a sense of place. In Pauls’ words:

William Christian Bullitt Jr. was a controversial figure. Bullitt was at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, working for Woodrow Wilson and resigned after reading the resulting Treaty of Versaille. He was the first US ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1933 and then Ambassador to France until 1940. On June 14, 1940, Bullitt refused to leave in the evacuation and stayed in Paris as the Germans attacked. He escaped with his life to return to a very disappointed President Roosevelt, who had hoped he would continue working with the French temporary government in Bordeaux. Bullitt co-wrote a book about Wilson with Sigmund Freud: Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study.
The Ashfield property was a Poor Farm for 50 years until 1874. William Bullitt bought the property in 1920, which has since been sold privately. The Bullitt Foundation provided the funds to develop the preserve that the public can enjoy today.
New England towns borrowed the idea of Poor Farms from England, where the practice had been put into statute as part of the Elizabethan Poor Laws during the
1600’s”.

And, we could not resist inserting a bit of Roaring Twenties soap opera details!

The following is from the Wikipedia entry about Bullitt:

Bullitt married socialite Aimee Ernesta Drinker (1892-1981) in 1916. She gave birth to a son in 1917, who died two days later. They divorced in 1923. In 1924 he married Louise Bryant, journalist author of Six Red Months in Russia and widow of radical journalist John Reed. Bullitt divorced Bryant in 1930 and took custody of their daughter after he discovered Bryant’s affair with English sculptor Gwen Le Gallienne. The Bullitts’ daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, was born in February 1924, eight weeks after their marriage. Anne Bullitt never had children. In 1967, she married her fourth husband, U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster
During that period, he was briefly engaged to Roosevelt’s personal secretary, Missy LeHand. However, she broke off the engagement after a trip to Moscow during which she reportedly discovered him to be having an affair with Olga Lepeshinskaya, a ballet dancer.
[21][22]

Probably more than one needs to know, but a good diversion!!

Last weekend, we returned to the Bullitt Reservation, most of the snow had melted, so it was possible to walk on the trails. Lately, I have become transfixed not only by trees, but also by the amazing variety of rocks and boulders.

Here we encountered a boulder that seemed to be hugged by trees. It is very tempting to anthropomorphize expressions on various rocks!

While I was practicing this week, and with my aforementioned habit of glancing over at the daily New York Times Food Column on my computer screen, I saw an intriguing method for roast chicken by the celebrated French chef Andre Soltner. He was the chef and owner of the acclaimed New York City restaurant Lutece, that was open for more then forty years, closing in 2004.

Seeing Soltner’s name, brought back sweet and delicious memories. I was a young music student attending Juilliard in NYC and a good friend of mine was a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Lutece was located in a fancy townhouse on East 50th Street and we were completely out of our league. We decided that we should go there and started to save our pennies; besides this was research for culinary school! I studied the menu for days, dreaming about what I might order. The day of the reservation, we changed out of our blue jeans and scrubby student clothes and got dressed up. As we warily entered the elegant restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the hostess (Andre Soltner’s wife). She showed us to our table, not tucked away in a corner near the kitchen door, but in the middle of the room. We were giddily enjoying our appetizers, when we noticed a wealthy patron observing us with amusement. His order of a complete caviar service had just been was placed before him; he summoned the waiter back to his table. I clearly remember him saying to the waiter: “please bring this to the young couple across the room, they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely”. We happily accepted his offer complete with a complimentary glass of champagne!

My friend had ordered braised pigeon; the solemn and very correct waiter placed it before him and with a deadpan manner and thick French accent said: ” Here you are monsieur, Central Park West!” At the end of the meal, Andre Soltner the chef, stopped by our table and asked how our dinner was- I think we might have made a bit of an impression at this highly refined shrine of fine dining!

Back to our challenging times! After looking at Soltner’s recipe for roast chicken, I decided to give it a try. Fair warning: this does involves a bit of high heat; I did have to put on the exhaust fan full blast and open a door to air out the smoke! I think this recipe is probably more conducive to a professional kitchen; but it was definitely worth it!! The result was a perfectly roasted chicken with crispy skin, full of flavor and very tender. The recipe calls for sprigs of fresh thyme and tarragon. I had neither, so I substituted fresh rosemary and dried herbs de provence. I think any dried herb would be fine!

Andre Soltner’s Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

1 small whole chicken rinsed and patted dry

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped finely

3 teaspoons herbs de provence or dried thyme

1 small onion halved

2-3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 sprigs fresh parsley

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon butter

To Make Chicken:

A few hours before roasting chicken, rub salt and pepper and herbs on the outside and inside of chicken. Place onion and rosemary and parsley sprigs in the cavity of the chicken.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees- turn exhaust fan to high

On the stove, heat a roasting pan over high heat- this will be one of the most smoky parts! Add the oil and the chicken-brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and roast in oven until a meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees when inserted in the thigh. I put the roasting pan on the bottom shelf.

Immediately drop 2 teaspoons of water into the bottom of the roasting pan, close the oven door and turn off the heat. After 3 minutes, remove pan from the oven and place the chicken on a platter. Let it rest at least 10 minutes before carving.

If you have good home made chicken stock and a nice bottle of white wine, proceed with the recipe for a quick sauce. I had neither and the plain roasted chicken was delicious on it’s own!

To Make Sauce:

Drain fat from roasting pan and place on top of stove over medium heat. Add the wine and using a wooden spoon, scrape up browned bits from bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and chopped tarragon and parley. Whisk in the butter and pour over chicken.

Enjoy!!

With a few sides of wild rice with shallots, toasted walnuts and cumin and sauteed carrots and zucchini we had a perfect comfort food feast!

Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

AND this week, Paul became a tree hugger with “The Tree of the Week!”

” That feels good! Can you hug me a bit tighter!”

Please stay safe!!

The Joffe Sanctuary and More Potpies!

Woah! What a week! I started to write this blog thinking that the certification process would have gone smoothly and all was now on a relatively even keel! As the next few weeks unfold, we will be need to take solace from music, nature and comfort food more then ever- so here we go!

The Joffe Sanctuary in New Marlborough Massachusetts, is a beautiful ecosystem with wetlands and upland habitats. The small trail loops around a vernal pond; a shallow body of water that is usually devoid of fish. With no competition, amphibians and insect species can thrive. This past summer, we were treated to a full length antiphonal symphony between the frogs and insects. Now the stillness is lovely and the patterns of twigs and branches on the ice and water are mesmerizing.

Since this is a short loop, on our way home we stopped by to walk on Kelsey Road in Sheffield MA, which also crosses over a few marshes.

At this time in history, our democracy seems as fragile as these ice crystals on the ground!

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA.

I love and admire many composers, but find that I always return to Bach. His music inspires me in a profound way and even when I play a slow melody in a minor key, I find Bach’s music uplifting and centering. This morning, I pulled out the Larghetto from Bach’s Concerto in A Major for Oboe and Strings. It seemed so appropriate for this time. I look forward to playing this piece in it’s entirety with harpsichord and strings- maybe soon?? Here is an excerpt:

And then of course, we can turn to comfort food! What could be better than a bubbling hot Chicken Pot Pie!

For Christmas dinner this year, our menu was based on beloved traditions that included chicken breasts filled with a sour dough stuffing made with pecans, shallots, mushrooms, celery and onion. With just two of us, there was plenty of leftover chicken. I froze a few chicken breasts until needed and this was certainly the week! I cut up the chicken and discovered there was also the added treat of small chunks of leftover stuffing! This along with onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms and some frozen green peas, dried thyme and sage, made a tasty filling; although shitake mushrooms or green beans would also be good! I made a quick lightly thickened sauce with chicken stock, butter and flour and topped the pot pie with spelt/whole wheat pastry flour biscuits. With a salad of mixed greens, dried cranberries, shaved parmesan and pecans, it almost felt like a holiday! I hope you enjoy making this!

Chicken Pot Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

1-2 cups cooked chicken cut into small pieces

2 carrots diced into medium pieces

1 stalk celery diced into medium pieces

1 onion finely chopped

5-6 mushrooms, stemmed and cut into small slices

1/2 cup frozen peas defrosted

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage

salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup white flour

1 1/2 cups chicken broth (home made if possible, low sodium canned organic broth may be substituted). * Note

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Biscuits:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1 scallion finely chopped(optional)

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup hot water

To Make Filling:

In a medium saucepan heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute onion until it softens. Add carrots, mushrooms ,celery, thyme and sage. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook about 10 minutes until vegetables soften a bit and are lightly browned. Add peas and set aside.

To Make Sauce:

Over medium heat melt butter in a small pot.

Stir in flour and cook briefly.

Slowly whisk in broth and continue to stir until mixture comes to a slow boil and thickens. If sauce is too thick, you can always a bit more broth. Adjust seasoning.

* Note- If you are using canned broth, I sometimes add a few dashes of Tamari to boost the flavor.

Pre-heat oven to 375 Degrees

To Make Biscuits:

In a large bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and if you are using parmesan cheese and scallion. Mix well.

Add oil and hot water, stir to combine and knead mixture gently a few times with your hands.

Assemble the Pot Pie:

Place filling in a medium oval or square baking dish.

Pour sauce over filling.

Form biscuits with your hands and place over the filling, (they can be any size, I usually make about 8-10 biscuits). These biscuits are very forgiving and do not need to look uniform, the shaggier the better!!

Bake uncovered for about 40-45 minutes until the mixture bubbles and the biscuits are lightly browned. At this point, everything starts to smells heavenly and all troubles are forgotten!!

ENJOY!!

AND of course, here is “The Tree of the Week”!

“Watching with eyes wide open!!”

Please be Safe!!

Winter at the Rivulet

In past winters we did not take many hikes through the woods and fields. Most likely we would have been visiting museums, dining out, going to plays and visiting friends! I would also be rehearsing and performing concerts with my groups Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness. This challenging year, our main activities have moved outside and we have become more adventurous. Armed with my trusty shillelagh, new warm and sturdy hiking boots and fleece lined pants, we are prepared for the outdoors!

A return trip to our beloved Rivulet at the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts was in order! This is the childhood home of the poet, journalist and editor William Cullen Bryant( 1794-1847). After the recent warmer weather and torrential rain, most of the snow cover was melted and the icy water flowed more forcefully through the small stream.

We have walked on many trails this past year, but there is a unique quality of serenity and peace that we feel strongly each time we return to the Bryant Homestead. The tall evergreens reach towards the sky and as you enter the woods, they encompass you with their sweet musty pine scent. It is also the gently sloping and winding trails that loop around the rivulet, the reflection of light on the water and woods and the sense of history that makes this such a special, almost sacred place. If it was spring or summer, I would be inspired to play an improvisation on the spot. That will have to wait! For now, I thought a piece from the renaissance period with lyrics about water; played in my warm study would be lovely to include. Luckily, I had just the person to ask; my good friend and colleague, lutenist extraordinaire and musicologist Christopher Morrongiello! He suggested a composition by the English lutenist and composer John Dowland; “Weep you no more, sad fountains”. The sweet and plaintive melody seemed perfect for the oboe and in the second half of the piece, the melody flows ever so gently downwards and ends with stillness.

“Weep you no more, sad fountains”- John Dowland 1563-1626

Weep you no more, sad fountains;
What need you flow so fast?
Look how the snowy mountains
Heaven’s sun doth gently waste!
But my sun’s heavenly eyes
View not your weeping
That now lies sleeping
Softly now, softly lies
Sleeping

Sleep is a reconciling
A rest that peace begets;
Doth not the sun rise smiling
When fair at e’en he sets?
Rest you, then, rest, sad eyes!
Melt not in weeping
While she lies sleeping
Softly now, softly lies
Sleeping

****** ******

After I finish my morning practicing, I find myself day dreaming about what I might like to make for dinner that night. I have to admit, this also often happens while I am still practicing. I glance over at the computer screen and find that I have become engrossed in the daily NY Times food blog! I reluctantly stop reading recipes and pull myself back to concentration and work! Recently I was in the mood for a savory pot pie. I have always loved potpies; as a child, a big treat was my own small Swanson chicken potpie filled with gooey gravy, tiny pieces of pebbly chicken and frozen vegetables. I always saved the salty crunchy crust for last!

This morning, I thought that a vegetable pot pie might be good. I was looking for something not too rich and decided to make the crust with olive oil instead of butter. Using olive oil made the crust very easy to handle and roll out. I added a bit of grated parmesan, a pinch of herb de provence and freshly ground pepper- the resulting crust was full of flavor and made me want to save the crust for last! Since the pandemic, our shopping habits have changed and I try to use what is on hand, so the filling for this pot pie turned out to be: onion, green beans, kale, cannellini beans, feta cheese and diced tomato; seasoned with dried dill and thyme. The final result turned out to be almost Greek in flavor. I think any combination of vegetables that you have on hand would work here! I had made a curried butternut squash soup a few days before. This was a perfect addition to the dinner plan- I topped the soup with a few caramelized shallots and a drizzle of thinned yogurt and a feast was made!

Vegetable Pot Pie

Ingredients for Filling:

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup green beans- stems removed and cut into small pieces

1 cup kale finely chopped

1 can cannellini or white navy beans drained and rinsed

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 small piece feta

1 teaspoon each dried dill and thyme.

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To Make Filling:

Steam green beans and kale until they soften a bit.

In a large pan, add olive oil and saute onion over medium heat until it softens.

Add other ingredients and cook mixture down on low heat covered until mixture softens. Adjust seasoning.

Ingredients for Crust:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried herb de provence

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup cold ice water

1 egg yolk lightly beaten for egg wash to brush over crust

To Make Crust:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together both flours, salt, herbs, pepper and grated parmesan.

Slowly mix in water and stir together with a large spoon until it forms a shaggy mass. ( you may need a bit more water).

Pour onto a light floured work surface and work the mixture until it forms a ball. Cut in half.

Roll out one piece of to fit inside a pie plate or shallow baking dish.

Prick dough in pie dish all over with a fork and pre-bake the dough for about 8 minutes and then remove from the oven. This will keep the bottom of the crust from getting soggy.

Place filling in pre-baked crust and crumble feta over the top of the filling. Pour a bit of olive oil over the top of the filling. Roll out the second piece of dough. Fit over the top of the filling and crimp the edges with a fork.

Brush egg wash over the top of the pie and make a few slits in the top to let steam release.

Bake about 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Let cool for about 15 minutes and enjoy!!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

1 package peeled and chopped butternut squash

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 medium apple peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

for garnish- 2 or 3 shallots sliced thinly.

To Make Soup:

In a large pot, saute onion until it softens, stir in curry powder and cook about 1 minute more.

Add rest of ingredients to pot and cover with water.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until squash, apple and onion is very soft -about 1 hour.

For a thicker soup, remove cover partly while cooking.

While soup is cooking heat a bit of olive oil in a small pan and saute shallots until they are crisp and caramalized.

When soup is done. remove bay leaf and puree with an immersion blender until creamy.

Garnish with shallots and yogurt.

Enjoy!!

AND NOW, I will curl up on my couch with an excellent murder mystery that one of my students recommended Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr (it is set in 1930’s Berlin) and a wonderful cookbook that my daughter gave me for the holidays; Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi!

AND of course, here is The Tree of the Week!

“Leave Already!!!”

Happy New Year! Please Stay Safe!

Winter Solstice Walks and a Merry Tune!

The woods at Hunger Mountain in Monterey Massachusetts were pristine and quiet. The light reflecting on the snow made beautiful patterns. I stood very still and listened intently; the only sound I heard was a small twin engine plane flying overhead. I thought how quiet it must have been before the intrusive cacophony of cars, airplanes and trucks-perhaps this is why lutes, guitars, harpsichords, flutes and recorders were intuitively crafted to play with a softer delicate timbre?

A friend recently lent me her beautifully handcrafted Irish Shilelagh and it made much easier to stomp up and down the snowy trails. This sturdy little walking stick could also be an over sized conductor’s baton! Hunger Mountain loops around a massive outcropping of rock that has many crooks and crannies. Last summer while hiking here, Paul almost stumbled upon a big black bear ahead of him on the path! Walking the other day in the crisp cold air, I imagined the black bears safely hibernating in their snuggly rock caves around us!

A few days before the recent Nor’ Easter, we took a walk at the Ashintully Gardens in Tryingham, Massachusetts that is run by The Trustees of Reservations.

The day was grey and misty and also beautifully still. As we walked through the fields of the estate, enjoying the silence and solitude, we could hear the distant bells of the Visitation Monastery announcing the noon hour. The order of The Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary is a few miles away. According to the description of the order, “it is a cloistered contemplative order that strives to be a gentle presence in a world threatened by terrorism and war”. So appropriate for our times!

Hiking up a small hill we saw the ruins of the old Marble Palace poking stoically through the woods. All that remains of the original mansion that was destroyed in a tragic fire in 1915 are four stone columns.

Today we decided to return to Hunger Mountain to take some pictures of the rock outcroppings and caves. After the climate change freak rainstorm and warm weather that we recently had, almost all of the snow had melted and the landscape looked completely different.

Because so much snow was gone, we could clearly see the cave openings-very exciting!!

Ice made beautiful and unusual formations around the rocks and cave openings. Some the of the icicles reminded me of organ pipes.

Then it was time to go home for some hot chocolate and warm up in front of the woodstove!

Here is a lively Spanish Christmas Carol, played on my alto recorder, “Dadme albricias, hijos d’Eva” (“Sons of Eve, Bring Glad Tidings”); a fitting ending to 2020, a most challenging year!

The piece is part of a collection of anonymous carols from 15th century Spain that were compiled in Venice in 1556.

Dadme albricias, hijos d’Eva from ‘Cancionero de Upala’, 1556

AND, we should end the year with a sweet! Almond Orange Biscotti-perfect with espresso or dipped into gelato! This recipe is adapted from The Smitten Kitchen, an excellent food blog by Deb Perelman. I used whole wheat pastry and whole grain spelt flour. Instead of using the recipe’s 1 1/2 cups of sugar, I substituted 3/4 cup of coconut sugar which has a very low glycemic index. I also added Lily’s Dark Chocolate Baking Chips that are stevia sweetened- the biscotti are almost guilt free, although a bit addicting! They are also easy to make and the recipe is large, so there is also now a bag in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date!!

Almond Orange Biscotti

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups whole grain spelt flour

1/3 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup coconut sugar

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks)unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon orange zest (try to use an organic orange)

1 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup Lily’s Dark Chocolate Stevia Baking Chips

1 large egg white

Make Biscotti:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.


Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl.

Mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, orange juice and zest in a large bowl.

Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until
well blended. Mix in almonds. At this point, I used both hands to mix everything together!


Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape two 13 1/2-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch wide logs. Transfer both logs to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them apart.

Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each log.


Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack about 20 minutes.
Maintain oven temperature.
Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2 wide slices. My bread knife worked well here.

Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. Turn
biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

ENJOY!!

AND, of course here is “The Tree of the Week”!

“Who did he pardon this week??

We will look forward to 2021 and hopefully a better year! Happy New Year and Please be Safe!!

First Snow and a Renaissance Christmas Carol

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary- Plainfield, Massachusetts

“Ein Lied von der Geburt Christi“- Caspar Othmayr 1515-1553

Enjoy a Renaissance Christmas Carol as you read about our first snowy adventure of the season. The music continues even if I can’t play improvisations outside!

A few weeks ago, in our corner of Northwest Connecticut, it had rained all day with a few snow showers. The following morning we headed north and as the elevation increased, we saw the first real snow of the season! Since there were only a few inches of snow on the ground, we decided to take a small hike at the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield, Massachusetts. There were no other cars in the lot and the billboard at the beginning of the trail posted pictures of bear claw marks on a tree trunk and moose. A little ominous, but no problem; after all, this was only a small walk- a one mile loop.

The woods were beautiful and still with small evergreen plants poking their noses out the snow.

We walked and walked….. taking pictures absorbed me completely. The patterns of ice on the water in a small stream made lovely abstract designs.

After a while, I noticed that the sun was getting a bit lower in the sky and I mentioned to Paul that the promised one mile loop seemed a bit long! We looked around us and the trail seemed to be heading back uphill. A thought went through my mind: “the doofuses get lost and freeze to death on a one mile loop”!

Paul said a bit anxiously: “stop taking pictures and let’s move along here”!! We increased the tempo of our steps, hopefully heading in the right direction and with relief we soon saw the original trail marker. The small one mile loop turned out to be 3 1/2 miles!

We thought that at this point it might be a good idea to head back towards home. Well, maybe just one more little detour on the back roads! Ahead of us was the Dubuque State Forest and Hallockville Pond, where I had kayaked this past summer. The sun was just starting to set over the small pond; a perfect ending to a beautiful day!

This week I was in the mood for a comforting hearty soup. I thought that a fish chowder might fit the bill and thoughts of the eclectic and innovative restaurant Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine came to mind. This small eccentric restaurant is the perfect little place- great creative simple food with big bold tastes and no pretension! It is always crowded, a bit too noisy and often hard to get a reservation. Hopefully this summer we will be able to return. On one of our visits, I ordered the “Chowdah Guy”- roasted to order haddock with smoke house bacon, corn, onion, potato, fresh thyme, garlic, cream and fumet ( fish broth). What’s not to like!! I came up with a version with what I remembered about the dish and the ingredients that I had on hand. I sauteed an onion and a bit of chopped celery in olive oil and a small knob of butter for extra flavor; then sprinkled flour on top and whisked in whole milk to help thicken the stew. I added corn that I had frozen from last summer, diced potato, a piece of andouille sausage, dried thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper, diced fire roasted tomatoes and covered everything with water. I let it cook down for about an hour and right before serving it, added about a pound of haddock cut into small pieces. It brought back memories of being in coastal Maine in late August and it tasted even better the next day!

Fish Chowder ala Cafe Miranda

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cod or haddock

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 stalk celery with leaves finely chopped

1 medium potato diced

1 cup corn (frozen is fine)

1 chicken or pork andouille sausage cut into small pieces

1/4 cup diced tomato

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter

1 tablespoon white flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

To Make Fish Chowder:

In a large pot heat butter and olive oil.

Saute onion until it softens and then add celery, cook for about a minute more.

Sprinkle flour over onion and celery, stir and cook about 1 minute.

Add milk and stir. Add all other ingredients, except fish.

Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about an hour.

Add fish and cook briefly, just until fish flakes easily.

Adjust seasoning- add more salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.

ENJOY!

AND, here is the perfect accompaniment to the stew- an easy to make Whole Wheat Soda Bread that tastes and looks like a combination of biscuits and bread! I added chopped rosemary, fresh ground pepper, chopped scallion and grated parmesan. I think any and all additions would work beautifully!

Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups flour-I used a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and whole grain spelt flour.

1 level teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (you may need a bit more or less).

I added a handful of chopped fresh rosemary, freshly ground pepper, diced scallion and 2 tablespoons grated parmesan.

To Make Soda Bread:

Preheat oven to 425 Degrees F.

Lightly flour a baking sheet.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt in a large bowl.

If using, mix in cheese, pepper and herbs.

Mix in enough buttermilk to from moist clumps. You should be able to gather dough into a loose ball-it will be very sticky. Have a bit of extra flour on hand to sprinkle over your hands.

Lightly flour a surface and knead dough until it forms a ball. Cut into two pieces.

Place the pieces on the baking sheet and cut all of the way through the dough with a sharp small knife making a crisscross pattern. The dough will actually be separated- this will help the bread cook through.

Bake until bread is golden brown on top, about 30-35 minutes. It will sound hollow when you tap it lightly.

Transfer to a rack and let cool completely- although, I don’t think I could wait! This would be wonderful with some good butter!

AND of course, here is the Tree of the Week:

“I’ve seen a lot in my time, but this year does seem to take the cake!”

As I finish writing this, we are digging out of our first real snow!!

Happy Holidays to All and Please Be Safe!

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!!