Plum Torte and Jackson Heights

The past week was one of minor miracles. My husband recovered quickly from covid and knock on wood, I never succumbed! I have to confess that I was rather glad when it was time to commute to New York to teach at Hofstra; escape from the germ zone!

As a treat to Paul, I thought I would bring some Indian takeout back home; this would give me the opportunity to explore the vibrant Indian community in the New York City borough of Queens. I had heard about the neighborhood for years, but never had chance to visit the area.

A kindly cab driver motioned me into a parking spot that he was leaving and I took a picture of the street signs; no getting lost this week! From this point of reference, I started to slowly walk around the neighborhood, taking in all of the sights.

As I neared the entrance of the subway at 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, I was met by the sounds of popular Indian music blaring from a loud speaker in front of a store. As people pushed by me on all sides, I felt as if I could be in the middle of a bustling and vibrant movie set!

Enjoy this short video in front of the 74th Street subway station!

There were many thriving family businesses and clothing stores that displayed bold colorful fabrics.

The streets were lined with small grocery stores selling a wide variety of Indian spices, dals & grains and outside the stores, exotic vegetables were displayed on stands including Thai eggplants, small round purple eggplants, Bengali squash, gourds, and heaping boxes of hot green chilies. As I walked slowly through the neighborhood, a delicious aroma of garlic and spices wafted through the air.

Thai Eggplant

Bengali Squash

There were numerous cafes and Indian pastry shops with enticing displays of sweets.

The colorful and fragrant small desserts were like eye candy; I succumbed and selected a few small pastries to sample on the way back home.

I discovered that Jackson Heights is also one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the United States with over 167 languages spoken, including Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Columbians, Argentinians, Tibetans and Nepalese. As I walked down the streets and looked at all of the different faces of the people, I sensed the beautiful mix of cultures with everyone seeming to comingle peacefully!

I started to look for an Indian restaurant to order our takeout dinner and was distracted momentarily by a display of colorful cakes in the window of a Mexican bakery and of course I had to go inside. The counter person was a lovely young woman who proudly showed me the different breads , cakes and pastries.

Just down the street I saw a Tibetan restaurant that looked interesting and decided that maybe some momos (Tibetan dumplings) would be good instead of Indian food. I made a rather large order to take home along with a few other dishes. Often my instincts are on the mark when choosing restaurants, but alas not in this case. The food was greasy, lacking in flavor & the momos were filled with tough pieces of meat. So, this restaurant will remain nameless! The good news is the I will definitely make more trips to Jackson Heights and I know the next time I will find great Indian or Tibetan food!!

Back in the car, heading home, I took out one of the Indian pastry treats and took a bite. The flavor was delicious with hints of cardamom, but shockingly sweet and it made my teeth ache; time to think about a dessert that was guilt free but also delicious!

In my blog, I made a decision not to dwell on health issues, but I will make an exception for this post. More then 15 years ago my husband was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and this caused us to make major changes to our diet. You may have noticed that many of the dessert recipes in my blog are made either without sugar and if a recipe needs a sweetener, I use either small amounts of monk fruit sweetener, stevia, or coconut sugar; all with a very low glycemic index. I find that now when I taste recipes that use regular sugar, they taste way too sweet and I enjoy the fresh taste of apples and berries without sweeteners.

Recently, I reinvented a plum torte that was made famous by the NY Times food writer Marian Burros. The original plum torte is rich and buttery and very sweet. For my guilt free version, I used the same batter that is in my Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumble Tea Cake, with the addition of almond extract and for an extra treat, I made a glaze for the top of the torte with a small amount of honey that I microwaved with cinnamon. You could also use sliced apples or apricots when they are in season. I hope you enjoy this recipe!!

Plum Torte

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup unsweetened vanilla soy or almond milk

10-12 Italian plums or you can use sliced apples or apricots in season- cut plums in half and remove pits.

Glaze:

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cinamon

stir together honey and cinnamon and microwave for about 30 seconds until honey becomes liquid.

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

Lightly butter a tart pan or large pie dish.

To make cake batter:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Add egg, vanilla, canola oil, soy or almond milk and mix together just until the batter is smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and place plum halves cut side down in a decorative pattern over batter.

Drizzle glaze over top of the batter and fruit.

Bake until fruit starts to bubble and a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

ENJOY!!

This fall I have been watching a spider outside of my study window. It distracted me nicely as I avoided working on my oboe reeds! I was fascinated to watch how during stormy weather or heavy rain, the spider would retreat to a corner of the window and the web would be torn apart. When the weather cleared, the spider would slowly climb back out, repair it’s web and carry on; much like the resilience that our fragile democracy has recently exhibited!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“That was a close call”!!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

“Mann tracht un Gott Lacht”* and Baked Apple Cider Donuts

* “Man plans and God Laughs”- The old Yiddish expression took on new meaning this past week. The plan was this-my Birthday week was crammed full with students, an early rehearsal in NYC for a Salisbury Four Christmas concert, teaching at Hofstra University and getting ready for the release of my group Hevreh Ensemble’s new album, Meserole Street. I thought that I would be too busy to write much in the way of my blog and the idea of a guest blogger appealed to me. My husband took a walk at the Keystone Arches in Chester, MA and returned with beautiful photographs- he would be the perfect guest!

“Keystone Arches”- Chester, MA- photo Paul DePaolo

But as it happened, too much transpired that I needed to write about. I will look forward to featuring a Keystone Arches guest blog soon!

This year, my birthday fell on a Friday, the day I travel to New York to teach; Paul suggested waiting until Sunday to celebrate. The plan was to attend an Orchestra ONE concert at Bard College’s Fisher Center. A group of my talented Advanced Ensemble students from the Indian Mountain School were planning to meet us at the concert; being kindly driven by another IMS faculty member. After the concert, Paul and I would drive to nearby Rhinebeck, New York and have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants; Gigi’s Trattoria. I returned home Saturday night; tired but happy and inspired by the rehearsal I had that afternoon. Exquisite melodies from works by Schutz and Monteverdi were still dancing around in my head and for a brief time all felt right with our crazy world. At the rehearsal, we had all talked about the soothing power of music.

Then, Sunday morning after I woke up late, I came downstairs and my husband ominously said that his throat hurt and it felt scratchy. We both took Covid rapid tests and his came back with the dreaded 2 stripes! Quickly all plans were scuttled and we were thrust into the place where no one wants to go….

Feeling frustrated with the sudden change in direction, I decided to take a hike by myself. I made sure that Paul was comfortable with plenty of tissues and herbal tea nearby and I am so glad that I decided to tell him my planned destination!

I set out for The Drury Preserve in Sheffield, Massachusetts for beautiful solitude. My car was the only one in the small lot and this suited my mood just fine. Kicking leaves, I strode off on the trail that led through a pine forest. My thoughts were full of frustration, anger, worry about Paul and plenty of self pity! The trail leads gradually down into a swampy area with narrow planks of wood over the small marsh; the entire round trip is about 3 miles. As I tramped through the woods, gradually my mood began to lighten and I thought there might even be enough time to get back to The Bistro Box in Great Barrington to bring home chicken and falafel burgers and a salad with the freshest organic greens. Things were beginning to look brighter!

I crossed the last wooden plank over the marsh and looked forward to reaching a small idyllic pond with a small wooden bench that has a lovely view of Race Mountain in the distance. Somehow I got off the trail without knowing it, but I saw the pond in the distance and climbed up a small hill and then down to the pond.

Drury Preserve- Sheffield, MA

I sat for a few minutes on the bench, breathing in the fresh fall air deeply and then started to head back. Very quickly I realized that I could not find the trail. The ground was covered with leaves and there were no blue blazes on the trees to mark the way.

I started off in one direction, realized it was not leading to the trail and went the other way. This did not work either, but I saw the pond peeking through the trees and headed back to the pond.

After a few mores tries to orient myself to the trail, I knew that I was completely lost and as the sun sank lower in the sky, a small amount of worry trickled into my mind and I decided to call my sick husband. With one bar of power on my phone, the call miraculously connected and I said “I think I am completely turned around, please come!! I had a good 45 minutes to wait for my rescuer and went back to the lovely bench by the pond; plenty of time to “cool my heels”, mediate and take pictures of the beautiful surroundings.

I even took a picture of a possible candidate for a “Tree of the Week”!

As I heard Paul’s voice calling out to me through the woods, I felt palpable relief. I bounded down the path towards him; Paul was so relieved to see me that he did not pay close attention to the way back and soon enough both of us were lost! Our friends Peter and Caroline were also coming to my rescue. Luckily, Paul remembered Peter’s advise to “cross the marsh and head east” after Peter had checked a map of the preserve. With great relief we soon saw the wooden slats of the trail in the distance and we headed back to our cars just as the sun was setting!

And best of all, my dear friend Carol created a beautiful piece of artwork, “Tree and Bird” for my birthday; this could not be a better birthday treat! To see more of her extraordinary artwork: Carol Ober.

As I write this post, Paul is recovering nicely and I wait to see if I will develop symptoms.

In the Fall, I often pass by farm stands that sell Apple Cider Donuts and I resist eating them because they are greasy, overly sweet, full of calories and I am often disappointed with the lack of apple flavor. I set out to find a recipe for Apple Cider Donuts that were baked and full of cider flavor and I think I may have found the trick! I adapted a recipe that I found online from Sweet Cayenne. The recipe calls for apple cider that is cooked down into a syrup and with the addition of allspice, cinnamon and ground cloves, they tasted light, delicious and best of all are guilt free! I liked them plain, but they could also be glazed or dipped in coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Baked Apple Cider Donuts- adapted from Sweet Cayenne

Ingredients

For the donuts:

  • ⅓ cup neutral-flavored oil (canola, avocado, grapeseed, walnut)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 cup applesauce ( I did not have a jar of applesauce on hand, so I just cooked down a few apples and mashed them up with some cinnamon).
  • ½ cup  apple cider, boiled down to about 2 tablespoons of syrup
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

For the glaze:

  • 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons milk or enough to make a spreadable glaze

Instructions

Making the donuts:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a non-stick donut pan with cooking spray. My pan makes 6 donuts, so I had to fill it twice.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, applesauce, cider syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until smooth.
  • Add the flour, stirring until just smooth.
  • Fill a pastry bag or a sturdy gallon-sized plastic bag with the batter. Use scissors to snip off the tip of the bag, creating about an ½”’ hole.
  • Pipe the batter into the wells of the doughnut pan nearly to the rim. Or, just carefully spoon in the batter.
  • Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean. .
  • Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and loosen their edges by running a knife along the outer circle.
  • ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“Oy Vey”

HAPPY HALLOWEEN AND STAY SAFE!!

Iceland Part 1: Lupines and Blueberry Skyr Pie

I was convinced that something would prevent my friend Carol and I from traveling to Iceland. At the last minute, either my husband or I would get Covid or some other emergency would come up; but the heavens smiled in our favor and as the plane lifted up into the clouds, Carol and I held our hands tightly together and said, “We did it”!!

So many choices and things to write about the trip. I have decided to write a three part blog. The second post will be about geothermal pools, volcanos and the Icelandic brown bread that I am going to attempt to bake. The third post will be a foodie’s delight; a road tour of the restaurants and cafes that we visited- even with all of the hiking and walking that we did, I managed to put on a few pounds!

With all of the disturbing events in our world, I hope you enjoy the next few entries as a brief respite!

We spent the first two days of our trip in quaint and charming Reykjavik and could easily have spent a week there walking around interesting neighborhoods, visiting museums and enjoying excellent restaurants and cafes.

Harpa Concert Hall- Reykjavik
Reykjavik Harbor

After our stay in Reykjavik, we headed out in our rental car, about a 3 hour drive along the coast to the western peninsula towns near Anarstapi. I was not prepared for the breathtaking and unusual landscape.

Brilliant purple lupines lined coastal inlets and mountainsides.

Volcanic rock looked as if it was tossed randomly in the fields.

Often, we were the only car on the road with sheep slowly crossing the road.

So many things to share; a hike between the two small towns of Anarstapi and Hellnar stands out. From our cozy lodging, Fosshotel in Anarstapi, we walked to the trailhead for a 4 mile hike along the sea cliffs. The rocky path, high above the ocean, was strewn with volcanic rock.

Wildflowers dotted the rugged landscape with the cries of seabirds reverberating from the cliffs.

The air was bracing, clear and invigorating; my four layers of sweaters and winter raincoat a perfect match for the sudden blasts of artic air- and this was in July!!

At the end of the hike, there was a treat awaiting us; the path led up a small set of stairs to cozy and atmospheric Cafe Fjoruhusio. The tables were covered with embroidered place settings with patterns of tiny wildflowers. The air smelled of coffee and fresh baked pastries; cinnamon mingling with butter and chocolate.

Cafe Fjoruhusio- Hellnar, Iceland

An outside deck overlooked the cliffs and the ocean.

Sykr, Icelandic yogurt, appears in many dishes. After securing a lovely spot on the deck, we ordered a piece of Blueberry Skyr Cheesecake. I am normally not a big fan of cheesecake, but this cake was light, full of tangy flavor and had a blueberry topping; irresistible! Just a few bites were all I needed; any more and I don’t think I would have felt light footed enough to make the return trek back over the craggy and rocky trail to our hotel!

That night we had a delicious dinner at the Fosshotel and since it does not get dark at all this time of year, we were able to take one more small walk at 9 PM. Just down the road, we saw a small weather beaten church; it looked like the metal structure had withstood many storms. Next to the church was an ancient graveyard overlooking the sea.

Anarstapi, Iceland

There were hours of daylight left, but shortly after returning to our room, we fell into a deep sleep. I woke briefly in at 3:00 AM and the sun was still shining brightly!

More to come………

We made it back safely home, without incident and knock on wood, no Covid! As we entered the customs hall at Newark, I was expecting to be met by throngs of sweaty, exhausted travelers. There were at the most 20 people in line. Amazed, I asked the elderly African American guard: “Where are all of the people”. He remarked dryly, “Don’t ask questions, just pray to G-d!!”

During the trip, we enjoyed desserts, ice cream and treats with abandon. After all, we did not want to miss out on anything! One day, we had three desserts (although we did share them)! Back home and to reality, I was thinking fondly about the rich Skyr cheesecake that we devoured happily. I decided to create a version with no refined sugar, healthy and guilt free. I perused a few online versions and here is what I came up with. I made the crust from whole grain flax crackers rather than sweet graham crackers and sweetened it with a bit of coconut sugar. I added a handful of toasted walnuts and some lime zest and instead of butter used a vegan butter substitute, although melted butter would also be fine.

For the filling, I used plain lowfat skyr (I used the Siggi brand) and added some pureed wild blueberries. The best part was the substitute for whipped cream. Here is a bit of kitchen magic: I put a can of whole fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight and the next day opened it and scooped out the solids. Beat together with monk fruit sweetener and vanilla, it miraculously morphed into what looked like whipped cream and it was delicious!

Blueberry Skyr Pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

12 Back to Nature flax flatbread crackers

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lime zest

3 tablespoons melted butter ( I used Kite Hill plant based butter)

1/8 cup coconut sugar

Filling:

1 cup Wymans wild blueberries

2 cups plain low fat skyr

1 can full fat coconut milk ( refrigerated overnight)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1 cup fresh blueberries

To make pie:

In a small saucepan place blueberries and slowly bring berries to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until berries release their juice and berries soften. Place berries in a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and press down on solids. Refrigerate until cold.

Make pie crust:

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees

Place crackers and toasted walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Process until crackers and walnuts are finely ground. Place in a bowl and add cinnamon, lime zest and coconut sugar. Mix well and then add melted butter. Stir well and place mixture in the bottom of a pie pan. Pat firmly and place in oven. Bake about 8-10 minutes until crust is lightly brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Make whipped coconut:

Open can and carefully remove the solid coconut from the top of the can. Place in a mixer and start to slowly blend. The mixture will start to lighten- add the vanilla and monk fruit sweetener and beat on a high speed until mixture resembles whipped cream. Set aside.

Place skyr in a large bowl- slowly fold in whipped coconut mixture and then carefully fold in strained blueberries.

Place mixture in pie crust and smooth over evenly. Decorate with fresh berries and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. We liked this light dessert so much that we are bringing a tartlet version to our friends in Boston as a house gift this week!

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the Icelandic Tree of the Week from Reykjavik!!

“Glad that I could appear in the blog all the way from Iceland!!”

HAPPY SUMMER!

An Abundance of Strawberries and Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumb Tea Cake!

Thompson Finch Farm- Ancramdale, New York

Early June is one of my favorite times of the year; the days are sunny and not too hot and best of all it’s time to pick the sweet and full of flavor organic strawberries from Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancramdale, New York!

Thompson Finch Farm- Ancramdale, New York

I sit cross legged on the ground and as a fresh cool breeze washes over me, I look around and I am completely contented. As I pick, I listen to the happy voices of people in the surrounding rows discussing what they plan to do with their bounty; strawberry jam and scones, chocolate mousse with strawberries and I start to concoct my own recipes. I am thinking of a coffee cake with apple, strawberries and a ginger crumb topping.

There are so many berries that in less than 40 minutes I pick over 9 pounds!

After picking strawberries, I returned home and thought that I had just enough time to make the tea cake before my haircut appointment. And, here the saga of the under baked tea cake begins!

I realized after I put the cake in the oven that there was no way the cake was going to be done before I needed to leave. I asked the hair dresser if there was any wiggle room in their schedule; not an option. I decided to take the half baked cake out of the oven and then see if I could finish baking it later. I can report that this did not work very well- the double baked cake had a strange heavy gluey texture and when I cut it, the cake crumbled and looked ugly and misshapen; a real cooking disaster!

I thought that maybe I could gather it all up and make a bread pudding out of it. But, somehow the cake tasted delicious and it disappeared before it could be transformed into a pudding! I baked the cake again a few days later and can say with confidence, this recipe works if baked properly- see picture below!! This is not a sweet cake and it is perfect with yogurt and fruit for breakfast!

Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumble Tea Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup soy or almond milk

1/2 cup thinly sliced apple

1/2 cup thinly sliced strawberries

Crumb Topping:

1/4 cup oats

1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)

1/4 cup toasted pecans

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder

1/4 cup coconut sugar

pinch salt

1/4 cup kefir

Make Crumble:

Place oats, flour, coconut sugar, pecans, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until nuts are in small pieces. Add kefir and pulse until mixture forms small clumps- you may need to add a bit more kefir. Add small bits at a time. Set mixture aside.

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

Line a 5×9 loaf pan with parchment paper with the paper hanging over the sides. Butter the paper lightly.

To make cake batter:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Add egg, vanilla, canola oil, soy or almond milk and mix together just until the batter is smooth. Add fruit and stir to combine.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and then scatter the crumb topping over the top. Bake in the pre heated oven for about 15 minutes and then cover the top loosely with foil so the top will not brown too quickly. Bake for about an hour until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

Remove from oven. Lift cake out of pan leaving paper on the cake. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing with a serrated bread knife. This is a very soft crumbly cake, the longer you let it cool the easier it is to slice. This is hard to do, so enjoy the first very crumbly pieces if you can’t wait!

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“Is He Really Running Again??”

Devil’s Paint Brush- Bryant Homestead Cummington, MA

HAPPY SUMMER!