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
Welcome to my new blog! I look forward to sharing my love of music, art, travel, nature and food with you! Yes, there will also be recipes! I am a professional oboist, and during this time of Covid when it has not been possible to perform live concerts, I have been inspired by the daily walks and hikes that I take with my husband Paul. On our excursions, I have started to bring along my Native American Flute and Recorder and have been creating short spontaneous improvisations on mountain tops and by serene marshes and ponds. I hope you enjoy accompanying me on my adventures and explorations!
Water Music: Steepletop Preserve
Recently after reading the NY Times and visiting the drive through at the bank I felt a bit stressed. Hoping to change my mood pattern quickly, I decided to take a short drive to one of my favorite solo walks on Beaver Damn Road. I have been watching several patches of wild blackberries that line the road for a few weeks, hoping that they will ripen soon for picking! Not quite ready…. but as I walked down the road, I noticed several swallowtail butterflies perched in a lovely patch of purple cone flowers….. a hawk soared high above in the blue sky. Mood fixed!!
Over the last few weeks, we have gone on several new hikes, all beautiful! Thousand Acre Swamp, part of Cookson State Forest in New Marlborough, Massachusetts is a small lake; a haven for birds, wildlife and it is covered with lily pads. There are miles of trails that meander through the woods and around the lake. Looking at the lily pads I felt as if I was in a Monet painting! So… “Music from the Water” was born!
The day after a huge storm that caused havoc and downed many trees and power lines, we decided to return to Thousand Acre Swamp to make a music video. We quickly realized that getting to our destination was not in the cards- we tried several different routes; all were impassable with downed trees and wires. We decided to try to visit another favorite, Steepletop Reserve, run by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. The 1,230 acre reserve includes expansive wetlands and a series of well marked trails that weave around the marsh and woodland areas. We finally made it to Steepletop although the trail had several trees blocking the path that we had to climb over!
Here is a video from the lovely marsh area of the trail:
The next day we finally made it back to Ten Thousand Acres Swamp. Arriving in the late afternoon, the light was stunning and made intricate patterns on the water.
We walked to a suspension bridge that was a bit wobbly, but it was the perfect place to make another video! As I played my flute, I looked over the water and felt a deep sense of peace.
AND, here is a bit of escape from the present! In October 2018, I visited the Bronx Botanical Gardens and was excited to learn that there was a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit: “Visions of Hawaii”. It was a sunny and cool fall day-I had never had the opportunity to visit the botanical gardens. I was impressed by the intricate design of the gardens and how accessible everything was to the public. I took a leisurely stroll through the gardens and on the wide paths that led to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory; an Italian Renaissance style greenhouse. The exhibit included plants, gardens, and landscapes that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe and were paired with an exhibition of her Hawaii pictures in the Art Gallery. As I entered the humid and hot conservatory, my senses were momentarily overwhelmed by the enormous variety of exotic vegetation and lush vividly colored tropical flowers. Interspersed throughout the exhibit were quotes from Georgia O’Keefe and insightful commentary about her paintings.
The exhibition was totally engrossing, but soon it was time to find a place for lunch! I did a quick google search for ethnic restaurants near the Botanical Gardens and Dukagjini Burek came up- it was seven minutes away on Lydig Avenue. This was a good sign! I located the restaurant and discovered that the neighborhood was a small Albanian enclave with bakeries, ethnic grocery stores and family run restaurants.
I entered the small restaurant that had a just a few tables and the menu on the wall posted the following:
Burek w/ Meat | $4 Burek w/ Cheese | $4 Burek w/ Spinach | $4 Burek Any Pie | $16
Yogurt / Kus | $1.50
Espresso | $2.00 Cappuccino | $2.50
A Burek is a pizza sized pie with a crust that is a combination of phyllo and pastry dough. I discovered that the owner, Marjan Kolnrekaj who is from Dulagjin, Kosovo has made this specialty for many years. His family has been making Bureks for over a hundred years. I ordered a slice of the burek with cheese and an order of yogurt. I bit into the crisp buttery crust with a cheese filling that included onion and herbs and it was simply delicious! I felt the sense of pride and respect that the workers had for the food and their culture. As I ate, several burly men came in speaking a language that I could not place. I asked a woman standing nearby if she knew what the language it was and she told me with pride that it was Albanian.
I wanted to take a picture of one the counter workers cutting and serving the pies and I may have pushed my luck a bit! The woman at the counter did not smile when I asked if it would be alright to take a picture. She wielded her sharp knife a little threateningly in my direction, but it was worth it!
I am happy to say that Dukagjini Burek is thriving during the pandemic. I called the other day to see if the restaurant was open and they sounded busy- a burek would be the perfect comfort food during this time! I look forward to returning soon!!
AND… Blueberries are ready for picking! We went to Jameson’s High Meadow Farm in Chester, Massachusetts- a perfect place for socially distant picking!
After a walk at the Siegel-Kline Kill Conservation Area in Ghent New York, we stopped by nearby LoveApple Farm and got a half bushel of the sweetest peaches I think I have ever tasted….. more about the beautiful wildflowers in the fields at Siegel-Kline Kill in another blog!
Here is a Sweet Ending with a perfect summer dessert! I had a version of this dessert a few years ago at the wonderful restaurant, Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg, NY- near Ithaca. I remember that the dessert was topped with freshly chopped chilled mango. This dessert is light, very refreshing and there will be plenty of lemon curd, peaches and tapioca pudding left over for snacks!
3/4 cup sugar ( I used 1/2 cup of Monk fruit Sweetener- see note)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest freshly grated
1 tablespoon butter
Make Lemon Curd:
In a medium non-reactive sauce pan whisk together egg, egg whites, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest.
Add butter and cook over low heat stirring constantly until thick- aprox. 5-7 minutes. Do not let mixture come to a simmer.
Use a fine mesh strainer and strain mixture into a small bowl-refrigerate until cold.
Bring a large pot of water to boil- add 6 large peaches – let sit for about a minute.
Remove and peel peaches- the skins will slip right off!
Cut peaches into slices and place in a medium sized pan
Bring peaches to a boil reduce to a simmer, cook for about 5 minutes until they soften and release their juices – add a bit of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch and make a slurry with a small amount of water
Mix into peaches and stir over low heat until the mixture thickens and the color turns clear.
Refrigerate until cold.
2 3/4 cups milk
1/3 sugar-( for a low sugar version, use 2 tablespoons coconut sugar)
3 tablespoons instant tapioca
1 teaspoon vanilla
To make pudding:
Whisk together milk, sugar and tapioca in a medium saucepan- let stand 5 minutes.
Bring to a full boil over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Refrigerate until cold.
Wash and drain 2 cups fresh blueberries ( you can also use raspberries or blackberries)
You can use wine glasses or small bowls.
Place a layer of tapioca pudding on bottom of glass or dish
Add a layer of peaches, then the lemon curd and top with the berries.
Monk fruit sweeter comes in granulated form and looks just like sugar. It has an extremely low glycemic index and it be used with the same quantities as regular sugar. I used less then the recipe calls for because we like a very tart flavor.