Coming Soon: “Bird Songs and Mozart’s Starling”!

Wood Thrush perched on a limb singing.

My next blog will be all about intricate bird songs, Mozart’s love of birds and his talented starling, my own talented Cockatiel Lucy and more! In the meantime on this frigid and blustery day, here is a recipe for Blue Corn Waffles.

At the start of the pandemic, we made a mail order for organic blue corn flour. The order was huge and I squirreled away large bags of it in our freezer. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find a use for all of this flour; not a hard resolution to keep! Yesterday, I made Blue Corn Blueberry Banana Muffins!

Blue Corn Flour Waffles

Yield: 5-6 waffles

Ingredients:

3/4 cup whole grain spelt flour

3/4 whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup blue corn flour- *Note

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 tablespoons canola oil

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk

For Topping:

1 1/2 cups wild frozen blueberries (I like the Wyman brand)

Cook blueberries in microwave about 2 minutes until soft and syrupy.

To make waffles:

Heat a waffle maker

In a medium sized bowl, mix together dried ingredients.

Add oil, egg and soy or almond milk and mix together.

For each waffle, place about 2 large spoonfuls of mixture in center of waffle maker and cook until light brown and crisp on the edges.

Serve with blueberry sauce, plenty of maple syrup and we enjoy a dollop of Oatley Oatgurt; creamy and totally delicious!

Note: Blue Corn Flour can be hard to find. We found a source on the excellent Milk Street Store site!

ENJOY!!

Norbrook Brewery: Colebrook, CT

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

A Winter Walk at Ole’ Stoney Lonesome!

Overnight, ice crystals were magically transformed into intricate fractals on our deck.

It was a gloomy day, cold and steely gray; a perfect backdrop to explore an atmospheric section of the Billings Trail called Stoney Lonesome maintained by the Norfolk Connecticut Land Trust.

My husband Paul had scouted out the trail a few days earlier with a friend; they happened upon a lone hiker who stopped in his tracks and asked excitedly, “Did you find the site of the train accident?”

The trail follows an abandoned train track that was built in 1871 and ran from Hartford, Connecticut to the border of New York State. It was built on a high ledge above the Canaan valley, strewn with enormous boulders. There was in fact a horrific wreck that occurred in 1882 when a train rammed into a boulder that had slid down the mountain side onto the track. We read that the laying of the track was very difficult and engineers had to make huge rock cuts into the side of the mountain.

Walking along the trail we were captivated by the dramatic rock formations made from the deep cuts through the mountain side to accommodate the train tracks.

We had set out on our walk late in the afternoon; the days are so short now that by the end of our hike, the sun was starting to set. The clouds suddenly parted and for a brief moment, sunlight lit up the hillside with a golden glow.

Our eyes were drawn uphill to a rock formation that reminded us of stone sculptures that we have viewed at the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York.

By the time we returned to our car, it was almost completely dark. We drove back down the road with a beautiful sunset in front of us leaving somber Stoney Lonesome behind.

Glad to be back safely home after our frosty and invigorating adventure, we settled in next to a cozy fire in the woodstove and enjoyed hot chocolate and a few Gingerbread Biscotti that were left over from Christmas.

After our hike, we wanted to know more about the origin of the name Stoney Lonesome; some sources suggested that the name reflects a desolate area, strewn with rocks and boulders. This certainly seemed appropriate! Then we discovered that the name is also a slang term, made popular in the early 20th century for prison. Paul found the prison reference to Stoney Lonesome in a book written by John O’Hara published in 1931 with the title, “Appointment in Samarra“. The title of the novel refers to W. Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an ancient Mesopotamian fable where a servant has an untimely meeting with the devil- dark indeed!! We were so curious about this that we ordered the book and have gotten pulled into the tragic tale of a used car salesman from the 1930’s.

AND, of course we had a bit of fun arranging Bananagram tiles into references from “Appointment in Samarra“!

Here is a recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti’s adapted from NY Times Cooking. These biscotti are full of warming delicious spices including ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise along with espresso powder and almond & orange extract. The spices create a lovely flavor combination that lingers beautifully in the mouth! I swapped out the brown and granulated sugar in the recipe for monk fruit sweetener and coconut sugar which has a low glycemic index. I used whole grain spelt and whole wheat pastry flour, which in addition to being more nutricious, give the biscotti an added nutty flavor and I used Lily’s stevia sweetened chocolate chips. The original recipe called for candied chopped ginger, which would also be good! These biscotti are hard and crunchy and are excellent dipped into coffee or espresso!

Gingerbread Biscotti from NY Times Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature 
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom 
  • 1 whole star anise, finely ground (1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
  • cup whole wheat pastry flour 
  • 1 cup whole grain spelt flour
  •  cup/113 grams dark or semisweet chocolateI used Lily’s Stevia sweetened chocolate chips.
  • 1/2 bar any dark chocolate to coat biscotti- I used Equal Exchange “Total Eclipse” dark chocolate. Feel free to use something with more sugar!)

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the egg, egg white, both sugars, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise, espresso powder, salt, baking soda, almond extract and lemon extract. Beat on medium speed just to combine, scrape down the bowl and beater, then increase the speed to high and beat for a full 90 seconds or until the mixture is slightly paler, thick and ribbon like.
  3. Add the flour. Beat on low speed until mostly combined, stopping the beater just before all the flour is incorporated so you don’t overmix. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to incorporate any remaining dry bits into the dough. Add chocolate chips.
  4. Gather the dough with your hands, kneading lightly in the bowl just to bring everything together into a cohesive mass. Place the dough on the center of the prepared sheet, then dampen your hands with water and mold the dough into a 9-by-4-inch log about 1 inch tall. Bake until the log puffs and spreads a little, turns golden brown at the edges and is firm to the touch, 40 to 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut at a diagonal into 12 (¾-inch-wide) slices. Turn the slices on their sides and return to the oven.
  6. Bake, flipping the slices halfway through, until slightly browned and dry in the centers, 10 to 15 minutes. Bake longer for drier, crunchier biscotti. Remove from the oven and cool the biscotti on the sheet. Turn the slices top sides up.
  7. In a double-boiler or a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring until completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat, and using a small spoon, drape the melted chocolate over the tops of the biscotti, nudging some to drip over the edges. Allow the chocolate to sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator to fully set. The biscotti will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

ENJOY!!

As I write this blog, it is a raw cold day with sleet and freezing rain and we are in for a few days of frigid weather. Today I plan to sit close by the fire and enjoy a cookbook that just arrived; My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories for a City on the Water by Betty Liu. I will dream about making dumplings for our next dumpling party which I hope will not be in the too distant future!!

AND, here is the first “Tree of the Week” for 2022!

“YIKES!!”

STAY WARM AND SAFE!!

A Joyous Christmas Concert by The Salisbury Four!

The Salisbury Four”- Salisbury Congregational Church December 4, 2021

What a pleasure it was to recently perform with some of my favorite musicians at the Salisbury Congregational Church in Salisbury, Connecticut.

Salisbury Congregational Church

The church, completed in 1842, is an example of Greek Revival architecture. At the time, it was the center of political, social and religious activity. I have performed often at the church and have always felt a strong sense of history and a feeling of calm and peace in the light filled sanctuary.

For our recent concert, I was joined by Marcia Young, singer and historical harpist and my Hofstra University colleague, lutenist Christopher Morrongiello. My daughter, Alicia DePaolo sang with us for several years, but recently moved to Virginia with her partner. We miss her presence in the group, but were happy to welcome a new friend this year; singer and Baroque dancer, Zahra Brown. For many years, I have performed an annual Christmas concert in Salisbury, Connecticut that has been generously sponsored by the Salisbury Association.

Originally the concert was held at the historic Holley House Museum, now a private home. It was complete with it’s own mischievous poltergeist! On two separate occasions, strings snapped suddenly on a viola and harp; in another concert, a note stopped playing on my oboe, as if someone was holding down an extra key! And, then there was time that I felt somebody was tickling my nose with a feather while I was playing!

Holley Williams House- Lakeville, CT

Next, the concert was held for several years at the cozy intimate space at the historical Salisbury Academy building Built in 1833, the exterior is an example of a Federal style school building.

Academy Building- Salisbury, CT

Living in this bucolic New England town, I routinely pass by all of these all of these historical buildings and architectural gems; they have become part of my fabric, almost like a familiar family member!

Last year, we presented an online version of the concert and we felt so fortunate to be able to consider a live concert this year; a few weeks before our current Omicron situation. With proof of vaccination required and a socially distanced audience, the venue of the spacious church with beautiful resonant acoustics was perfect!

I always look forward to the rehearsals we have in NYC; usually a few weeks before the concert. This year, we set two rehearsals on late Saturday afternoons. Both weeks, I had taught at Hofstra University the day before and stayed overnight in the city. Each Saturday I had a few hours to fill and decided to make long over due visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Frick Museum.

It was heart warming to walk down Fifth Avenue and see the crowds of people outside of the museum.

And, then as I entered the familiar space of the grand hallway, I stood in awe for moment taking in all of the art and beauty surrounding me. I made my choice of what to view that day. I walked up the grand stairway towards the impressionism wing; through the hallway filled with Rodin and Degas sculptures and eagerly tried to take it all in! I decided to concentrate on an exhibit of Surrealistic painters.

It can be overwhelming at times with so much to visual stimulation; I find that concentrating on one or two works of art is most rewarding. I stroll slowly through an exhibit and stop when a work of art is compelling. Such was the case with a painting by the Austrian-Mexican painter Wolfgang Paalen; who I was not familiar with. A friend of Frida Kahlos, he moved to Mexico in 1939 to escape the Nazi regime. He became interested in the Fourth Dimension and studied with the Russian mystic Peter Ouspensky. I found his painting “The Messenger” fascinating and was drawn to the bold lines of the brush strokes and the hidden symbolism in the work.

“The Messenger”– 1941 Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959)

The next Saturday, I visited the Frick Museum, which I discovered had recently moved their entire collection to the modern stark Whitney Museum, while renovations are taking place.

At first, it was jarring to see masterpieces from the permanent collection that date from the Renaissance to the early 20th century displayed in a building with modern architecture. I chatted with a surprisingly friendly guard about the new location for the artwork and he thought that some patrons might be able to appreciate the artwork more in a sleek pared down setting. I tended to agree and as I viewed the exhibition, I found that I could concentrate on the art without becoming visually tired. Unfortunately, I was asked to not take any photographs, although I did sneak in one photo; (a tiny sculpture tucked into the wall) as I walked up the stairwell to another floor!

Then, it was time to get ready for our rehearsal and of course think about what to pick up to eat in the car on the way home that evening! We were rehearsing at the apartment of one of the musicians who lives in a high rise in the mid fifties near Eighth Avenue.

One of my favorite dumpling places, Kungfu Kitchen, is on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street, not too far from our rehearsal location!

I knew there was a place to park my car for free on 38th Street; between Eighth & Ninth Avenue, where Hevreh Ensemble usually rehearses at our keyboardist’s studio. AND, here was my plan:

Find a parking spot on West 38th Street; walk to Kungfu Kitchen on West 41st Street and place an order for pickup after our rehearsal; walk to rehearsal on West 55th Street and rehearse for about 1 1/2 hours; retrace my steps and pickup my order- it all worked like a charm! The only thing I had to do was to find a place to park!

I am usually a very calm and considerate driver and pride myself on my smooth acceleration and braking, but a transformation overcomes me when I am seeking out parking spots in New York City. I become eagle eyed and aggressive looking for possible spots and delight in squeezing my car into the tightest of places. Such was the case on this day! I believe that this New Yorker cartoon expresses my metamorphoses perfectly!

After the rehearsal, I picked up my order at the appointed time, walked back to my car and laid my treasure of 2 steamed buns filled with bok choy and shitake museums, an order of steamed chicken dumplings with a pungent black vinegar sauce and a large icy bubble tea made with lemonade; sweetened with honey on the seat next to me. I navigated my way through the midtown traffic making sure to not get into a left turn only lane that would force me to go through Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey and then I could enjoy my treats as I headed up the West Side Highway towards home-Heaven on earth!

In past years, the musicians from the Salisbury Four would drive up to my house in Northwest, CT the day before the concert. We would have a dress rehearsal and I was treated to the most excellent house guests for the weekend. One of the members is vegan, so I would always have fun dreaming up interesting dishes, like this Mixed Greens Pie inspired by the delightful PBS Kitchen Vignette Series!

Mixed Greens and Bean Pie with Olive Oil Crust

A favorite and often requested dessert by the Salisbury Four members are Strawberry and Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones. This year, we had a quick rehearsal before our Saturday evening concert and enjoyed tea and these scones together. This simple one bowl recipe is adapted from Erin McKenna’s Baby Cakes NYC Bakery. I found the recipe several years ago in an article from Food and Wine Magazine. For my version, I swap out agave nectar with coconut sugar and I add cinnamon. These scones are not very sweet, but are guilt free; perfect for a snack or with a bowl of yogurt and granola for breakfast!

ENJOY!

Strawberry Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones

  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ⅓ to 1/2 cup cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries cut into pieces (if using frozen berries, thaw slightly and then cut into small pieces-don’t defrost all of the way, it will make the mixture too soft).
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts broken into small pieces

To Make Scones:

  • Step 1 Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, whisk the spelt with the baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, coconut sugar and vanilla. Stir in the hot water and strawberries- if mixture seems to dry, add a bit more hot water at a time.
  • Step 2 Scoop 12 mounds of batter 1/3 cup each onto the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the tops with oil. Bake the scones for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the baking sheet cool completely on top of a rack.

AND, here is the last “Tree of the Week” for 2021!

“It’s Been Quite a Year!”

BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY AND SAFE HOLIDAY AND NEW YEAR!!

The Amazing Guest, Fantastic Fungi and Spooky Sounds!

I read a recent New York Times article that talked about how excited a couple was to host a guest for the weekend. They were determined to fill the planned itinerary with as many activities as possible, after being denied time together for so long. The guest went home feeling tired and overwhelmed. Our dear friend Carol was planning to meet us for some well deserved R & R; first at our home and then at a Bed and Breakfast in Cummington, Massachusetts. My husband Paul and I talked for weeks about all of the places we would take Carol; among them, many of our favorite hikes. And, although we wanted to avoid the same pitfalls of over booking, we were not sure this would be possible!

We started our glorious fall weekend at the Ashintully Gardens in Tyringham, Massachusetts.

Ashintully Gardens Trustees of the Reservation

We walked up a hill through a field of dried wildflowers standing at attention like soldiers in a row and quickly realized that Carol was the perfect guest- she was delighted and engaged with everything we showed her and being a visual artist, she innately understood my love of close observation.

Before our dinner reservation on the patio at the excellent restaurant, John Andrews in Hillsdale, New York, we squeezed in a short walk at Parsons Marsh in Lenox, MA. The late afternoon sun was beautiful as we walked on a boardwalk that wove gently through the woods to the marsh.

Parsons Marsh-Berkshire Natural Resources Council
Parsons Marsh

After a delicious dinner at John Andrew’s, we returned home, watched an episode of Only Murders in the Building on Netflix and then fell into a deep slumber! The next day we were eager to show Carol our land that we recently closed on in Buckland, MA in the hill towns above Northampton. Our big news is that in a few years we plan to build our dream house there! On the way, we made a stop in Northampton to the Woodstar Cafe to pick up a picnic (that included their yummy vegan peanut butter cookies) and headed up into the hills! Near Buckland, is an old cemetery that was a perfect location to make a creepy Halloween video.

We put on our hiking boots and traipsed uphill on our land. Carol bravely joined us in a bit of bush whacking!

On the land, the trees are beautiful with many tall evergreens, but our eyes were drawn close to the ground. The patterns of autumn leaves, fungi, rocks and twigs made beautiful collages.

Carol came up with an interesting concept-along with photographs of my recipes, we could make natural place settings with leaves and twigs and photograph them with a woodland backdrop; perhaps a cottage industry was born!!

Continuing on our walk, we saw some incredible and unusual fungi.

Back in the car, we took a short five minute jaunt to the charming village of Shelburne Falls; complete with art galleries, cozy cafes, bookstores, restaurants, an artisanal bakery and the beautiful Bridge of Flowers, the site was created in 1929, when the old trolley bridge was no longer used.

Bridge of Flowers-Shelburne Falls, MA

On a bit of a schedule, we moved on to our next activity; a beautiful fall drive through the country roads to Cummington, MA where we were guests at The Upland Meadows Farm B & B. The quaint old farmhouse was full of character with cozy rooms and the surrounding area was quiet and peaceful. And, it was right down the road from our beloved William Cullen Bryant Homestead. We could walk through a pasture to reach the Sugar Bush Trail!

Upland Meadows Farm B & B

We took a short walk and then headed down towards Chester for our dinner reservation at the Chester Common Table. I was not sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. Tucked away in the small town of Chester that borders the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley, the small restaurant opened in 2016 and is housed in a charming vintage house. We sat on the covered front porch and inside a folk group with mandolin and guitar played gentle Appalachian and bluegrass tunes that wafted softly through the open window. It started to rain, but with our jackets on and a cozy space heater next to us, we were totally comfortable. I enjoyed a tall glass of a local IPL draft beer brewed in MA, called Jack’s Abbey “Hiponius Union”. The light lemony flavor of the beer was perfect with a big plate of Coconut Curry Noodles that was lightly spicy. The dish included rice noodles, grilled chicken, crunchy bits of broccoli, red peppers, zucchini and red onions. Along with a few pieces of homemade corn bread, I was a happy camper!

Sunday morning, we took a misty early morning walk on the Rivulet Trail at the Bryant Homestead. I had been wanting to show this trail to Carol and she was enthralled by the tranquility and peacefulness of the fragrant pine woods.

Rivulet Trail- William Cullen Bryant Homestead

On the trail, we came upon one of my favorite trees that I call “The Wise Man”.

And, then after coffee and brunch at the Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, it was time to hug tightly and say goodbye. All in all, an incredible weekend- hopefully with not too much packed in for our amazing guest!

Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters

When I was little, my mother often made a favorite fall dessert; a sticky, gooey, very sweet dessert called Apple Brown Betty. It was rich with melted butter, brown sugar, graham crackers, raisins, lemon juice and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. The recipe was from Erma Bombauer’s, The Joy of Cooking. I found myself craving this dessert, but wanted something much lighter. I decided to make an almost sugar free healthy version. I am happy to say, I may have found it!! I had a loaf of stale whole grain sourdough bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery hanging around. I cut it into pieces and made bread crumbs in my food processor. I toasted them in the oven until they crisped up. Instead of using butter I substituted fresh apple cider for the liquid and I used Monk Fruit instead of sugar. It has a very low glycemic index and it can be used the same way as granulated sugar.

The dessert is even better the next day and perfect to eat sitting curled up on the couch with one of the first woodstove fires of the season; perhaps watching an old Hitchcock film- I think Psycho might be too scary, maybe something along the line of The Trouble with Harry, still with a macabre theme, but with plenty of black humor and a great film score by Bernard Herrmann or maybe something dark and atmospheric like Rebecca. Happy Halloween!!

Apple Brown Betty Redux

Ingredients:

Topping:

3 1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs ( preferably from whole grain bread- I just made another version and used Rockhill Raisin and Cinnamon bread that was also really good!)

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from an organic lemon)

1/8-1/4 cup Monk Fruit sweetener (you could also use granulated sugar)

1 cup apple cider

1/2 cup raisins

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon all spice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Apple Filling:

4-5 large apples peeled and cored (try to use a combination of firm local apples for the best flavor).

1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

To Make Apple Brown Betty:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Place 3 1/2 to 4 cups bread crumbs on a baking sheet. Bake and crispy and lightly browned.

Place breadcrumbs in a medium sized bowl. Add grated lemon zest, lemon juice, spices, raisins and monk fruit sweetener. Slowly add 3/4 apple cider until absorbed. The mixture should feel lightly moistened when squeezed.

Cut apples into quarters, peeled and then thinly slice them. Place in a medium sized casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and stir.

Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over apples in baking dish and pour remaining 1/4 cup apple cider over the top. Cover tightly with foil and bake until apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove foil and bake about 5-10 more until bread crumbs crisp up a bit. Let cool briefly- Enjoy!!

AND of course here is the: The Halloween Tree of the Week!

BOO!

Late Summer Sounds and Kenetic Sculptures!

Artist: Tim Prentice

At the end of August, on a hot summer afternoon, I met the kinetic sculptor Tim Prentice at his West Cornwall, Connecticut barn to make plans for an upcoming concert. The bucolic landscape is dotted with his sculptures that float gracefully in the gentle breeze.

My group Hevreh Ensemble was getting ready to perform a concert at this idyllic and serene place. We have played there several times in the past, but this was our first concert since the pandemic began.
I love playing here- in large part because of our connection with Tim Prentice. It was heartwarming to see his welcoming face and his warm and engaging presence once again! The barn is filled with many of Tim’s sculptures that ripple and weave gently in the crosscurrents of air. Rays of sunshine catch the edges of the works accentuating the bright vibrant colors.

Artist: Tim Prentice

We had a wonderful socially distanced concert and even an unexpected rain shower could not dampen our spirits! The masked concert goers quickly moved their chairs into the barn and we soldiered on!


I had left a box of our CD’s after the concert and this gave me the excuse to make a return visit.
A few weeks later on a warm September afternoon, I stopped by the barn and was joined by Tim and the sculptor David Colbert; he became Tim’s artistic and business partner in 2012. We sat on a cool shaded porch, next to Tim’s house that once was part of a barn and had a wonderful conversation about art and music!

Since the mid 1980’s, Tim has lived in a large colonial era house that sits on a gentle slope of a hill across from the barn. I asked him what he knew about the house and the surrounding area.
The first part of the house was built around 1790 with an addition added in 1850 in the Greek revival style. His family bought the farm in the 1960’s and was only the 3rd family to live in the house! Next to the house is a small pond and the studio that is now Tim and David’s workshop was an Ice House. Tim showed me a menacing looking antique saw that he found in the old barn that was used to cut ice.

Tim with antique ice saw

I asked both Tim and David what inspired them when creating their art. Both men answered almost in unison that all of nature surrounding us played a large role in their work. Tim said, “I observe the reflections of the sun on water, plants agitated by the wind and especially murmurations of birds.”

I thought that David’s description on his website was beautiful:

“I find inspiration most of all in nature. Witnessing: radiant light deepening in mountains with darkness coming on; thick drifting sunlit mist slowly burning off serene lakes; swirling clouds nearly hiding jagged mountain peaks; desert sand dunes at dusk reflective as etched glass; heavy snow; fog; barely seen mist rising up a valley. Is it there or is it not”- David Colbert

Artist David Colbert “Square Wind Frame”

To hear these words from two incredible artists was music to my ears. On my walks I have found much joy from closing observing nature. The week of our conversation, I was transfixed by intricate thistles being tossed about by the wind.

Kite Hill: Ancram, New York

This week on a late afternoon walk at the Steeple Top Preserve in New Marlborough, MA, the exquisite reflection of light on the water made me stop in my tracks, catch my breath and murmur softly, “ohhhh my”!

Steeple Top Preserve: New Marlborough, MA

Since Hevreh Ensemble has started performing at the Prentice Barn, I have observed that Tim also deeply loves music and seems to enjoy and relish our music. I asked him about his musical background: in the 1960’s along with his late wife Marie Prentice, they received a State Department grant to perform folk music with guitars and voice. One of the mains purposes of the grant was to collect songs from their host countries. Tim recalls being in Thailand when President Kennedy was shot- they also performed in Nepal, India and Kenya!

I asked Tim if there are certain qualities that he finds compelling in our music, which are all original compositions by our group member and composer Jeff Adler. I wondered if there was a connection between the energy and motion in his work and the edgy jazzy rhythm in many of our pieces? His answer was: “both exist in time and create or use patterns to set up expectation.” He told me that one of the things he enjoys the most is that in our work, “he hears music from many different cultures that give the music a timeless quality that sounds like no other group”. He loves the blend of keyboard, wind instruments and Native American flutes and the deep sonorous sound of the bass clarinet.

By now, it was almost early evening; starting to cool off and as we sat and talked on the old barn porch, the dulcet and lovely tones of water rippling gently on the old ice pond accompanied us. We stopped and listened- these sounds made us feel complete!

AND: I leave you with a delicious savory treat that we served at our Prentice Barn concert: Black Pepper and Parmesan Biscotti from the Smitten Kitchen blog! This a large recipe and leftovers freeze beautifully! After a long day, take out a few, crisp them up briefly in a hot oven and enjoy with a glass of red wine!

Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti from Smitten Kitchen
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2006

Makes 5 to 6 dozen biscotti.

1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 cups (520 grams) all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/2 ounces (130 grams) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup, 6 ounces, or 170 grams — now corrected) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup (235 ml) whole milk

Special equipment: an electric coffee/spice grinder

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peppercorns in grinder until coarsely ground.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 2 cups cheese, and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3 eggs with milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quarter dough. Using well-floured hands, form each piece into a slightly flattened 12-inch-long log (about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch high). Transfer logs to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging logs about 3 inches apart.

Whisk remaining egg and brush some over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper. Bake, rotating sheets 180 degrees and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until logs are pale golden and firm, about 30 minutes total. Cool logs to warm on sheets on a rack, about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Carefully transfer 1 warm log to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining logs, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool biscotti on baking sheets on racks, about 15 minutes.

Do ahead: Biscotti keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

A Sweet and Healthy New Year!

Rosh Hashana was early this year and I was feeling ambivalent about sitting with a large group of people in a synagogue or staring at a Zoom screen for hours. A friend mentioned that she was going to spend the holiday communing with nature; an excellent idea. This seemed to be exactly what I was seeking!

Paul found a beautiful trail right down the road from Tangle Wood in Lenox, MA run by Mass Audubon called Pleasant Valley. The day was warm and sunny with a beautiful breeze. We took a trail that meandered through marshland, ponds and pine forests.

The trail crisscrossed over several burbling brooks that rushed over mossy rocks. During Rosh Hashanah a tradition is observed called Tashlich. Small stones are thrown into the water to cast off one’s sins. I remember being at a service once where the cantor said that the ritual might also be used as a way to cleanse one’s self of unwanted grudges or to create intentions for positive change. I chose this route and as I tossed a few stones into the water, I felt an immediate sense of lightness.

I had brought my recorder along thinking I might play an improvisation that sounded slightly Hebraic and pastoral at the same time. I was hoping to find an inspirational location and was not disappointed!

Now the only thing needed for a perfect Rosh Hashanah was a delicious dessert with apples. I looked through a few of my old blogs and found a recipe I had included for apple kuchen, from Smitten Kitchen. This moist dessert reminds me of the apple kuchen we had in Germany when my daughter and I were on our “Following in Bach’s Footsteps” journey a few years ago! When baking this cake, your house will smell heavenly as the rich aromas of butter, vanilla, cinnamon and apples fill the air!

Apple Kuchen (from Smitten Kitchen)

Topping
4 tiny-to-small apples, halved, peeled and cored
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Batter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey (any variety you like to eat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, separated
2 good pinches of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Glaze
1/4 cup honey
A good pinch of sea salt

Heat oven: To 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform with butter or a nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

Prepare apples: Place peeled, halved and cored apples cut-side-down on a cutting board. Use a knife to create parallel thin slices, but only cut halfway through each apple so that the apples stay intact. Don’t fret if you cut through, however; you can just reassemble the halves on the cake in a few minutes.

In a bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and 2 tablespoon granulated sugar.

Prepare cake base: Beat butter and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar together in a bowl with electric beaters until fluffy. Add honey and beat until combined. Add vanilla and egg yolks, beating until just combined. Sprinkle salt and baking powder over cake batter, and mix for just 5 seconds, until they disappear. Add flour, half at a time, mixing only until just combined.

In a separate bowl with cleaned beaters, beat egg whites until stiff. Stir 1/4 of them into the cake batter, to lighten it a little. Fold in the rest in three additions. It will seem impossible to fold in at first because the batter is so stiff, but it will loosen with careful folding. Only fold the last addition of egg whites until it has mostly disappeared (a couple faint streaks of egg white are fine).

Spread cake batter in prepared cake pan, smoothing the top. Arrange apple halves facedown over the cake batter. To warn, 4 tiny/small apples will definitely fit over the cake batter. When I made it with 4 small-almost-medium apples, I could only fit 3 1/2 of them. No need to press the apples into the batter. You can pour any extra lemon juice and sugar in the bowl over the apples.

Bake cake: 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let rest on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then cut around the cake to make sure it’s not sticking to the pan at all, and unhinge the sides. Let cake cool completely. You can store it at room temperature at this point, or after you add the honey, for up to 5 days 3 days at room temperature. After that, a fridge is best for longevity. The cake is lovelier on day 2 than day 1.

Before serving, if you’d like the glaze to look glossy, or whenever the cake is cool, if you don’t mind if the honey sinks into the cake: Warm 1/4 cup honey and a good pinch of sea salt until it liquefies to the point where it makes a thin glaze — this will take less than 30 seconds. Brush honey-salt mixture over cooled cake.

I added a sprinkle of cinnamon on the top of the cake before baking.

ENJOY!

This was a perfect Rosh Hashanah! Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy 5782!

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!!

Mosaics and Linden Trees

I had originally meant to write a blog this week about birdsong, particularly Mozart’s starling and my own talented Cockatiel Lucy. This will have to wait! I got waylaid as I was thinking about what recipe I wanted to feature.

I love anything that includes poppy seeds: bagels, strudel, hamentaschen or cake. I remembered an amazing vegan raspberry poppy seed tart that I had in Vienna a few years ago. After we returned home from the trip, I became obsessed with recreating it!

Here is the back story……

My group Hevreh Ensemble traveled to Poland in 2018 where we presented concerts for the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow and concerts in Lublin and for the POLIN Museum in Warsaw. We were fortunate to collaborate with the amazing photographer Loli Kantor in a project together.

Polin Museum of Jewish History- Warsaw, Poland: Video presentation by Loli Kantor

After the tour, my husband and I traveled to Budapest and then to Vienna. Following is a blog that I wrote about the trip and the poppy seed dessert for Hevreh Ensemble’s website in 2018. Since we will not be taking any long trips for yet awhile, I reread the blog with both nostalgia and envy. We took our freedom to travel and go on adventures so for granted. I plan to make the poppy seed tart again and will bring it to a barbeque or other gathering soon!

Mosaics and Linden Trees- 9/28/18

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After our concerts this past summer in Poland, my husband Paul & I had the wonderful opportunity to travel for an extra week to other destinations in Europe. We took off by train from Warsaw for a trip to Budapest and Vienna. We had been to Vienna a few years ago and were impressed by the creative and cultural energy of the city. It was wonderful to be able to return to Vienna and to find new neighborhoods to explore.

Our hotel Altwienerhof was in the 15th District of Vienna and was reached by an underground stop that was easy to remember- Gumpendorfer Strasse! I have never been an early riser, so on our trips, Paul often leaves early around 6:30 or 7:00 AM to find coffee and to do a bit of exploring. This particular morning he decided to walk in the residential neighborhood near our hotel. He observed that there were a few placards on the walls and almost by chance came to a small clearing on a tiny street called Turnergasse.

It turned out this was the site of a memorial for the Turner Temple that was destroyed in 1938 during the terrible Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).The synagogue was an important symbol and a center of the district’s Jewish life. The Turner Temple Memorial was opened on November 16, 2011.

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A web of black concrete beams were chosen as the central design element. Mosaics form a bridge between the past and present and they show fruit and plants that are mentioned in the Torah. There is a row of Linden trees that were integrated into the design and according to the community organizers for the memorial, they symbolize the horrors of the past but also look forward to a future full of hope.

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Later that morning Paul showed me the site and we also looked at some of the placards- one included a picture of a Jewish Kindergarten that was housed at 21 Herklotzgasse.

We looked down the hallway of the building and discovered a small sign that said Turnhalle. We walked down the narrow passageway and saw that the building that housed the former kindergarten was now occupied by a vegan restaurant run by a group of earnest and dedicated young cooks. We strongly felt the caring and effort of the community to remember and honor the past, but also were encouraged that the spaces emptied because of distant terrible horrors, were being used in a positive and caring way.

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The next day we returned to the Turnhalle Cafe for lunch, The day before my purse had been stolen in the center of Vienna at the historic Cafe Mozart. After a frantic morning of visits to the consulate to obtain new passports and take care of other missing documents, it was time for a good dessert treat! There was a delicious looking cake and the young server explained it was one of their favorites- a vegan raspberry poppy seed cake. It was excellent and of course when we got home, I felt a craving for the cake. After quite a bit of experimentation and although It was a bit different, It brought back sweet memories of our recent trip. I brought the cake to share with my daughter and her partner for Rosh Hashana. Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Here is my reconstructed version!

Raspberry Poppy Seed Cake with Streusel Topping

Ingredients:

8 ounces fresh raspberries

Filling:

¼ cup soft white semolina

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ cups poppy seeds

½ tsp. vanilla

¼ cup almond or soy milk

2 tsp. cornstarch

Crust:

¼ cup powdered sugar

½ cup butter

3 tablespoons shortening

½ tsp. salt

2 Tsb. ice water

Streusel Topping:

½ cup sugar

¾ butter (8 tablespoons)

1 cup flour

½ tsp cinnamon

Cover outside of 9 inch spring form pan with heavy duty foil to prevent leaks

Make Crust:

In food processor combine butter, shortening, flour, salt and powdered sugar until mixture has small lumps the size of peas. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and process until mixture forms a ball. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.

Make the Filling:

Grind poppy seeds in several batches in a small spice grinder. The poppy seeds may clump together- this is fine!

Mix together all ingredients except poppy seeds and cornstarch over low heat. Whisk until sugar is completely dissolved. Combine cornstarch with a small amount of water and stir until smooth. Add to mixture and bring to a boil. Add poppy seeds, stir thoroughly and let sit for 5 minutes until poppy seeds swell. At this point if the mixture is to thick, add up to ¾ cup more almond or soy milk. The mixture should form a loose pudding.

Make the Streusel Topping:

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Combine all ingredients in bowl of food processor until mix until large clumps form.

Preheat oven to 350 F

1.Roll out dough and fit into bottom of spring form pan – dough should come up the sides a few inches.

2.Pour in poppy seed filling and smooth with a spatula

3. Place raspberries evenly over filling

4. Place streusel clumps evenly over top.

5. Bake aprox. 45 minutes until the top is a light golden color.

6. Let cool completely before serving.

7. The cake is excellent the next day, refrigerates well and also can be froze

Enjoy!!

Back to the present! The afternoon I started to compile this blog, Hevreh Ensemble was getting ready to present our first concert in over 15 months. I felt myself getting a case of the jitters; it had been so long since I had performed with others. Writing the blog helped to center me and calm my nerves.

I believe that this “Tree of the Week” expresses perfectly how I was feeling!!

“Yikes”

AND: A postscript: Our first Hevreh Ensemble concert was a huge success and it felt wonderful to be playing again!

STAY SAFE!

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!

A Search For Wild Yellow Violets

Lately we have been seeking out violets; in particular the illusive wild yellow violet. Our inspiration came from a walk that we took last summer at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead. Throughout the trail, there are placards that include some of Bryant’s most famous poems. Originally his childhood home, he summered at this idyllic spot in rural Cummington, Massachusetts.

We were touched by the romantic and lyrical stanzas of the poem, The Yellow Violet; where Bryant recalls finding the tiny and secretive violet that bloomed in the spring on his property.

On a visit a few weeks ago to the Bryant Homestead, we set out to find yellow violets; not sure where to look. At first, we thought they might be a woodland plant and possibly be where the placard of the poem was; deep in the woods, near a gurgling rivulet stream. But alas, no luck! I thought that the plants might need more sunlight and we walked back up the trail closer to road. We found several early wildflowers and a field of lovely purple and white violets, and some white violets; but no yellow flowers!

A week or so later, I was in Torrington, Connecticut. For those not familiar with the Northwest Hills of Connecticut, Torrington is a small scrappy city with a population of about 40,000. It was once a bustling factory town and it is now a bit rough around the edges and like many older American cities, there are sad boarded up abandoned buildings lining the streets. Somehow, even though the city feels worn down and tired, I often sense an air of possibility; either inspired by a tireless and innovative arts organization, a children’s chorus or a good small new restaurant that opens.

The day I was in Torrington, I had a small oral surgery procedure and then I went to change my snow tires. As I walked into the tire store, the novicane in my mouth started to wear off and a throbbing pain started. I thought that while waiting for my car, a walk might be a good way to distract me from the discomfort. My husband Paul had traversed the same route a few days before when he changed the tires on his car. He mentioned finding a few interesting sites. So, off I went!

Having spent so much time this past year observing nature, one of the first things that I noticed on a busy noisy street was a small patch of white and purple violets thriving in gravelly soil close to the sidewalk.

Shortly after that I came upon the 9/11 Memorial that Paul had mentioned. Next to a firehouse, a metal beam from the Twin Towers juxtaposed with the American flag made a poignant statement. Normally, I would have missed this entirely, driving quickly by. This day, I sat for a few minutes on a nearby stone wall and quietly paid my respects for the souls that lost their lives on 9/11.

Very close to the memorial, I found the next site that Paul had discovered. Torrington was home to an innovative guitar maker, James Ashborn and on this site there was once a guitar factory. Ashborn, who was English, opened the factory in Torrington around 1850. The area was ideal because it had plenty of water power and an abundance of wood to make guitars.

I spent over an hour walking, happily distracted; almost forgetting completely about my discomfort. I was excited that I had found inspiration and new discoveries-when at first glance, it seemed as if there was nothing new to be seen!

A few days later, undeterred, Paul and I decided to return to the Bryant Homestead to continue our quest for the illusive yellow violet. We thought that perhaps some of the violets might be in the field near Bryant’s childhood home.

Again we found white, striped and purple violets, but no luck. It was like finding a needle in a haystack! At the edge of the field, something made me walk near a tree a few feet away and there it was, a lone yellow violet peeking tentatively through a few blades of grass! “AHA” I crowed excitedly to Paul. And, then nearby, we saw a small group of yellow violets clustered together!

This stanza from the Yellow Violet poem so fittingly described what we saw:

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,
  And earthward bent thy gentle eye,
Unapt the passing view to meet
  When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

So delicate and beautiful!!

Often when I am walking, my thoughts not surprisingly turn to food. One particular day, I was in the mood for veggie burgers. I thought about what ingredients I had on hand; some cooked mixed grain quinoa, toasted walnuts, onions and garlic. When I got home I sauteed onion and garlic until it softened. A friend had mentioned a good substitute for egg using ground flax seed. I followed her directions and the ground flax magically emulsified into an egg like substance. I whirred this together in my food processor with the quinoa, onion and garlic, walnuts, a can of black beans, bread crumbs; seasoned with ground sage, thyme, oregano, cumin and salt & pepper to taste. I formed the mixture into patties and let them firm up in the fridge for a while. I heated a cast iron pan until quickly sauteed the veggie burgers in a bit of olive oil until they were crisp and lightly browned.

Served on toasted brioche buns from Berkshire Mountain Bakery, topped with caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms, excellent homemade garlic pickle slices that a friend gave me, a quick sauce made with vegenaise and ketchup and some sauteed radish greens, they were delicious!

I served a salad of firm bright red radishes with arugula simply dressed with lemon and olive oil; along with some oven roasted sweet potato fries, the feast was complete! A tall glass of frosty beer would also fit the bill!

Black Bean/Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Black Bean/ Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Ingredients:

Flax seed Egg Substitute

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

3 tablespoons hot water

Rest of Ingredients:

1 cup cooked mixed grain quinoa

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 bread crumbs

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

To Make Flaxseed egg substitute:

Place ground flaxseed in a small bowl and pour hot water over the flaxseed. Stir and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk and let sit until thickened- the mixture will look emulsified when it is ready.

To Make Veggie Burgers:

Heat olive oil in small pan. Saute onion until it softens and then add garlic. Cook for a minute or two.

Add sauteed onion and garlic along with flaxseed egg substitute to bowl of food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until the mixture is smooth.

Form into patties (makes about 6-7 burgers) and chill for about an hour to firm up.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet and saute burgers until brown on one side. Flip over and brown other side. Enjoy!!

AND, I end with Paul cradling a yellow violet in his hand…….

AND- of course, here’s The Tree of the Week:

” I feel like I have a hole in my head!”