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 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.

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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!”

A Joyous Outing to The Aldrich Museum!

Jeff, Laurie and Paul at the Aldrich Museum: Ridgefield, CT

What an exhilarating and joyous experience; this was our first visit to a museum since last March! It was also my husband Paul’s birthday and close friends and fellow Hevreh Ensemble members Laurie Friedman and Jeff Adler joined us. It was especially meaningful to visit the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut and to have the opportunity to view a special exhibition by the kinetic sculptor Tim Prentice.

Sculptor Tim Prentice

For the last three summers before the pandemic, Hevreh Ensemble presented concerts at Tim Prentice’s idyllic West Cornwall, Connecticut barn. It was an incredible experience to be playing music surrounded by his lyrical sculptures moving gently in the breeze.

At the barn concerts, my main focus was on performing; seeing his work in a different context at the museum gave me the opportunity to appreciate his work more fully.

Tim Prentice Aldrich Museum

The exhibit also included a touching and very informative video with Prentice talking about his art and what inspires him.

Here is a description of his work and process in his own words:

“In my current work in kinetic sculpture, I am trying to concentrate on the movement, rather than the object. I take it as an article of faith that the air around us moves in ways which are organic, whimsical, and unpredictable. I therefore assume that if I were to abdicate the design to the wind, the work would take on these same qualities.”

Tim Prentice: Aldrich Museum

“The engineer in me wants to minimize friction and inertia to make the air visible. The architect studies matters of scale and proportion. The navigator and sailor want to know the strength and direction of the wind. The artist wants to understand its changing shape.”

“Meanwhile, the child wants to play.”

After we viewed the exhibit, we walked around the grounds of the museum. Paul noticed bamboo plants that looked similar to the cane (arundo donax) that we use to make our clarinet and oboe reeds. I picked up a few pieces from the ground thinking that I would take some home and try to fashion an oboe reed from the cane. And then, the inner child came out in both Laurie and myself! It was so great to see Laurie in person that silliness just poured out of us. I think it was partly a sense of relief after the months of being cooped up and not seeing each other in person.

This summer, Hevreh Ensemble hopes to return to Tim Prentice’s West Cornwall barn at the end of August where we will look forward to sharing our music and also experience more of Tim’s inspiring and beautiful work!

The other day, we were in the mood for a light vegetarian dinner and Paul reminded me about a soup that I had made a while back that had both red lentils and quinoa. For this soup, I used mixed grain quinoa along with plenty of ginger, turmeric, cumin and ground coriander. I had onions and carrots on hand, but any vegetables would be good. I had made some hummus the day before and this along with a spicy mushroom shawarma spread on fresh slices of whole wheat sourdough bread from Bread Alone, made a delicious little feast!

Curried Red Lentil and Quinoa Soup

Ingredients:

2 cups red lentils rinsed

1 cup cooked mixed grain quinoa (any kind is fine)

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 large carrot finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely diced ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground tumeric

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Soup:

In a large pot, heat olive oil.

Saute onion until it is translucent and softens.

Add ginger, cumin, turmeric and ground coriander. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

Add carrots, bay leaf, salt & pepper and red lentils. Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer until lentils start to soften, about 30-40 minutes.

Add cooked quinoa and cook for for 30 more minutes. If soup seems too thin, remove cover and cook about 20 minutes more over medium heat.

This soup tastes even better the next day and freezes beautifully!

Enjoy!

Mushroom Shawarma (based on NYT Cooking Recipe)

Ingredients:

3/4 pound mushrooms, stems removed and cut into large chunks. I used button mushrooms, but sliced portobello mushrooms would also be good.

1 medium red onion, halved and cut into wedges.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

pinch of red pepper flakes or to taste.

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To Make Mushroom Shawarma:

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Place mushrooms and sliced onion on a large flat rimmed baking sheet.

Pour on olive oil and mix everything together with your hands.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roast until tender and browned about 25 minutes, turning once or twice.

Enjoy!

AND: Here is the first wildflower sighting of the season!

BloodrootSanguinaria Canadensis

HAPPY SPRING!!

Hidden Gems: Solo Walks

Fox Brook Preserve-Goshen, CT

The past few weeks my husband Paul could not accompany me on our walks and explorations because of medical issues and true to Paul’s form, he sent me out on several solo walks to explore new locations! It all went well, except for one walk at the Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, MA. where we had actually been before. I belatedly realized that I was too busy taking pictures to watch carefully where I was going.

Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

I often do not pay close attention to the trail markers and just follow Paul. At this particular walk, which should be about 1 mile, I felt like a mouse in a maze and until I found my way, walked over 3 1/2 miles! It was late in the afternoon and the weather was chilly and a bit threatening; I was very happy to see my bright blue car in the distance! Since then, I can happily report Paul is recuperated and thankfully back with me on the trails!

One of my solo walks was at the Fox Brook Preserve in Goshen, CT. on Route 4. I have driven by the tiny entrance to this walk for years on my way to chorus practices and doctor’s appointments in Torrington, CT. Very easy to miss, the trail is a hidden gem complete with a pine forest, large boulders, stone walls, a babbling brook with a suspension bridge, a grove of mountain laurel, a serene pond with hummocks and a small beaver dam!

As I entered the woods from the busy highway, this time paying close attention to where I was headed, the trail sloped up gently and transitioned to a peaceful pine forest with large glacial boulders strewn about. The noise of the road faded away quickly.

I walked through a grove of mountain laurel and felt as if I was in a private chapel, embraced gently by the plants. Near the end of June we will be surrounded by a fragrant blaze of color.

Holding tightly onto a thin guard wire, I traversed over a slightly rickety bridge. The late afternoon sun reflecting on the water was both mesmerizing and peaceful.

Approaching the pond, I saw a small knoll that seemed like a beautiful place to play one of the first improvisations of the season. We will return soon with a recorder and Native American flute in hand!

My next solo walk was at the Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Northeastern Dutchess County, just south of Pine Plains, New York. The day I visited, I saw only one other person the whole time.

 There are six miles of trails throughout the sanctuary on over 641 acres. The preserve has over 80 species of birds including Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Bobolinks and both Golden-winged and Lawrence Warblers.

Although I am happily vaccinated and can safely walk where there are more people, I revel in the solitude of walking alone peacefully with the birds and nature for company!

After my walk, I traveled on to Rhinebeck, NY to pick up bread from the wonderful artisanal bakery, Bread Alone. My online order included an organic whole wheat sour dough boule, a sourdough raison nut bread and a dense loaf of sourdough rye bread. I also had made an online order for Indian food from one of our favorite restaurants, Cinnamon. In addition to ordering Chicken Chettinad and Chana Gobi Masala, my big treat was a large Masala Dosa.

Dosas are made with a tangy crispy crepe with ingredients that include fermented rice and dal. Filled with seasoned mashed potato, sauteed onion, dal, cashews, mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves, it is both delicious and addicting!

I arrived early to Rhinebeck and my order at Cinnamon was not ready for another 40 minutes. I thought this might be a opportune time for a bit of people desensitizing! The Poet’s Walk is a few minutes away and is always filled with visitors. For most of the pandemic, we would drive by and see the parking lot filled with 40 or more cars and we would both say together,”No Way”!! This day, I decided to go for it! I saw signs asking people to wear their masks and most complied. The path winds gently through fields and the woods and at the top of a hill you can see the Hudson River and the Catskills off in the distance. I felt reasonably safe, although when a boisterous family without masks, came bounding down the path from the other direction, my protective instinct kicked in rather strongly and I moved quite a distance away into a field!

Poet’s Walk: Red Hook, NY

The other day, rummaging around in the freezer trying to find something for lunch, I came upon a container of lentil soup that I had made a few months ago. I sometimes find lentil soup a bit bland. I remembered when I had made this batch of soup that I added chicken chorizo sausage, smoked paprika and a small can of diced tomatoes. Along with kale, onion, carrot and celery; that did the trick! A bowl of this soup along with a slice of leftover dosa made an excellent lunch!

Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

2 cups dried lentils

1 chicken chorizo sausage cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped kale

2 carrots cut into small pieces

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 stalk celery finely chopped

1 small can diced tomatoes with juice

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Soup:

In a large pot, heat the olive oil.

Saute onion until it softens.

Add lentils, carrots, chicken chorizo sausage, celery, kale and diced tomatoes with the juice.

Cover with water and add bay leaf, smoked paprika, dried thyme and salt & pepper to taste.

Bring to boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 1 hour until vegetables are very soft and lentils are tender. If the soup is too thick, add a bit of water. Or, if it is too thin uncover the pot and cook the soup down until it is a thicker texture. This soup tastes even better the next day and freezes beautifully!

Enjoy!

This past Sunday, Paul showed me a map of the Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, CT. and we took a short walk on a new trail. At the top of a hill we could see Tobey Pond peeking through the woods. I remember swimming there as a young music student at the Yale Summer School of Music. Perhaps it will be possible to swim and take my kayak there soon! Happy Spring!

Tobey Pond: Norfolk, CT

AND, I have two favorites this Trees of the Week that I saw on our walk.

Humpf!
Really?

Stay Safe!

Provence Revisited: Part Two

Cassis Calangues, Cassis France

Even for a person who enjoys the cold, I can now say enough! I am more then ready for spring! There are promising signs, the days are getting visibly longer and the dirt roads have turned to mud! This week most of the snow melted. So, this is an excellent time for Part Two of Provence Revisited.

In my blog entry from February 7th, Provence Revisited, I talked about my trip to Provence in 2017, made possible by a Professional Development grant from Hofstra University. The main goal of the grant was to learn about the cultivation of oboe cane (the species of cane is called arundo donax) that grows in southern France. For the trip, I was accompanied by my good friend Amanda. The plan was to spend three days visiting cane plantations and interviewing the growers in Hyeres and the surrounding area near the Mediterranean Sea. No hardship there!!

Arundo Donax Cane

After that, we would have another three days to travel around Provence, with visits to Aix en Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites, including a visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. AND, of course food played a major part of the planned itinerary!

Our trip started in Cassis, east of Marseille in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. Cassis is a quaint Provencal fishing village that is famous for the stunning and majestic Cassis Calangues; white limestone cliffs formed over 120 million years ago. We took a boat ride through crystalline blue water where we were treated to views of the magnificent and regal Calangues cliffs, that have inspired so many painters and artists; a wonderful way to start our adventure.

Cassis Calangues

Cassis, France

There were so many places that we would have liked to visit, but an excellent decision was to visit Aix en Provence; a small charming university town with beautiful architecture and bustling with energy! We checked into our hotel, Hotel en Ville; chosen partly because it was in walking distance of our lunch reservation at Chez Feraud! For this trip, I was looking for restaurants that were charming, unpretentious and most importantly offered great food. Chez Feraud did not disappoint!!

The food was excellent- I ordered a vegetable terrine that looked liked a beautifully arranged mosaic and a fish entree; grilled red mullet with black olive tapenade and roasted potatoes- but it was the dessert that I still remember clearly, simple poached figs served over homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce! The only problem was that it was now time to walk to our next destination; Musee Granet. The only desire I had at the moment was to sit in an outdoor cafe and people watch; so this is just what we did!!

Chez Feraud- Aix en Provence

After we finally recovered from lunch- icy lemonade with fresh mint helped- we slowly walked to the museum. Originally started in 1766 as a free drawing school, the museum has grown to it’s present size to include over 12,000 works and masterpieces. The day we visited, there was a special exhibition of contemporary works of art that were edgy and boldly colorful.

The next morning we drove to a leafy neighborhood in the Lauves Hill section of Aix to visit Atelier Paul Cezanne. In 1901, Cezanne bought a plot of land that at the time was open countryside. He built a simple two story house and from 1902 until his death in 1906, he worked here daily in his studio. After viewing the studio, I walked outside to the garden in the back of the house; surrounded by the lush greenery, I sat quietly enjoying the sense of history.

Atelier de la Paul Cezanne

Atelier Paul Cezanne

The next day we headed up into the hills towards Apt. Our hotel was in the town of Gargas about an hour from Aix. Picking hotels sight unseen can sometimes result in not perfect outcomes. But in this case, I was delighted that the clientele in the charming Mas de la tour, was not touristy, and included a French motorcycle group and a group of handicapped youths on a field trip. The rooms were charming and very reasonable priced. Housed in a 12th century structure that once was an abbey, it was not far from the beautiful hills towns of  Roussillon, Gordes and Bonnieux.

We checked into the hotel and then it was time for our lunch reservation in the medieval village of Bonnieux at L’Arome, across the street from a breathtaking view of the hills.

Bonnieux, France

Usually my recollection of memorable past meals is on the mark, but here I only remember that the food was delicious. Perhaps the stunning scenery distracted me and the fact that I was sitting on a terrace in the middle of Provence in a medieval hill town! My only regret is that I did not obsessively take pictures of the beautifully plated food. Here is one picture of my appetizer, almost too beautiful to devour, which I do remember that I happily did!

L’Arome- Bonnieux, France

That night, overly full from lunch, we had dinner in our hotel’s cozy outdoor courtyard restaurant. I remember that the food was good, but the best part was observing the other guests and the hotel’s friendly dogs that eagerly visited the tables. Amanda snuck a bit of her beef daube, that was a bit gristly, to one of the dogs!

The next morning we drove to the charming small city of Apt, famous for it’s bustling open air market place held every Saturday at the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance. The streets are filled with small stalls that sell everything from fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread and pastries to colorful fabrics, pottery and antiques.

Marketplace, Apt
Marketplace, Apt

I purchased a small tart made from puff pastry, filled with figs and almond paste. I placed it in my bag for later in the day when a snack was called for. And, this is one of my favorite parts of the trip: our next stop was the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Gordes. Started in 1148, the monastery still has an active religious community of monks that gather together seven times a day for prayer. The monks are famous for their cultivation of lavender. As my friend Amanda navigated our rental car around the steep and narrow roads, I took out my fig tart and as I took a bite, the fragrant scent of lavender wafted into the car! Heaven on earth!!

Abbey de Senanque Monastery
Abbey de Senanque Monatery

The monks have very generously structured their daily life to allow the public to tour the monastery. The tours were in French only, and I could only pick out a few words or phrases, but it was lovely to listen to the fluid and musical language as we walked through the chapels and cloister areas.

When I am traveling, I sometimes find that the unplanned discoveries are often very rewarding. Driving along a back road, we saw a sign that said La Boutique du Molin and we pulled off the road to investigate. It turned out to be an artisanal olive oil cooperative where the growers from the area bring their crops to be processed into olive oil. The friendly and helpful owners offered to give us a tour of the facility and they talked about the process of making olive oil. Then, we had an olive oil tasting where we sampled many different flavors of olive oil. It was fascinating to discover the different character and taste of each oil. And, of course we ended up purchasing a good number of bottles for friends and family.

We flew into Marseille and our original plan was to drive back to Marseille and spend our last day in France touring around Marseille before we returned home. We got to Marseille late in the afternoon- the steep and narrow streets of Marseille were very difficult to navigate our car through and by the time we found our hotel, New Hotel Bompard, a small nap was in order. We did not get to visit some of the places on our itinerary: the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde, Parc Borely, and the Chateau Borley (museum of decorative art)- this will have to be for another trip!

Then it was time for our dinner reservation at Chez FonFon. We walked down the steep and crowded streets to the restaurant, located in the old fishing port. Across the street from the restaurant was a crowded open air night club- it looked like a movie set from a Fellini movie. Chez FonFon is known for it’s excellent Bouillabasisse specialties, but after a few days of indulgence, I was not that hungry. I ordered a small appetizer of grilled fish and this was perfect along with some bread and a glass of wine! Afterwards we walked around the port and then very slowly back up the long hill to our hotel and very welcome beds!!

Chez Fonfon- Marseille

So, back to reality! Every day it seems as if we are getting closer to our new normal and if all goes well, more freedom. Writing this blog has awakened my desire to travel again! The other day, a simple dish of roasted red and yellow peppers brought back memories for some of the bright flavors that I tasted in Provence. The peppers can be served over pasta, grilled fish or chicken and with some crusty French bread and a glass of Rose wine, you can imagine that you are sitting on a terrace in Provence!

Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers

Ingredients:

2 red peppers

2 yellow peppers

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To make peppers:

Pre- heat oven to 450 degrees

Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. Slice into medium size strips.

Place on a large baking sheet and pour a few tablespoons of olive oil over peppers. Mix together with your hands.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast peppers for about 20-30 minutes, stirring about every 5-10 minutes with a spatula.

Roast until peppers are soft and start to caramelize.

Serve over pasta, grilled fish or grilled chicken.

Enjoy!

arundo donax- wild oboe cane

As we drove down the hills back towards the Mediterranean, Amanda noticed that the vegetation had dramatically changed and she said, “There it is, on the side of the road- wild oboe cane!”

My over packed suitcase made it safely back home with Rosé, a huge bag of oboe cane from Daniel Rigotti and of course olive oil! AND, I can happily report that I checked out several of the restaurants and hotels that we visited and they seem to all have survived the pandemic! Perhaps a return trip may happen in the not too distant future!!

Stay Safe!

Hummocks, Flarks and A Vegetarian Indian Feast!

Kelsey Road: Sheffield, MA

This week I had planned on writing Part Two: Provence Revisited, but I was sidetracked by pristine fresh snow; a brilliant white palette for animal tracks and reflections of light. Provence can wait, for now it’s back to winter!

Our invigorating walks in the cold have been mostly on side roads and our steps are careful; plodding and heavier. Between wearing sturdy winter hiking boots and the snow covered roads, it feels as if my feet carry me along like the thick and heavy tread of snow tires! The slower pace gives one the advantage of noticing more and I am enthralled by the patterns of light and shadows on the snow.

Wild Turkey Tracks

A small puddle of water on the side of the road is transformed into an exquisite ice sculpture.

On Kelsey Road in Sheffield MA, we walked by a small marsh and Paul remarked that he thought that the tiny bumps and indentations covered with snow were called hummocks. I thought that they looked like a magical colony of snow elf dwellings! After checking on Wikipedia, we read that shallow wet depressions in swampy areas are also called flarks.

Walking along the road, we had a good deal of fun making up silly word combinations, but quickly realized that we needed to call on our dear friend Hal Ober, an amazing poet and writer. He writes a blog called The Old Hatchery. We asked him to come up with a fitting limerick and he willingly complied. Here it is!

Hummocks and flarks. Hummocks and flarks.
It’s enough to flummox the Brothers Marx!
Compounding the task with a limerick ask?
Why, I’d sooner recline in a hammock with sharks!


AND, then Hal also wrote a poem!

Boggier(but not a limerick)

A hummock’s a hollow,
A flark is a mound.
No, sorry! 
I’ve got that the wrong way around.


If you slog through a bog
Here’s a field note to savor:
A hummock’s convex
And a flark is concaver. 

Or picture a sine wave.
Why? Just for a lark.
The crest—that’s the hummock.
The trough is the flark.

Thank you Hal!!


AND, According to Wikepedia

In geology, a hummock is a small knoll or mound above ground.[1] They are typically less than 15 meters (50 ft) in height and tend to appear in groups or fields. It is difficult to make generalizations about hummocks because of the diversity in their morphology and sedimentology.[2] An extremely irregular surface may be called hummocky.[3]

An ice hummock is a boss or rounded knoll of ice rising above the general level of an ice-field. Hummocky ice is caused by slow and unequal pressure in the main body of the packed ice, and by unequal structure and temperature at a later period.

Hummocks in the shape of low ridges of drier peat moss typically form part of the structure of certain types of raised bog, such as plateaukermipalsa or string bog. The hummocks alternate with shallow wet depressions or flarks.

Strange as it may seem to some, especially this week with the whole country in crisis with a deep freeze, I love the cold weather. I find I have more energy and focus. After a long walk, I am ready to come back indoors and cook to my heart’s content. With a fire blazing in the woodstove, food can simmer on the stove for hours while I practice, plan for future concerts, read and write. In the summer, I feel languid and lazy. I am always trying to keep the house cool and cooking in general suffers.

While walking the other day, I passed a small farm that raises Highland cattle. Originally from the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, their heavy fur is suitable for strong winds and colder temperatures. I was able to get quite close and could see puffs of steam come out of their noses as they exhaled. They seemed very contented in the snow; I think I might have found some kindred spirits!

**********************************

Safely back inside, I began to think about dinner. For the holidays, my daughter gave me a cookbook by the Israeli/English chef Yotam Ottolenghi called Flavor. Well known for his innovative recipes using a wide range of flavor combinations, his most recent book features plant based recipes. This is perfect for us. These days we are leaning towards a mostly vegetarian diet for a number of reasons: health, environmental concerns and I also happen to love the many different cuisines that use vegetables in flavorful and creative ways; Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian; the possibilities seem endless. Looking through the book, I saw a recipe for Tofu Korma that sounded delicious. Luckily the day I made it, we were snowed in- it took most of the day to prepare! The recipe with instructions will appear at another time!

Tofu Korma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Flavor

I decided to make an Indian vegetarian feast that was a bit less labor intensive. I made the following dishes over two days: Day One- Curried Vegetables, Kidney Bean Dal and Brown Rice. Day Two – Indian Pan Fried Cauliflower and Whole Wheat Naan along with leftovers from the previous night! A true feast!

Curried Vegetables
Kidney Bean Dal
Indian Pan Fried Cauliflower

The pan fried cauliflower, seasoned with cumin and black mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger and garlic is based on a recipe by David Tanis who is a contributor for the NYT Cooking column. Tanis has worked as a chef for many years at the renowned Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse; on my wish list to visit! I found the cumin and black mustard seeds in out of way container of Indian spices that I had purchased a while ago from a wonderful store called Kalustyan’s in Manhattan. Ideally spices should replaced after a year and I know that my supply is getting a bit old. Kalustyan’s has a great online store to order spices, but I think I will hold out until I can visit Curry Hill, the area between Lexington Avenue and 25th to 30th streets. I will also plan to visit Pongal an excellent vegetarian Indian restaurant in the neighborhood and will most definitely order a dosa!

Whole Wheat Naan

The naan was surprisingly easy to make; the only ingredients were whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and yogurt. I kneaded the dough in my mixer with a dough hook and they cooked very quickly on a hot griddle. The fun part was holding them over an open gas flame with tongs and they puffed up!

Curried Vegetables

Ingredients:

2 carrots cut into diagonal slices

1 zucchini cut into diagonal slices

1 cup frozen green beans

6-8 cherry tomatoes

1 medium onion diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Vegetable Curry:

In a large saucepan pan, heat olive oil.

Add onions and saute until they soften and turn light brown.

Add garlic and ginger and saute about a minute.

Add cumin, salt & pepper to taste and curry powder and saute for two minutes.

Add vegetables and saute for two minutes.

Add a bit of water and cover pan. You can always add more water if the mixture gets too dry and the vegetables are not soft enough.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are soft about 30 minutes.

Remove cover from pan and cook for a few minutes. You want a thick mixture-if there are bits of caramelized onion, garlic or ginger on the bottom of the pan this is good! Stir them up into the mixture.

Enjoy!

Kidney Bean Dal

Ingredients:

2 cans organic kidney beans drained and rinsed

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bay leaf (if you have fresh curry leaf, this would be great!)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro for garnish

To Make Kidney Bean Dal:

In a medium sized pot, heat olive oil.

Add onion and saute until it softens.

Add garlic and ginger- saute one minute.

Add turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until onions are soft and liquid is almost gone.

Uncover and cook a bit more until all liquid is gone.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Enjoy!

Indian Pan-Fried Cauliflower

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small cauliflower, cored and sliced into 1/2 pieces

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

1/2 cup frozen peas

To Make Cauliflower:

Heat a large saute pan or cast-iron skillet over medium to high heat.

Add the oil and when it is hot, add cauliflower in one layer. Let it brown and then stir. Season with salt and pepper and cook about 5 minutes more.

Push cauliflower over to one side of the pan and add a bit more olive oil.

Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and tumeric and when the mixture begins to sizzle, add ginger and garlic.

Add peas and stir well.

Add water to almost cover vegetables, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Cover pan and cook until the cauliflower is tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10-15 minutes, the timing can vary.

At this point, you can cook the mixture a few minutes more to brown and crisp things up.

Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Naan

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

small pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons non-fat yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

lukewarm water

To Make Naan:

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, pinch of sugar, salt and yeast.

Place the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl, this is because salt will adversely effect the yeast if the are mixed together while still dry.

Add yogurt and a small amount of water and knead briefly to make a smooth dough. You can continue kneading by hand for 5 minutes, but I used the dough hook on my mixer for 5 minutes and it was fine!

Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until it is doubled in size.

This is one of the fun parts- punch the dough down and knead for a couple more minutes.

Make 6-8 portions of the dough into balls and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. The dough will rise again a bit more.

Lightly dust a working surface with flour and roll the balls into ovals or circles, do not roll out too thin.

Heat a skillet on medium-high heat, place the rolled whole wheat naan over the heated skillet and cook on both sides. You will notice brown spots come on the top and the naans will puff up with air pockets. 

This was my favorite part. If you have a gas flame, you can optionally cook it directly over the flame once it is partially done on the skillet and let the breads puff up over the open flame!

You can smear some butter over the hot breads if desired!

ENJOY THE FEAST!!

Happy Rest of Winter! For the warm weather lovers, spring will be here soon! Stay warm and safe!

An addendum: hummocks and flarks on today’s snowy walk on Kelsey Road!

Provence Revisited: The Search For Illusive Oboe Cane!

Photo: Jean-Francois Rico D’Addario Cane Plantation- Hyeres, France 2017

What a few weeks! Trump is finally gone and it seems like we have woken up from a bad dream! Add to this, Paul had a health scare, but thankfully all is well. The trails are icy and hard to navigate and it is really cold out there, so long walks will be curtailed for a while! We both are feeling a bit of cabin fever and impatience as we wait for the vaccine and financial relief for so many people that are suffering. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for a little escape to a happier and warmer time; with memories from a trip to Provence that I took in 2017. This was part of a Professional Development Grant from Hofstra University titled: “The Search for Ellusive Oboe Cane.”

First, a bit of context:

One of the challenges of being an oboist is that in addition to playing an aerobic and difficult instrument is that one must also carve their own reeds. It is a precise skill learned over many years; at times the process can be Zen like, but it can also be a major source of frustration. Reeds are notorious for playing beautifully and then, with a small change in the weather they can become unresponsive and difficult to play.

We oboists have earned a reputation for being slightly eccentric, also thinking we are under appreciated because of what we have to deal with daily. This short and very humorous YouTube video perfectly illustrates a typical oboist!

Oboe, Clarinet, Saxophone and Bassoon reeds are made from a species of cane called Arundo Donax. Sorry for the pun, but Paul calls it donax don’t tell! It thrives in hot humid climates with some of the best cane grown in Southern France. When I was thinking about ideas for possible Professional Development Grants, the thought of visiting the source of reed cane intrigued me and of course, it did not hurt that this was in Provence! When I mentioned my idea about the trip to oboists, their eyes would light up and they would say,” What a brilliant idea!” When I brought up my plans to anyone else, the comment was, “You are going to Provence and will spend your days in hot and humid cane fields?” Then, they would politely smile. I was delighted and honored when I was awarded the grant and here begins the adventure:

First, I needed a knowledgeable tour guide. I was very fortunate to be connected with Jean-Francois Rico who lives in Nice, by Rob Pollan, the husband of the wonderful repair person Kristen Bertrand. For several years, Rob worked for D’Addario Woodwinds and knows many of the cane growers in France. Jean-Francois was the perfect guide. His grandfather was the founder of Rico Reeds. In addition to owning Rico Reeds, he has also worked as a professional photographer. He knows all of the cane growers in the area, is fluent in both French and English and loved having the chance to visit old friends and acquaintances. He was also a wine and food connoisseur; a match made in heaven! Each night during our trip, Jean-Francois would suggest a restaurant and also made suggestions about which Rose wine to sample. One night at dinner, as he was describing regional dishes and cooking techniques, my travel companion Amanda and I nodded our heads eagerly in recognition. He seemed a bit surprised and then said: “for Americans, you two seem to know an awful lot about food”!

Along with my intrepid travel partner and good friend Amanda, we spent three days traveling around and meeting many of the different cane growers in the Var Region of Provence. Not only did Amanda think of good questions to ask the various cane growers, she was also an excellent driver and in our standard six speed Peugot, she expertly navigated the myriad difficult rotaries and hairpin curves on the windy mountain roads! Under the backdrop of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea in Hyeres France, we visited the cane fields and learned a great deal about how the cane is grown and then dried for a year before it is ready to be used to make reeds. Hyeres is in a beautiful and un-touristy section of Provence; on the Mediterranean, not far from Marseille.

When we settled into our first hotel, Hotel Mercure, in Hyere, I knew I was in cane country; the walls were decorated with reed cane!

On the first morning of the trip, before our meetings started, we drove around the village of Hyeres and enjoyed the exquisite scenery.

As we rounded a corner, there it was there was-right in front of me- wild Arundo Donax growing on the side of the road! I asked Amanda to stop the car and I jumped out to get a photo!

Arundo Donax is a plant in the grass family and is not directly related to bamboo. Ancient reed instruments used the same material. It is also cultivated for woodwind reeds in Spain, Turkey, China, Argentina and Mexico. Perhaps I also need to travel there!

Our first visit was to the MARCA FRANCE cane plantation and the knowledgeable and cordial manager Nicolas Righi explained the process of harvesting, curing and then processing the cane to us.

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

 The stalks are harvested only after 2 years of growth. Harvest time is mid-December through March and is said to take place on the new moon. I came to understand that most of the cane cultivated on the plantations is processed to make clarinet and saxophone reeds. Oboe cane is usually harvested in the wild and the sources are a closely guarded secret! I gently pried a bit to learn about some of the locations and was also gently rebuffed!

The wild cane is not coddled with fertilizers and irrigation, so the resulting diameter of the cane will be smaller; perfect for oboe reeds! I also noticed that cane was often grown next to or close by vineyards; cane and wine seem to like the same soil. The area around Hyeres is also known for excellent rose wines- more on the wine later!

An important but tedious job is sorting the cane by the size of the diameter; a painstaking and precise job.

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

We next visited Rigotti Cane in nearby Cogolin. I was excited to meet owner Daniel Rigotti, as I have used his cane for many years. The company was managed by his father Franco until 2012. Daniel was very gracious and even though it was the middle of a busy work day, he took us to meet his parents. They invited us into their lovely home for tea and cookies and then treated us to lunch at a delightful small cafe. Cogolin is just 15 miles from Saint Tropez, but it is a small un-touristy Provencal village. It was a very hot day; the restaurant was outside under a covered patio. I remember that I was sweating so much I could hardly enjoy my salad of mixed greens with goat cheese toasts. Our gracious hosts offered us glasses of chilled rose; it was a perfect day that I will always remember. I felt that we were truly experiencing and sharing another culture.

In the cane fields with Daniel Rigotti and Jean-Francois Rico.

We also had the wonderful opportunity to visit the D’Addario Woodwind cane plantation in Hyeres and to meet Philippe Weibel an expert horticulturist.

photo: Jean-Frqncois Rico; with Philippe Weibel, D’Addario Cane Plantation

Coming out of the hot blazing sun, I entered a lush and verdant grove of Arundo Donax plants. Surrounded by the giant stalks, it felt as if I was in a humid tropical forest. Philippe jokingly greeted the plants and lovingly described some of the techniques he used to encourage the optimal growth of his charges. He picked up a clump of soil and crumbled it in his hands. He knew by feel exactly what the soil needed. I observed that under his stewardship, the plants grew to be strong and healthy; large in circumference, perfect for clarinet and saxophone reeds, but this would not be used for oboe cane!

Along with bags of tube cane, I had purchased a rather large number of bottles of rose wine and olive oil to take back home as gifts. Before we left the D’Addario Plantation, Philippe made sure to give me expert packing advise to make sure my treasures made it safely back!

The next three days were spent traveling around Provence, including visits to Aix in Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites including a wonderful visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. This will be part of the next Provence installment: Provence Revisted- Part Two!

Back to the cold snowy winter!

I think a recipe that invokes memories of summer and plenty of sunshine is in order; with a dish that has evolved over a number of years. When our daughter was small, each summer we would travel to Deer Isle, Maine where we rented a house with our dear friends Carol & Hal Ober and their son Matthew. After a day of swimming and hiking on the island, we always made dinner together. This would also sometimes involve a Blueberry Pie that we got from one of our favorite restaurants, The Fisherman’s Friend in Stonington, Maine. With the freshest ingredients purchased from roadside stands, we often put together a casserole that included eggplant, tomatoes, plenty of garlic and maybe also some zucchini and parsley. Topped with some bread crumbs and a bit of feta cheese, it was delicious! I believe it was Hal who first coined the phrase, “Here is a little dish I like to call Eggplant Provencal”!

The other day, I got firm fresh eggplant and a bunch of organic parsley in my coop order. I cut the eggplant into thick slices, placed it in a strainer and sprinkled it with salt to remove any bitterness.

Good tomatoes are nowhere to be found now, but a large can of whole peeled tomatoes cut into chunks, substituted nicely! After I rinsed and patted the eggplant slices dry, I added just a bit of olive oil to lightly coat the pieces and broiled the eggplant until it was golden brown and crispy. I layered the eggplant and tomato sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley. I topped the dish with breadcrumbs and olive oil and baked the casserole covered with foil wrap for about 40 minutes until the eggplant was soft. I removed the foil and baked the dish a bit more until the top was nicely browned and the juices were bubbly.

This is a perfect dish for the middle of the winter- served with a crusty baguette and a glass of rose; we can dream of warmer, safer days!!

“A Little Dish I Like to Call: Eggplant Provencal”

Ingredients:

1 firm large eggplant

1 large can whole tomatoes

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped

olive oil

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* If you have capers or pitted black olives on had, this might be nice to add.

To Make Eggplant:

Pre-heat Broiler

Slice eggplant into thick slices and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse and lay on a few sheets of paper towel and pat dry.

Place eggplant on a baking sheet and lightly coat with olive oil.

Broil each side until browned and slight softened.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place half of tomatoes on bottom of a medium sized casserole dish.

Layer eggplant on top and sprinkle with the garlic.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Add remaining tomatoes with their juice on top and sprinkle on the parsley.

Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on top.

Cover tightly with foil and bake about 40 minutes until the eggplant is very soft.

Remove cover and bake about 10 minutes more until top is nicely browned.

Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes and ENJOY!!

This is also great the next day!

As I write this, the wind is howling outside and our latest Nor’easter is almost finished.

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

The Bullitt Reservation and Andre Soltner’s Roast Chicken!

A few weeks ago on a visit to the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, Massachusetts, there was so much snow on the ground that we could not access the trials.

We walked along a dirt road near the trial and as we looked off into the woods, we saw an owl perched high in a snowy tree. The brown and white markings on the bird blended in with the stark winter landscape. The owl sat majestically observing all around him and then suddenly his wings opened into a wide span and he flew off through the still air; effortlessly and smoothly without a sound.

This past year, my husband Paul has become a maverick trail sleuth and I have become the guinea pig in chief; sometimes complaining a bit about mud, heat, losing our way on the trail, the steep elevation; but in the end, always willing! He has found many unusual and out of the way trails and nature preserves. The Bullitt Reservation is one of his new excellent finds! The gentle trail is nestled between mixed woodlands, farm buildings, streams and fields on 3,000 acres of protected land. We often only encounter a few other people on the trail and feel the lovely stillness in the air.

Paul enjoys delving into the historical background of the various sites that we visit; it enriches our appreciation for each trail or land trust and it creates a sense of place. In Pauls’ words:

William Christian Bullitt Jr. was a controversial figure. Bullitt was at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, working for Woodrow Wilson and resigned after reading the resulting Treaty of Versaille. He was the first US ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1933 and then Ambassador to France until 1940. On June 14, 1940, Bullitt refused to leave in the evacuation and stayed in Paris as the Germans attacked. He escaped with his life to return to a very disappointed President Roosevelt, who had hoped he would continue working with the French temporary government in Bordeaux. Bullitt co-wrote a book about Wilson with Sigmund Freud: Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study.
The Ashfield property was a Poor Farm for 50 years until 1874. William Bullitt bought the property in 1920, which has since been sold privately. The Bullitt Foundation provided the funds to develop the preserve that the public can enjoy today.
New England towns borrowed the idea of Poor Farms from England, where the practice had been put into statute as part of the Elizabethan Poor Laws during the
1600’s”.

And, we could not resist inserting a bit of Roaring Twenties soap opera details!

The following is from the Wikipedia entry about Bullitt:

Bullitt married socialite Aimee Ernesta Drinker (1892-1981) in 1916. She gave birth to a son in 1917, who died two days later. They divorced in 1923. In 1924 he married Louise Bryant, journalist author of Six Red Months in Russia and widow of radical journalist John Reed. Bullitt divorced Bryant in 1930 and took custody of their daughter after he discovered Bryant’s affair with English sculptor Gwen Le Gallienne. The Bullitts’ daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, was born in February 1924, eight weeks after their marriage. Anne Bullitt never had children. In 1967, she married her fourth husband, U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster
During that period, he was briefly engaged to Roosevelt’s personal secretary, Missy LeHand. However, she broke off the engagement after a trip to Moscow during which she reportedly discovered him to be having an affair with Olga Lepeshinskaya, a ballet dancer.
[21][22]

Probably more than one needs to know, but a good diversion!!

Last weekend, we returned to the Bullitt Reservation, most of the snow had melted, so it was possible to walk on the trails. Lately, I have become transfixed not only by trees, but also by the amazing variety of rocks and boulders.

Here we encountered a boulder that seemed to be hugged by trees. It is very tempting to anthropomorphize expressions on various rocks!

While I was practicing this week, and with my aforementioned habit of glancing over at the daily New York Times Food Column on my computer screen, I saw an intriguing method for roast chicken by the celebrated French chef Andre Soltner. He was the chef and owner of the acclaimed New York City restaurant Lutece, that was open for more then forty years, closing in 2004.

Seeing Soltner’s name, brought back sweet and delicious memories. I was a young music student attending Juilliard in NYC and a good friend of mine was a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Lutece was located in a fancy townhouse on East 50th Street and we were completely out of our league. We decided that we should go there and started to save our pennies; besides this was research for culinary school! I studied the menu for days, dreaming about what I might order. The day of the reservation, we changed out of our blue jeans and scrubby student clothes and got dressed up. As we warily entered the elegant restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the hostess (Andre Soltner’s wife). She showed us to our table, not tucked away in a corner near the kitchen door, but in the middle of the room. We were giddily enjoying our appetizers, when we noticed a wealthy patron observing us with amusement. His order of a complete caviar service had just been was placed before him; he summoned the waiter back to his table. I clearly remember him saying to the waiter: “please bring this to the young couple across the room, they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely”. We happily accepted his offer complete with a complimentary glass of champagne!

My friend had ordered braised pigeon; the solemn and very correct waiter placed it before him and with a deadpan manner and thick French accent said: ” Here you are monsieur, Central Park West!” At the end of the meal, Andre Soltner the chef, stopped by our table and asked how our dinner was- I think we might have made a bit of an impression at this highly refined shrine of fine dining!

Back to our challenging times! After looking at Soltner’s recipe for roast chicken, I decided to give it a try. Fair warning: this does involves a bit of high heat; I did have to put on the exhaust fan full blast and open a door to air out the smoke! I think this recipe is probably more conducive to a professional kitchen; but it was definitely worth it!! The result was a perfectly roasted chicken with crispy skin, full of flavor and very tender. The recipe calls for sprigs of fresh thyme and tarragon. I had neither, so I substituted fresh rosemary and dried herbs de provence. I think any dried herb would be fine!

Andre Soltner’s Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

1 small whole chicken rinsed and patted dry

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped finely

3 teaspoons herbs de provence or dried thyme

1 small onion halved

2-3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 sprigs fresh parsley

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon butter

To Make Chicken:

A few hours before roasting chicken, rub salt and pepper and herbs on the outside and inside of chicken. Place onion and rosemary and parsley sprigs in the cavity of the chicken.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees- turn exhaust fan to high

On the stove, heat a roasting pan over high heat- this will be one of the most smoky parts! Add the oil and the chicken-brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and roast in oven until a meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees when inserted in the thigh. I put the roasting pan on the bottom shelf.

Immediately drop 2 teaspoons of water into the bottom of the roasting pan, close the oven door and turn off the heat. After 3 minutes, remove pan from the oven and place the chicken on a platter. Let it rest at least 10 minutes before carving.

If you have good home made chicken stock and a nice bottle of white wine, proceed with the recipe for a quick sauce. I had neither and the plain roasted chicken was delicious on it’s own!

To Make Sauce:

Drain fat from roasting pan and place on top of stove over medium heat. Add the wine and using a wooden spoon, scrape up browned bits from bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and chopped tarragon and parley. Whisk in the butter and pour over chicken.

Enjoy!!

With a few sides of wild rice with shallots, toasted walnuts and cumin and sauteed carrots and zucchini we had a perfect comfort food feast!

Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

AND this week, Paul became a tree hugger with “The Tree of the Week!”

” That feels good! Can you hug me a bit tighter!”

Please stay safe!!

The Joffe Sanctuary and More Potpies!

Woah! What a week! I started to write this blog thinking that the certification process would have gone smoothly and all was now on a relatively even keel! As the next few weeks unfold, we will be need to take solace from music, nature and comfort food more then ever- so here we go!

The Joffe Sanctuary in New Marlborough Massachusetts, is a beautiful ecosystem with wetlands and upland habitats. The small trail loops around a vernal pond; a shallow body of water that is usually devoid of fish. With no competition, amphibians and insect species can thrive. This past summer, we were treated to a full length antiphonal symphony between the frogs and insects. Now the stillness is lovely and the patterns of twigs and branches on the ice and water are mesmerizing.

Since this is a short loop, on our way home we stopped by to walk on Kelsey Road in Sheffield MA, which also crosses over a few marshes.

At this time in history, our democracy seems as fragile as these ice crystals on the ground!

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA.

I love and admire many composers, but find that I always return to Bach. His music inspires me in a profound way and even when I play a slow melody in a minor key, I find Bach’s music uplifting and centering. This morning, I pulled out the Larghetto from Bach’s Concerto in A Major for Oboe and Strings. It seemed so appropriate for this time. I look forward to playing this piece in it’s entirety with harpsichord and strings- maybe soon?? Here is an excerpt:

And then of course, we can turn to comfort food! What could be better than a bubbling hot Chicken Pot Pie!

For Christmas dinner this year, our menu was based on beloved traditions that included chicken breasts filled with a sour dough stuffing made with pecans, shallots, mushrooms, celery and onion. With just two of us, there was plenty of leftover chicken. I froze a few chicken breasts until needed and this was certainly the week! I cut up the chicken and discovered there was also the added treat of small chunks of leftover stuffing! This along with onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms and some frozen green peas, dried thyme and sage, made a tasty filling; although shitake mushrooms or green beans would also be good! I made a quick lightly thickened sauce with chicken stock, butter and flour and topped the pot pie with spelt/whole wheat pastry flour biscuits. With a salad of mixed greens, dried cranberries, shaved parmesan and pecans, it almost felt like a holiday! I hope you enjoy making this!

Chicken Pot Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

1-2 cups cooked chicken cut into small pieces

2 carrots diced into medium pieces

1 stalk celery diced into medium pieces

1 onion finely chopped

5-6 mushrooms, stemmed and cut into small slices

1/2 cup frozen peas defrosted

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage

salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup white flour

1 1/2 cups chicken broth (home made if possible, low sodium canned organic broth may be substituted). * Note

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Biscuits:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1 scallion finely chopped(optional)

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup hot water

To Make Filling:

In a medium saucepan heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute onion until it softens. Add carrots, mushrooms ,celery, thyme and sage. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook about 10 minutes until vegetables soften a bit and are lightly browned. Add peas and set aside.

To Make Sauce:

Over medium heat melt butter in a small pot.

Stir in flour and cook briefly.

Slowly whisk in broth and continue to stir until mixture comes to a slow boil and thickens. If sauce is too thick, you can always a bit more broth. Adjust seasoning.

* Note- If you are using canned broth, I sometimes add a few dashes of Tamari to boost the flavor.

Pre-heat oven to 375 Degrees

To Make Biscuits:

In a large bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and if you are using parmesan cheese and scallion. Mix well.

Add oil and hot water, stir to combine and knead mixture gently a few times with your hands.

Assemble the Pot Pie:

Place filling in a medium oval or square baking dish.

Pour sauce over filling.

Form biscuits with your hands and place over the filling, (they can be any size, I usually make about 8-10 biscuits). These biscuits are very forgiving and do not need to look uniform, the shaggier the better!!

Bake uncovered for about 40-45 minutes until the mixture bubbles and the biscuits are lightly browned. At this point, everything starts to smells heavenly and all troubles are forgotten!!

ENJOY!!

AND of course, here is “The Tree of the Week”!

“Watching with eyes wide open!!”

Please be Safe!!