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

IMG_3094.JPG

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.

IMG_3090.JPG

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.

IMG_3103.JPG

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.

IMG_3095.JPG

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:

IMG_0175.JPG

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!”

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!