Happy Spring from Parsons Marsh!

Parson’s Marsh- Lenox, MA

It was the second day of spring; the wind was brisk and the air had a chill to it, but the sun was shining brightly as we walked through Parsons Marsh Trail in Lenox, Massachusetts. The site, just down the road from the main entrance to Tanglewood, was designed and built by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in 2018. The short trail winds through an open meadow, forested upland and ends at a large marsh. It is home to over 75 nesting bird species, white tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, red and grey fox, and the marsh also houses beaver, mink and otter!

Parson’s Marsh
Parson’s Marsh

In a few weeks the landscape will change dramatically; the trees and vegetation will be green and lush. Every year I am newly amazed at the rapid transition. Near the edge of the water at Parson’s Marsh, I saw the last small ice formations of the year.

Directly across from the trail is an old Berkshire “Cottage”that is now The Stonover Farm B&B. Built in 1890 by John Parsons, the existing cottage served as a farm house for the estate. The idyllic grounds stand on a spring fed duck pond and 10 acres.

Next to the main cottage is an old barn that houses a contemporary art gallery. This looks like it might also be a beautiful space for chamber music concerts!

A few weeks before Passover, I always make a large pot of chicken stock as a base for Matzoh Ball Soup; I cook a whole chicken along with onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and dill. After simmering for a few hours, the resulting broth is rich with full depth of flavor, but the remaining chicken is very soft and tastes like cotton! Trying to avoid food waste, I tried to think of a use for the leftover chicken. I was in the mood for Italian cannelloni and came up with an idea for a filling. I removed the chicken from the bones and added this along with sauteed onion and garlic, lightly steamed broccoli rabe and a handful of toasted walnuts to the bowl of my food processor. I pulsed the mixture just a few times so the chicken would not get too pasty and then seasoned it with dried thyme, a pinch of both nutmeg and red pepper flakes and salt & pepper. Tasting the crumbly mixture, the texture of the chicken reminded me of dry ricotta cheese. So far so good!

I had purchased a few fresh lasagna sheets from Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington, MA. I cut the pasta into long strips, spread some filling in the center of each and rolled them up. Along with fresh tomato sauce, I have to say the result was delicious. I used no cheese, but feel free to top the dish with fresh grated mozzarella! There were 12 rolls and I thought this might be too much for two people, but they disappeared quickly! Hence the name of the dish-“Can’t Leave Them Aloni Cannelloni”!

“Can’t Leave Them Aloni Cannelloni”

Ingredients:

1 large sheet fresh lasagna pasta

For Filling:

leftover chicken from stock

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 cup steamed broccoli rabe (the taste was slightly bitter, you can also substitute kale or baby spinach- if you use spinach, make sure to wring it out in a paper towel to remove extra moisture.)

handful of toasted walnuts- more or less will work just fine!

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of red pepper flakes to taste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

For Tomato Sauce:

1 large can crushed tomatoes

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sweet basil

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

splash of red wine (if you have an open bottle hanging around!)

To Make Cannelloni:

Make Sauce:

In a large pot, heat olive oil.

Saute chopped onion until it softens slightly.

Add chopped garlic and cook briefly.

Add crushed tomatoes and remaining ingredients.

Add about 1 cup water- you can always add more later if the sauce seems too thick.

Bring sauce to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. The sauce can be made the day before.

Make Filling:

Heat olive oil in a medium sized saute pan.

Add onion and cook until softened.

Add garlic and cook briefly.

In bowl of food processor, place chicken, steamed broccoli rabe, onion and garlic, walnuts, nutmeg, thyme and red pepper flakes.

Pulse a few times until mixture is crumbly. Do not over process as the texture will get pasty.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Assemble Cannollini:

Pre-heat oven to 365 Degrees.

Put 1/2 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.

Place a pasta sheet on the counter. Cut lengthwise into 6 even strips. Cut each strip in half. You should have 12 pieces of pasta.

Place a dollop of the filling in the center of each pasta piece and roll up.

Place the filled cannelloni seam side down over the sauce.

Put the remaining sauce over the top of the rolls.

Cover tightly with foil and bake about 35 minutes. When you insert a small paring knife in the center of a roll, it should feel soft and the sauce will be bubbly and fragrant! Uncover and cook about 5-10 minutes more and the rolls will brown up a bit. Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving.

See how long it takes to finish these! Enjoy!

AND: Here is The Tree of the Week:

“Put that in your pipe and smoke it”

STAY SAFE!!

Twin Oaks Preserve and a Passover Treat!

Twin Oaks Preserve

This past week, I listened to a segment featuring poet Tess Taylor on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and it resonated deeply with me. For so many people this past year has been one of isolation, grief and hardship and then there are others like myself who have had the good fortune to spend the year safely sheltered with our partners in our homes and surrounded by natural beauty. At first, it felt surreal and strange to be so anchored to one place, but after some time passed, I began to notice subtle changes in my daily life. Taylor selected a few poems about that in her words: “speak to an appreciation for that sense of being stuck”.

One of the poems she chose was by the Harvard based poet Stephanie Burt:

Love poem with horticulture and anxiety. Of course we have feet of clay or fins. Of course we made promises – everyone does – that we will make good, but not today. We cherish our oversized shoes. Our garden also has sylphs that only we can see and peonies and badger tracks and a sandstone Artemis and colors not found in nature except in flower beds – intense maroons, deep golds, sleek pinks, warm blues.Stephanie Burt

In Taylor’s words: “I think this is a poem that actually says it’s OK to be stuck. It’s OK to be watching this time pass. Things are flowering that you may not even understand. You are stuck. You are in this garden. This world is enormous and beyond you. And there’s a beautiful surrender to just watching. And so there’s a way in which just trying to think what are the good parts of this strange year that we’ll treasure, that feels like a particularly domestic assignment and a way of circling this strange life that we’ve been thrown into and having the chance to evaluate what is it that I have figured out how to love this year.”

I decided to make a list of the things about this most unusual of years that I will treasure:

1.The unexpected gift of time gave us the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us and to explore it in a deep way. Of course, my husband Paul’s knack of finding unusual walks and hidden away trails helped!

2. Although it was hard not to perform with my group and others, I developed a satisfying routine of practicing oboe where I could smooth out my tonal production, finger technique and other aspects of my playing. In a normal year, I would mostly be practicing repertoire for concerts; my interest in improvisation was rekindled and I discovered that I love creating small improvisations on my recorder, oboe and Native American flute. I played anywhere- on our hikes to mountain tops, marshes and other inspiring places. I plan to continue this and look forward to playing in chapels and other beautiful locations- and dreaming a bit- I have started researching locations in Croatia!

3. Finding ourselves together constantly, my relationship with my dear and sweet husband Paul deepened as well as our mutual sense of humor relating to the absurdities of our situation. Or, perhaps I should say- poor man– my silly streak rubbed off on him!

4. Perhaps best of all, I have started to write about my experiences and had the time to take a creative writing class. I don’t think this would have happened in such a wonderful and organic way given another set of circumstances!

The other day, I took a solo walk at Twin Oaks Preserve in Sharon, CT. This was one of our first walks that we took at the beginning of the pandemic last March.

As I walked up the gentle slope of the meadow, I experienced a bitter sweet emotion as I observed the change of the seasons. The birds have returned, a strong March wind was blowing and I smelled the sweet air of spring. We had come through this year and survived!

The Sharon Land Trust bought the 70 acre Twin Oaks property in 1998. Two oak trees that stood in the middle of the field were there since before the American Revolution. The first tree fell shortly after hurricane Sandy in 2013 and it’s twin fell shortly after. Paul and I have been reading a book called: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The author talks about how trees communicate with each other and what they feel; very thought provoking. We don’t know if somehow the root systems were interdependent or perhaps the second tree died of a broken heart! A local artist created a beautiful sculpture from the wood that stands at the beginning of the trail.

We just had our second ZOOM Passover this past weekend and it was so heartwarming to see our daughter and her partner Katie, along with other dear friends. Not being able to see each other in person was also bittersweet, but with the use of technology we managed to see people living in Massachusetts, Virginia and Connecticut all at the same time! Our daughter led the first part of the service and then we signed off to have our own dinners. We resumed the service and were treated to Alicia & Katie’s beautiful singing. At the end of a Seder, a door is traditionally opened to symbolically allow the prophet Elijah to enter. As we opened our individual doors, I thought that the bittersweet chocolate pots de creme I had made for dessert fit the mood perfectly. We had to close our own door a bit abruptly as a bat flew close by and also the bears have awakened from their winter slumber! No reason to invite a bear into our home!

I adapted this simple recipe from the book Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. I used Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate and just a touch of coconut sugar, but feel free to add maple syrup if you would like a sweeter flavor! This recipe makes a dense rich textured pudding that is delicious on it’s own, but also would be lovely served with fresh strawberries and maybe a touch of whipped cream!

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

2 tablespoons coconut sugar

4 ounces Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate

To Make the Pots de Creme:

Ina small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of the almond milk.

In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the remaining 1 cup almond milk to a simmer with the coconut sugar, stirring often so that the milk does not boil over. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Whisk the cornstarch again to make sure it is completely dissolved and add this to the hot milk mixture.

Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat and sprinkle chocolate over the top. Whisk until chocolate is completely mixed in and is smooth. Place in individual ramekins or a bowl. Refrigerate until cold.

Note: This recipe can be easily doubled. The pudding has a very bittersweet flavor. Add maple syrup to taste.

ENJOY!!

As of this writing, both my husband and I are completely vaccinated! Now comes the part of becoming “unstuck” from our safe haven. I feel like a tortoise slowly poking it’s head out of it’s shell and looking warily around!

One of our first ventures will be to the Aldrich Museum with timed tickets to see an exhibit by the amazing 91 year sculptor Tim Prentice. Hevreh Ensemble members and close friends Laurie and Jeff will meet us there. Afterwards , we are going to a restaurant called the Farmer and The Fish, where we will celebrate Pauls’ birthday! We will be seated safely outside!

Next, we plan to visit our dear friends Carol & Hal in Boston. Carol has told me how much she misses my cooking and our dinners together. So, I am planning to make her a dinner that we are calling: “Carol’s Feast”. AND– yes, there will be blog posts about all of this; complete with recipes!

I end with my favorite Tree of the Week:

“What a Year! “Looking Forward to Spring”

STAY SAFE!

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!

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!!