Carol’s Feast and a Multitude of Recorders!

A recent trip to Boston to visit our dear friends Carol & Hal was truly a feast for the senses; art, music and food! We had not seen them since before the pandemic; except for ZOOM visits and numerous phone conversations. Carol often wistfully said that she missed my cooking. I told her that when we could visit safely, I would make a special dinner for her called “Carol’s Feast.”

On cold snowy nights last winter, I imagined what I might make for our dinner; maybe a Mediterranean dinner with Baba Ganoush & hot buttered homemade pita breads and Tahdig- Crispy Persian Rice filled with leeks and cilantro and perfumed with saffron?
Or, a rich Beef Bourgionion with Tagliatelle and Roasted Garlic Brussel Sprouts?
Or, a simple roasted lemon rosemary chicken with potatoes mashed with goat cheese & chives?? My musings kept me going during the cold dark nights.

It was so lovely to be able to finally be in person. The first afternoon after we arrived, we hugged for long time and with huge smiles on our faces, we said ” Hi, Hi, Hi”!!! I had missed so deeply the special warm intelligent sparkle in Carol’s eyes, Hal’s keen sense of observation and the collective silliness that seems to always occur when we are together. Hal is a talented writer with a wonderful sense of humor. He has been dealing with the indignities of Parkinson’s Disease for over ten years with seemingly insurmountable challenges but his wit and incredible attitude were just as I remembered. We sat on their breezy second floor screened porch and over iced tea, we talked and talked!!

The first evening of our visit, we went to a favorite neighborhood haunt called Menotomy Grill. Sitting on the outside terrace we enjoyed salmon burgers with avocado, spicy wasabi aoli and pickled red cabbage with a side of delicious sweet potato fries.

I had brought a blueberry pie for our “Carol’s Feast” dinner, but when we returned from our dinner out, we decided that blueberry pie was needed at the moment and that we would enjoy it over the next few days!

Since our dinner was taking place in the summer, I decided to cook something light & came up with an Asian themed menu. Here is “Carol’s Feast”!

Appetizers:

Arugula salad with slivered red peppers, shredded daikon & carrot, toasted sliced almonds & orange slices with an orange ginger miso salad dressing.

Crispy Pan Fried Veggie Dumplings filled with bok choy, tofu, shitake mushrooms, scallions and rice noodles with a tamari, ginger, scallion and sesame chili oil dipping sauce.


Main Course:

Pan Fried Soba Noodles with scallops, bok choy, napa cabbage and shitake mushrooms.

Stir Fried Sesame Green Beans with garlic and scallions

Cold Cucumbers and Shredded Chicken with Peanut Sauce

The morning of our feast, Carol helped me prep the food and then we were treated to our own incredibly beautiful private art show. Carol had just finished an online art retreat that she has attended for many years in person, at Bennington College. Every summer I am constantly amazed at what she creates in the space of a week. We viewed over 18 pieces that she called “improvisations”. The works of art conveyed a deep sense of emotion with brilliant colors and strong bold lines. Images full of energy seemed to jump off of the page with both depth and movement. She kindly offered to let me share one of her works titled: “Pandora’s Box”. I thought this work was appropriate for our feast; I see patterns of different foods and also maybe blueberries??


“Pandora’s Box” Artist: Carol Ober

In the afternoon my husband Paul and Hal were happily engaged in a conversation about new books they were reading. Carol and I set off to have iced tea and biscotti at a neighborhood Cafe to catch up on more about each other’s lives and to dream about a possible trip to Southern France next March- if all goes well!

That night, sitting around Carol and Hal’s cozy dining room table, we enjoyed our feast and afterwards, happily sated with food and conversation, we even were able to find room to finish the blueberry pie!

Crispy Pan Fried Veggie Pot Stickers

Ingredients:

1 package small wonton wrappers

Filling:

4 medium size shitake mushrooms finely chopped

1 small skein of thin cellophane rice noodles

2 scallions diced

1/4 piece from a package of firm tofu crumbled

3 pieces baby bok choy finely chopped

sesame oil

salt to taste

1 tablespoon canola oil

Note– you can experiment with other fillings and the amounts do not have to be exact. Leeks, cilantro, daikon or carrots would also be good.

Dipping Sauce:

4 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions

hot sesame chili oil to taste

To make the dipping sauce:

Combine all of the ingredients, stir and set aside. Feel free to adjust amounts to taste!

To make pot stickers:

Place cellophane noodles in a bowl of very hot water. Let noodles soak until they soften and then cut the noodles into small pieces.

Heat canola oil in medium sized saute pan.

Saute scallions about one minute, then add bok choy and shitakes. Cook stirring often about 2 minutes.

Add rest of ingredients and cook about 2 minutes more. Set filling aside.

To fill dumplings:

Fill a small bowl with water.

Place a few wonton wrappers on a large flat plate. Dip your finger in the water and moisten the edges of the wonton wrappers.

Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling and fold the edges of the wonton wrapper over. Seal the edges firmly and place on another place lined with wax paper or parchment paper. Continue filling dumplings. You will have about 20 -25 dumplings.

Note: If not making the dumplings right away, sprinkle with a small amount of cornstarch, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To pan fry dumplings:

Heat about 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large non stick pan until the oil is very hot.

Add a layer of dumplings, don’t crowd pan and cook until browned in one side. Flip and cook the same on the other side. If the dumplings are browning too quickly, you can adjust the heat. Cook remaining dumplings.

Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

ENJOY!!

Our trip to Boston also included a long awaited trip to the Von Huene Workshop and Early Music Shop of New England. I was excited to meet the owner and extraordinary recorder maker Patrick Von Huene. I had a few old recorders to bring for repair and thought I would just try a few of Von Huene’s instruments with a purchase planned for the future. But the minute I played one of Von Huene’s hand made instruments, I was smitten. Plus, I had the chance to try over 15 instruments.

I ended up taking home two low pitch alto recorders on approval and realized that I could sell an old oboe to justify the purchase; now I am the proud owner of a new instrument! The sound is mellow and responsive with a beautiful high register. We were also treated to a tour of the workshop and Patrick’s young assistant showed us how the recorders were crafted.

I learned that the recorders are made from Grenadilla wood (this is the same wood that my modern oboe is made from)and they are also made from European boxwood that comes from Turkey.

Patrick Von Huene was also very generous with his time, showing us around the workshop and shared information about the different styles of recorders that he makes.

Patrick Von Huene

The Danish film Babette’s Feast was the inspiration behind the creation of “Carol’s Feast.” In the film, the main character Babette says,”En kunstner er aldrig fattig. ” (“An artist is never poor!”) With such a wealth of riches surrounding us on this trip, this sentiment rang true!

AND, here is the Tree of the Week:

” I think I ate too much at Carol’s house!”

STAY SAFE!!

An Update: Hal just sent me a limerick that he wrote about our recent visit:

Carol’s Feast

For us who let Dumpling Day lapse
There were dumplings to fill in the gaps,
Plus improve the environment,
celebrate C’s retirement,
And resist further wristy mishaps!

Our favorite flavors and foodles?
Tough call! Peanut sauce, soba noodles?
But then there’s the joy
Of scallops, bok choy…
Let’s just praise the whole kit and kaboodle!

Saving last for the best dish of all
(after hat tips to Judy and Paul),
We make room for—oh, mah!—
That there blueberry pah!
 Not forgettin’ th’ obligatory drawl!

THANK YOU HAL!!

Lots of Hugs and Cicadas!

We finally made it to Alexandria, Virginia to see our beautiful and amazing daughter Alicia and her equally adored, beautiful and amazing partner Katie. We tend to kvell about them at each and every opportunity! After more than a year, we could finally hug to our heart’s content! We were filled with joy to see the warm, cozy and inspirational life that they have created together; of course with Benji the irresistible cat!

I was reminded quickly that the “apple does not fall far from the tree”; over the next few days as we caught up on lost time, we were treated to Alicia’s creative and delicious food!

The evening we arrived, we had a picnic outside with a roasted vegetable, eggplant and spiced crispy chickpea salad with yogurt and tahini dressings.

There was a delicious dinner with roasted ginger salmon glazed with a fermented chile Korean sauce called gochujang and spring vegetables based on a recipe from a cookbook called Flavor written by the Israeli- British chef Yotam Ottenlengi.

L

For lunch the next day, leftover salmon was magically transformed into sesame seed coated salmon cakes with sauteed vegetables and quinoa brown rice pasta! It was served with more of the spicy tangy gochujang sauce that I am now addicted to!

While Katie is studying at the Virginia Theological Seminary towards ordination in the Episcopal Church, Alicia works as a professional singer and as a Jewish educator. They live on the historic campus of The Virginia Theological Seminary, which is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary this year.

I was heartened to hear on a recent NPR segment, that the school has just initiated one of the first reparations programs for descendants of enslaved people.

On a walk through the campus, Katie showed us the ruins of an old chapel built in 1881 and destroyed in a fire in 2010. In the middle of the ruins was a beautiful sculpture by Margaret Adams Parker, artist and adjunct instructor at VTS. The work of art illustrates the visitation between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth and the figures in the sculpture are depicted as African women.

Paul and I enjoyed walking around the campus looking at the historical architecture and observing the southern trees and plants. We saw a majestic willow oak….

Cicadas were just starting there journey up from the earth and we could hear their chorus swelling in the distance, like a repetitive composition by Steve Reich. I found the sound meditative and soothing. A lone cicada perched on a leaf posed for us!

As I was taking a video of Alicia’s garden, I realized that we had unknowingly captured a soundtrack of the cicadas!

The week before, the Smithsonian Museums had reopened in Washington, D.C. and Alicia was able to get us timed tickets at the National Gallery of Art!

It was an incredible feeling as we stepped into the cool, enormous and majestic hallway of the museum. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the massive amount of art work, and having only one hour timed tickets, we decided to visit beloved old favorites: Rodin, Dega and Saint Gaudins sculptures and then the Impressionist Wing. As I gazed happily at works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne and Monet; surrounded by vivid colors and patterns, I felt like a plant that had been deprived of water and was once again slowly absorbing moisture. What a balm for the soul! The guards also seemed to be happy to be back at work. A tall guard approached us and asked how we were enjoying our visit and had we seen the da Vinci painting yet? He proudly gave us some background on the painting; it is the only da Vinci in the Americas and dates back to the 1470’s; and then he pointed us in the right direction. We found the small exquisite painting and noticed unusual markings on the reverse side of the masterpiece: a painted wreath with three plants: juniper: a play on Ginevra’s name; palm: it represents moral virtue and laurel: it symbolizes Ginerva’s artistic side. A scroll surrounds the wreath with a motto written on it: “Virtutem Forma Decorat,” or “beauty adorns virtue.”

As we were leaving the museum, we passed by the same guard and he asked if we had enjoyed the da Vinci painting and would we like to buy it?? I found out later the painting was sold by the Royal Lichtenstein family in 1967 (they were having cash problems!)After a few failed bids the National Gallery of Art was able to purchase the painting for a mere 5 million- today a similar work is valued at over 450 million!

Alicia’s birthday was in a few weeks, so we decided to celebrate it early. She asked if I would bake her favorite carrot cake. This is a cake that is totally worth indulging in; based on a recipe from a 1994 Bon Appetit magazine, the cake is incredibly moist and spicy, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. I add crushed pineapple to the batter and also for the rich cream cheese frosting.

This past year, Alicia has been leading Sabbath services on ZOOM. It kept us connected when we could not see each other. She is often joined by Katie and they sing beautiful and haunting duets together. This time we were going to be watching the service live from the comfort of their living room! They were rehearsing Friday afternoon and as I iced the cake with creamy tangy frosting-some of which made it to my mouth- their rich sonorous voices transported me to a magical place of peace and absolute delight! Benji the cat who also loves music hopped down from his cat tree and laid on the floor on his back next to them with his feet up in the air!

Indulge and enjoy a big slice of this cake!!

Triple Layer Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups finely grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts- more is fine!
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup crushed pineapple

Ingredients for Frosting:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar- (add more if desired for extra sweetness)
  • 2 eight-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup crushed pineapple or for another flavor, I sometimes use the grated zest of a lemon.

For cake:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly grease waxed paper. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture. Stir in carrots, chopped walnuts and raisins.

Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 40 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)

For Frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Using icing spatula, spread remaining frosting in decorative swirls over sides and top of cake. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate.) Serve cake cold or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

We have been back home for a few weeks and I am slowly adjusting to our new normal, traveling to rehearsals in NYC, meeting friends for dinner, teaching students in my house and attending our first outdoor jazz concert with people actually dancing together! It all is a bit overwhelming to me, so I find particular comfort in the peace and continuity on our walks and hikes. The beauty and intricacy of early summer wildflowers enthrall us- we came upon Lady Slipper flowers that lined a path along a lake at the Dubuque State Forest in Plainfield, MA.

On a sticky and humid day, thunder clouds were rumbling in the sky. Lovely clusters of small wildflowers dotted the lush meadows at the Lime Kiln Preserve in Sheffield, MA.

AND: Here is our Southern Tree of the Week!

” I can see right through you!”

i

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!

Hidden Treasures in the Woods

Salmon Cakes

The woods of New England are filled with old stone walls & foundations of long deserted homes and farms. I often feel that I am on a treasure hunt or an archeological exploration and I wonder what the houses, fields and farms looked like a few hundred years ago. All of the trees would have been cut down and instead of quiet woods, there would be bustling activity all around.

Recently on a walk at the Goodnow Preservation, part of the New Marlborough Land Trust, we discovered the site of an old paper mill; The Lower Carrol Mill. According to the New Marlborough Land Trust; using local wood pulp, the mill made newsprint and manila paper for the New York City market from 1855-1887. As we walked down a path towards the Konkapot River, the late afternoon sun filtered through the trees.

Through a light mist we could see remnants of the old paper mill; moss covered stones were stacked haphazardly on top of each other-time stood still. On a small knoll a lone piece of rusty machinery stood by itself. I imagined how the mill would have looked and sounded in the 1860’s with the tremendous noise of the machinery and sawdust flying as local wood was turned into pulp. The Carrol Mill, operated by water power, was one of nearly a dozen small industries on the Konkapot River.

Just a mile down the road from The Goodnow Preserve is another treasure; the Joffe Nature Sanctuary, also run by the New Marlborough Land Trust. It includes a lovely short walk that loops around a peaceful marsh.

There are several wooden benches throughout the trail- a perfect place to bring a book!

On one of our walks, I brought along my oboe. The previous day I had listened to a virtual online concert of Bach Cantata BWV 199 that our daughter, the singer Alicia DePaolo had just presented. It was a beautiful performance; the cantata is emotionally stirring and deeply satisfying on so many levels. It gave me the inspiration for this improvisation:

Joffe Nature Sanctuary

Since the pandemic started and we have been fortunate to spend more time in nature, I have felt myself becoming more attuned to the surroundings. I have come to appreciate the intricate patterns and designs in the trees, plants, roots, water and sky.

I see abstract images that often remind me of the Austrian painter, Egon Schiele.

“A Tree in Late Autumn”-Egon Schiele

This is the week of “Salmon Three Ways” from a mistakenly large order of salmon. So far, we have had Asian Soba Noodles with Crispy Salmon, Salmon Cakes and we are supposed to have Tandoori Salmon tonight. But, truth be told, both Paul and I are more than a bit tired of salmon! The Tandoori Salmon will be frozen and we are going to have Swedish Meatballs! Yes, there is a Swedish Meatball story, but it will be saved for another blog!

Asian Soba Noodles with Crispy Salmon
Salmon Cakes
Tandoori Salmon

Salmon Cakes

Ingredients:

1/2 to 3/4 pound salmon fillet

1 egg

1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon sesame oil

few drops of hot chili oil

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger root

1 large garlic clove finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Prepare Salmon Cakes:

Remove skin from salmon and cut fish into a few pieces.

Add all other ingredients into the bowl of a food processor.

Blend until mixed, don’t over process.

Form mixture into four salmon cakes. The mixture is quite sticky. I line a large plate with wax paper and drop spoonfuls onto the plate. Form the patties with a small spatula.

Chill until firm.

Heat medium size cast iron pan or non-stick skillet.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil.

Brown on one side and flip over. Cook a few minutes more.

Sauce:

2 tablespoons Veganaise

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl.

Serve with lemon slices and sauce

ENJOY!!

Music from William Cullen Bryant Homestead

Summer Borscht

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.

Skiff Mountain Preserve

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!

Summer Borscht

Ingredients:

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

Prepare Borscht:

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.

ENJOY!!

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

Ingredients:

3 cups strawberries

3/4 very ripe peaches

2 tablespoons cornstarch

pinch of cinnamon

squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Pastry Crust:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt four

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter

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

3 or more tablespoons ice water

Make the pastry crust:

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

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

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

Make Filling:

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

Let cool – you could serve this with a scoop of Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss Ice Cream (sweetened with Agave)

ENJOY AND STAY SAFE!

Written by Judith Dansker