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!!

Winter at the Rivulet

In past winters we did not take many hikes through the woods and fields. Most likely we would have been visiting museums, dining out, going to plays and visiting friends! I would also be rehearsing and performing concerts with my groups Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness. This challenging year, our main activities have moved outside and we have become more adventurous. Armed with my trusty shillelagh, new warm and sturdy hiking boots and fleece lined pants, we are prepared for the outdoors!

A return trip to our beloved Rivulet at the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts was in order! This is the childhood home of the poet, journalist and editor William Cullen Bryant( 1794-1847). After the recent warmer weather and torrential rain, most of the snow cover was melted and the icy water flowed more forcefully through the small stream.

We have walked on many trails this past year, but there is a unique quality of serenity and peace that we feel strongly each time we return to the Bryant Homestead. The tall evergreens reach towards the sky and as you enter the woods, they encompass you with their sweet musty pine scent. It is also the gently sloping and winding trails that loop around the rivulet, the reflection of light on the water and woods and the sense of history that makes this such a special, almost sacred place. If it was spring or summer, I would be inspired to play an improvisation on the spot. That will have to wait! For now, I thought a piece from the renaissance period with lyrics about water; played in my warm study would be lovely to include. Luckily, I had just the person to ask; my good friend and colleague, lutenist extraordinaire and musicologist Christopher Morrongiello! He suggested a composition by the English lutenist and composer John Dowland; “Weep you no more, sad fountains”. The sweet and plaintive melody seemed perfect for the oboe and in the second half of the piece, the melody flows ever so gently downwards and ends with stillness.

“Weep you no more, sad fountains”- John Dowland 1563-1626

Weep you no more, sad fountains;
What need you flow so fast?
Look how the snowy mountains
Heaven’s sun doth gently waste!
But my sun’s heavenly eyes
View not your weeping
That now lies sleeping
Softly now, softly lies
Sleeping

Sleep is a reconciling
A rest that peace begets;
Doth not the sun rise smiling
When fair at e’en he sets?
Rest you, then, rest, sad eyes!
Melt not in weeping
While she lies sleeping
Softly now, softly lies
Sleeping

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

After I finish my morning practicing, I find myself day dreaming about what I might like to make for dinner that night. I have to admit, this also often happens while I am still practicing. I glance over at the computer screen and find that I have become engrossed in the daily NY Times food blog! I reluctantly stop reading recipes and pull myself back to concentration and work! Recently I was in the mood for a savory pot pie. I have always loved potpies; as a child, a big treat was my own small Swanson chicken potpie filled with gooey gravy, tiny pieces of pebbly chicken and frozen vegetables. I always saved the salty crunchy crust for last!

This morning, I thought that a vegetable pot pie might be good. I was looking for something not too rich and decided to make the crust with olive oil instead of butter. Using olive oil made the crust very easy to handle and roll out. I added a bit of grated parmesan, a pinch of herb de provence and freshly ground pepper- the resulting crust was full of flavor and made me want to save the crust for last! Since the pandemic, our shopping habits have changed and I try to use what is on hand, so the filling for this pot pie turned out to be: onion, green beans, kale, cannellini beans, feta cheese and diced tomato; seasoned with dried dill and thyme. The final result turned out to be almost Greek in flavor. I think any combination of vegetables that you have on hand would work here! I had made a curried butternut squash soup a few days before. This was a perfect addition to the dinner plan- I topped the soup with a few caramelized shallots and a drizzle of thinned yogurt and a feast was made!

Vegetable Pot Pie

Ingredients for Filling:

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup green beans- stems removed and cut into small pieces

1 cup kale finely chopped

1 can cannellini or white navy beans drained and rinsed

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 small piece feta

1 teaspoon each dried dill and thyme.

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To Make Filling:

Steam green beans and kale until they soften a bit.

In a large pan, add olive oil and saute onion over medium heat until it softens.

Add other ingredients and cook mixture down on low heat covered until mixture softens. Adjust seasoning.

Ingredients for Crust:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried herb de provence

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup cold ice water

1 egg yolk lightly beaten for egg wash to brush over crust

To Make Crust:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together both flours, salt, herbs, pepper and grated parmesan.

Slowly mix in water and stir together with a large spoon until it forms a shaggy mass. ( you may need a bit more water).

Pour onto a light floured work surface and work the mixture until it forms a ball. Cut in half.

Roll out one piece of to fit inside a pie plate or shallow baking dish.

Prick dough in pie dish all over with a fork and pre-bake the dough for about 8 minutes and then remove from the oven. This will keep the bottom of the crust from getting soggy.

Place filling in pre-baked crust and crumble feta over the top of the filling. Pour a bit of olive oil over the top of the filling. Roll out the second piece of dough. Fit over the top of the filling and crimp the edges with a fork.

Brush egg wash over the top of the pie and make a few slits in the top to let steam release.

Bake about 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Let cool for about 15 minutes and enjoy!!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

1 package peeled and chopped butternut squash

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 medium apple peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

for garnish- 2 or 3 shallots sliced thinly.

To Make Soup:

In a large pot, saute onion until it softens, stir in curry powder and cook about 1 minute more.

Add rest of ingredients to pot and cover with water.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until squash, apple and onion is very soft -about 1 hour.

For a thicker soup, remove cover partly while cooking.

While soup is cooking heat a bit of olive oil in a small pan and saute shallots until they are crisp and caramalized.

When soup is done. remove bay leaf and puree with an immersion blender until creamy.

Garnish with shallots and yogurt.

Enjoy!!

AND NOW, I will curl up on my couch with an excellent murder mystery that one of my students recommended Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr (it is set in 1930’s Berlin) and a wonderful cookbook that my daughter gave me for the holidays; Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi!

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

“Leave Already!!!”

Happy New Year! Please Stay Safe!

Winter Solstice Walks and a Merry Tune!

The woods at Hunger Mountain in Monterey Massachusetts were pristine and quiet. The light reflecting on the snow made beautiful patterns. I stood very still and listened intently; the only sound I heard was a small twin engine plane flying overhead. I thought how quiet it must have been before the intrusive cacophony of cars, airplanes and trucks-perhaps this is why lutes, guitars, harpsichords, flutes and recorders were intuitively crafted to play with a softer delicate timbre?

A friend recently lent me her beautifully handcrafted Irish Shilelagh and it made much easier to stomp up and down the snowy trails. This sturdy little walking stick could also be an over sized conductor’s baton! Hunger Mountain loops around a massive outcropping of rock that has many crooks and crannies. Last summer while hiking here, Paul almost stumbled upon a big black bear ahead of him on the path! Walking the other day in the crisp cold air, I imagined the black bears safely hibernating in their snuggly rock caves around us!

A few days before the recent Nor’ Easter, we took a walk at the Ashintully Gardens in Tryingham, Massachusetts that is run by The Trustees of Reservations.

The day was grey and misty and also beautifully still. As we walked through the fields of the estate, enjoying the silence and solitude, we could hear the distant bells of the Visitation Monastery announcing the noon hour. The order of The Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary is a few miles away. According to the description of the order, “it is a cloistered contemplative order that strives to be a gentle presence in a world threatened by terrorism and war”. So appropriate for our times!

Hiking up a small hill we saw the ruins of the old Marble Palace poking stoically through the woods. All that remains of the original mansion that was destroyed in a tragic fire in 1915 are four stone columns.

Today we decided to return to Hunger Mountain to take some pictures of the rock outcroppings and caves. After the climate change freak rainstorm and warm weather that we recently had, almost all of the snow had melted and the landscape looked completely different.

Because so much snow was gone, we could clearly see the cave openings-very exciting!!

Ice made beautiful and unusual formations around the rocks and cave openings. Some the of the icicles reminded me of organ pipes.

Then it was time to go home for some hot chocolate and warm up in front of the woodstove!

Here is a lively Spanish Christmas Carol, played on my alto recorder, “Dadme albricias, hijos d’Eva” (“Sons of Eve, Bring Glad Tidings”); a fitting ending to 2020, a most challenging year!

The piece is part of a collection of anonymous carols from 15th century Spain that were compiled in Venice in 1556.

Dadme albricias, hijos d’Eva from ‘Cancionero de Upala’, 1556

AND, we should end the year with a sweet! Almond Orange Biscotti-perfect with espresso or dipped into gelato! This recipe is adapted from The Smitten Kitchen, an excellent food blog by Deb Perelman. I used whole wheat pastry and whole grain spelt flour. Instead of using the recipe’s 1 1/2 cups of sugar, I substituted 3/4 cup of coconut sugar which has a very low glycemic index. I also added Lily’s Dark Chocolate Baking Chips that are stevia sweetened- the biscotti are almost guilt free, although a bit addicting! They are also easy to make and the recipe is large, so there is also now a bag in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date!!

Almond Orange Biscotti

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups whole grain spelt flour

1/3 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup coconut sugar

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks)unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon orange zest (try to use an organic orange)

1 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup Lily’s Dark Chocolate Stevia Baking Chips

1 large egg white

Make Biscotti:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.


Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl.

Mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, orange juice and zest in a large bowl.

Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until
well blended. Mix in almonds. At this point, I used both hands to mix everything together!


Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape two 13 1/2-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch wide logs. Transfer both logs to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them apart.

Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each log.


Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack about 20 minutes.
Maintain oven temperature.
Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2 wide slices. My bread knife worked well here.

Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. Turn
biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

ENJOY!!

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

“Who did he pardon this week??

We will look forward to 2021 and hopefully a better year! Happy New Year and Please be Safe!!

First Snow and a Renaissance Christmas Carol

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary- Plainfield, Massachusetts

“Ein Lied von der Geburt Christi“- Caspar Othmayr 1515-1553

Enjoy a Renaissance Christmas Carol as you read about our first snowy adventure of the season. The music continues even if I can’t play improvisations outside!

A few weeks ago, in our corner of Northwest Connecticut, it had rained all day with a few snow showers. The following morning we headed north and as the elevation increased, we saw the first real snow of the season! Since there were only a few inches of snow on the ground, we decided to take a small hike at the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield, Massachusetts. There were no other cars in the lot and the billboard at the beginning of the trail posted pictures of bear claw marks on a tree trunk and moose. A little ominous, but no problem; after all, this was only a small walk- a one mile loop.

The woods were beautiful and still with small evergreen plants poking their noses out the snow.

We walked and walked….. taking pictures absorbed me completely. The patterns of ice on the water in a small stream made lovely abstract designs.

After a while, I noticed that the sun was getting a bit lower in the sky and I mentioned to Paul that the promised one mile loop seemed a bit long! We looked around us and the trail seemed to be heading back uphill. A thought went through my mind: “the doofuses get lost and freeze to death on a one mile loop”!

Paul said a bit anxiously: “stop taking pictures and let’s move along here”!! We increased the tempo of our steps, hopefully heading in the right direction and with relief we soon saw the original trail marker. The small one mile loop turned out to be 3 1/2 miles!

We thought that at this point it might be a good idea to head back towards home. Well, maybe just one more little detour on the back roads! Ahead of us was the Dubuque State Forest and Hallockville Pond, where I had kayaked this past summer. The sun was just starting to set over the small pond; a perfect ending to a beautiful day!

This week I was in the mood for a comforting hearty soup. I thought that a fish chowder might fit the bill and thoughts of the eclectic and innovative restaurant Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine came to mind. This small eccentric restaurant is the perfect little place- great creative simple food with big bold tastes and no pretension! It is always crowded, a bit too noisy and often hard to get a reservation. Hopefully this summer we will be able to return. On one of our visits, I ordered the “Chowdah Guy”- roasted to order haddock with smoke house bacon, corn, onion, potato, fresh thyme, garlic, cream and fumet ( fish broth). What’s not to like!! I came up with a version with what I remembered about the dish and the ingredients that I had on hand. I sauteed an onion and a bit of chopped celery in olive oil and a small knob of butter for extra flavor; then sprinkled flour on top and whisked in whole milk to help thicken the stew. I added corn that I had frozen from last summer, diced potato, a piece of andouille sausage, dried thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper, diced fire roasted tomatoes and covered everything with water. I let it cook down for about an hour and right before serving it, added about a pound of haddock cut into small pieces. It brought back memories of being in coastal Maine in late August and it tasted even better the next day!

Fish Chowder ala Cafe Miranda

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cod or haddock

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 stalk celery with leaves finely chopped

1 medium potato diced

1 cup corn (frozen is fine)

1 chicken or pork andouille sausage cut into small pieces

1/4 cup diced tomato

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter

1 tablespoon white flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

To Make Fish Chowder:

In a large pot heat butter and olive oil.

Saute onion until it softens and then add celery, cook for about a minute more.

Sprinkle flour over onion and celery, stir and cook about 1 minute.

Add milk and stir. Add all other ingredients, except fish.

Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about an hour.

Add fish and cook briefly, just until fish flakes easily.

Adjust seasoning- add more salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.

ENJOY!

AND, here is the perfect accompaniment to the stew- an easy to make Whole Wheat Soda Bread that tastes and looks like a combination of biscuits and bread! I added chopped rosemary, fresh ground pepper, chopped scallion and grated parmesan. I think any and all additions would work beautifully!

Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups flour-I used a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and whole grain spelt flour.

1 level teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (you may need a bit more or less).

I added a handful of chopped fresh rosemary, freshly ground pepper, diced scallion and 2 tablespoons grated parmesan.

To Make Soda Bread:

Preheat oven to 425 Degrees F.

Lightly flour a baking sheet.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt in a large bowl.

If using, mix in cheese, pepper and herbs.

Mix in enough buttermilk to from moist clumps. You should be able to gather dough into a loose ball-it will be very sticky. Have a bit of extra flour on hand to sprinkle over your hands.

Lightly flour a surface and knead dough until it forms a ball. Cut into two pieces.

Place the pieces on the baking sheet and cut all of the way through the dough with a sharp small knife making a crisscross pattern. The dough will actually be separated- this will help the bread cook through.

Bake until bread is golden brown on top, about 30-35 minutes. It will sound hollow when you tap it lightly.

Transfer to a rack and let cool completely- although, I don’t think I could wait! This would be wonderful with some good butter!

AND of course, here is the Tree of the Week:

“I’ve seen a lot in my time, but this year does seem to take the cake!”

As I finish writing this, we are digging out of our first real snow!!

Happy Holidays to All and Please Be Safe!

Autumn at the Drury Preserve

White Bean & Escarole Soup with Orzo

This past fall came and went quickly, with a whirlwind of events and now we will soon finally be seeing the last of T….! In the midst of all of the commotion and noise, we discovered yet another place of great beauty and tranquility where we can decompress and catch our breath; the Drury Preserve in nearby Sheffield, Massachusetts.

The Nature Conservancy opened the preserve in 1997 and it consists of a gentle three mile loop that traverses through marshland, woods and a bucolic pond with views of Mount Race.

Returning several times in October and November, I was drawn into the gradual transition from the beginning to the end of fall. Each time I visited, I felt my breath slowing down as I observed the subtle changes occurring around me. The combination of the light reflecting on the water and the delicate leaves made me think of Japanese prints.

One chilly November morning, I pre-soaked a few cups of white beans and we set out on a walk to the Drury Preserve. When we returned home, I drained and rinsed the beans and in large heavy pot, sauteed an onion, added the beans, a sprig of rosemary, diced carrot and celery, a small can of diced tomatoes, bay leaf and dried thyme. In the back of my cheese drawer, I found an old parmesan cheese rind from DiPalo’s in NYC. This adds another layer of flavor and depth to the soup! I covered everything with cold water, brought the liquid to a boil and then reduced the heat to a slow simmer for a few hours until the beans started to soften. I added a head of ecscarole torn into small pieces, mashed a few beans with a wooden spoon, added salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and cooked the beans about an hour more until the mixture was creamy and a bit thickened. If you have orzo or pasta on hand, you can cook this up and add it to the soup before you plan to eat it. I served the soup with freshly ground pepper and grated pecorino romano cheese on top. The two sharp flavors reminded me of the simple but delicious Italian dish, Cacio-e-pepe; basically pecorino cheese and black pepper on pasta! I will plan on making this dish soon!

Wistfully, I thought about how much I miss going to DiPalo’s in Little Italy; people watching and listening to conversations about what the other customers were planning to buy and cook and best of all, getting free tastes of delicious cheese from the generous owners Lou and Sal DiPalo. Once when I handed over my credit card, Lou DiPalo looked down at the name and proudly announced, “We’ve got a DePaolo here”! When the pandemic is over, I made a pledge to myself to never complain about waiting in a long line to be served!

White Bean and Escarole Soup with Orzo

Ingredients:

2 cups dried white beans

1 medium sized onion finely chopped

1 carrot diced

1 stalk celery diced

1/2 small can diced tomatoes

1 head escarole torn into small pieces

piece of parmesan rind

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

freshly ground pepper

salt* see note

grated pecorino romano cheese

To Make Soup:

Soak beans- either overnight or using the quick soak method.

Overnight- cover beans with cold water.

Quick Soak- cover beans with cold water, bring to a boil and then turn off heat. Cover and let sit for a few hours.

Drain and rinse beans.

Add beans and other ingredients, except escarole, salt and orzo to a large pot and cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer Cook for a few hours until beans start to soften. Mash a bit of the beans with a wooden spoon to thicken the soup.

Add Escarole and cook at a simmer covered until beans are completely broken down and the soup has a thick velvety texture.

Cook a cup or so of orzo according to the directions on the package. Drain and add to the soup.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To Serve:

Pass around grated grated pecorino romano cheese

Add freshly ground pepper

Note: It is best to add salt after the soup is almost finished. The beans will toughen if salt is added to early in the cooking process.

ENJOY!!

AND- here is my Tree of the Week!

“If you keep lying, see what happens??”

Please stay safe and warm!!

Hemlock Heaven at Bear Swamp!

Easy One Bowl Vegan Peanut Cookies

Thanksgiving weekend: Saturday was a cloudy chilly day with intermittent rain showers and the grey sky was spitting snowflakes. In the afternoon it suddenly cleared and a bit of serendipity occurred. We were headed for the Bear Swamp Trail in Ashfield, MA. After taking a few wrong turns, ahead of us was a back entrance for the trail with only one other car parked in the lot!

As we entered the woods, the sun was shining and we were enveloped by a canopy of lush verdant hemlocks. Some were towering and majestic and hundreds of smaller baby hemlocks lined both sides of the trail, so many, that it appeared to be a groundcover.

We thought that the nursery of tiny trees were seedlings, but a local forester from Northwest, CT explained to us that they were most likely sucker plants originating from a larger tree. It made me wonder what conditions cause certain species to thrive; rich soil, access to a good water source? We also often see unusual and beautiful fungi that thrive on old trees and moss. On the other hand, what conditions and events cause despots to thrive and control masses of people? What allows deadly viruses to run rampant?

I will leave this for the historians and scientists to ponder. For the moment, it was time for me to thrive in my kitchen with my wonderful new oven and try to recreate the vegan peanut butter cookies that I am addicted to from the Woodstar Cafe in Northhampton, MA! From the cafe’s website menu, I knew that the ingredients included almond flour, ground flaxseed, crunchy peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla and baking powder. I had no idea of the amounts, so I took a chance and guessed. The great news is that the result was really delicious -not quite a chewy as Woodstar’s – lighter and not so sweet, and maybe this is not good; just as addictive! I discovered that a few pieces of Lily’s Stevia Sweetened Chocolate eaten with one of the cookies, tasted like a healthy version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup! AND, they are very easy to make!

EASY One Bowl Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

Pre-heat oven to 350

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper

Ingredients:

1 cup crunchy peanut butter* see note

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1 teaspoon baking powder

To make cookies:

In a medium sized bowl, mix together peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla. Combine well with a large spoon.

Add almond flour, ground flax seed and baking powder. Mix well, the batter will be stiff, but not dry.

Form batter into small balls- I made 15, but you could make fewer larger cookies.

Press gently with a fork to make a criss cross pattern.

Bake in middle of oven for about 1o minutes until the bottoms of the cookies are light brown- the cookies will still feel quite soft.

Note* I used peanut butter that was salted. If you use an unsalted brand, add about 1/2 teaspoon salt to the batter.

Let cool and Enjoy!

For those new to my blog, I need to explain that I am a bit obsessed with trees and I love to anthromorphize them! Here is my “Tree of the Week”!

“Is it safe to come out yet? Is he really going away??”

Please stay safe!!

A Well Seasoned Wok!

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts

The other day, after dropping off some soup for a friend that is recovering from an illness, we were looking for a short walk and decided to head towards the Wethersfield Estate and Gardens in Amenia, New York. We knew that the gardens were probably closed for the season, but the area around the estate is beautiful. We parked our car at the beginning of Pugsley Road, close to the entrance to the gardens and were treated to expansive views of the surrounding hills and farmland. With all of the leaves down, the sky is open and the patterns of the bare branches are intricate and mesmerizing. I love observing the subtle combination of browns and tans with the contrast of purple and red berries.

It was a brisk and windy day-after we returned home we treated ourselves to hot chocolate made with unsweetened almond milk, cocoa powder, a few chunks of dark chocolate and a pinch of monk fruit sweetener. Paul made steamed almond milk to go on top with a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg.

For dinner that evening, I took out my trusty and very well seasoned wok; checked available ingredients and decided to make Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts.

Many years ago, I took a Szechuan Chinese cooking class at the New School in New York City. I still use not only the same wok that I bought in Chinatown, but also many of the cooking techniques taught by a wonderful instructor, Norman Weinstein. I had no idea at the time that Norman would become one of the most beloved cooking instructors and knife sharpening and technique experts in the city! After each class, we would gather around a big table to share the food that we had learned about and prepared. Paul and I had recently started living together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He very sweetly offered to accompany me home and would arrive to each class with impeccable timing just as the food was set out!

I recently read about a technique called “velveting” chicken, pork or seafood that creates a soft tender texture. This works! I thinly sliced 2 boneless chicken breasts and marinated them briefly with tamari, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar and a few drops of hot sesame chili oil. I made a slurry with some cornstarch and water and mixed it with the chicken mixture. I gathered together the rest of my ingredients; finely chopped ginger and garlic, broccoli that was steamed and cooled in an ice bath, cooked and drained soba noodles and the final sauce of more tamari, brown rice vinegar, chili oil and sesame oil. The French call this mise en place. Once you actually start to cook the dish, all goes quickly!

One of the most important tips that I remember is how to heat the wok before starting to cook. Over a high heat, place the wok and heat until it starts to smoke. After this, add a small amount of canola or peanut oil and heat that until it starts to almost smoke; now you are ready! Add the chopped ginger and garlic and cook it stirring with 2 wide spatulas in a circular motion for a few seconds- it’s important to keep everything moving so it does not burn. Then add the chicken and marinade mixture and continue to cook the same way until the chicken is cooked through. Add the broccoli, stir well for a minute or so and then add the soba noodles, peanuts; stir briefly and add the final sauce along the edges of the wok. Adding the sauce this way utilizes the heat of the wok to bring out the best flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli, and Peanuts

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts thinly sliced (the chicken was still a bit frozen and this made it easier to slice thinly)

1 medium broccoli crown- steamed until crisp tender. Remove from heat and quickly rinse with very cold water or place in an ice bath. This will retain the bright green color and texture.

1 package soba noodles- cooked and drained.

1/2 cup (or more to taste) roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

Marinade:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hot chili oil (or more to taste)

Cornstarch slurry:

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with water to make a smooth paste

Sauce:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon (or to taste) hot chili oil

To prepare:

Heat wok as described above

Add oil bring back to high heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook briefly.

Add chicken and cook until done. You can cut a small piece with your spatula to check if the inside is not pink and it slices easily.

Add broccoli and stir briefly.

Add soba noodles and peanuts and stir together for about a minute.

Add sauce alongside the wok and stir all together briefly.

Enjoy!!

The good news is that as I am writing this blog, our new stove is being installed. I will now have an oven!! The kind technicians are masked safely up and the windows are all open for maximum air circulation. I can think ahead for plans for our small Thanksgiving feast this year!

Here is the menu plan so far: A Turkey Breast Roulade based on a NY Times recipe by Ina Garten, (but mine will also have a sour dough bread stuffing with shallots, pecans and mushrooms), braised greens, steamed cauliflower with lemon, garlic, olive oil and capers, and a nod to past Italian American Thanksgiving feasts; Broken Oven Zucchini Lasagna, that I wrote about in a recent blog! Dessert will be a sugar free Apple Pie. We will look forward to ZOOM meetings with our daughter and her partner Katie’s family and with Paul’s brother. And, as some people are suggesting, maybe next summer we can all meet together and hug as much as we want!!

Here is my “Tree of the Week”

“Oh my”- maybe this week he will finally go away!!”

Happy Thanksgiving- please stay safe!

Apple Valley Overlook

Spicy Shrimp with Roasted Green Beans

The day after we tried to visit the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail, we made another attempt, but still no luck! The parking area was even more crowded and there were way too many people. So, continuing our “going with the flow” theme, we ended up taking a beautiful walk at the Apple Valley Overlook in nearby Ashfield, Massachusetts. The day was cold and so clear that we could see the mountains of Vermont in the distance! This was a few weeks before the election and as we walked we discussed possible outcomes, never imagining the challenges to our democracy that would occur after Biden became President elect!

Even though it was cold and quite windy, I was inspired to play a (chilly) improvisation on my recorder, although this might be the last one until spring!

Before heading home, we made one last quick visit to the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts- the woods were getting ready to be tucked in for the winter!


We first discovered the site this past summer totally by accident. A copy of the New Yorker magazine was almost about to join an anonymous pile of books and other old magazines. Luckily, Paul picked up the May 25th issue and read about a writer named Alan Weisman who has taken refuge at his rural Massachusetts home during the pandemic. He is the author of the 2007 best seller, “The World Without Us”. In the book, all life on earth has vanished, a bit too apropos for our time! In the article, Weisman shows the interviewer the lovely wooded trails on the Bryant Homestead property. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead has become a special place for us and we have made many return trips.

We had just gotten back into the car when a bald eagle flew overhead, so close that we could see the eagle’s beak; it hovered over us for a few seconds, swaying gently back and forth on a current of air with it’s enormous wing spread. I felt an immediate sense of calm and resoluteness; perhaps this was a sign that all will be well with our democracy!

When we got home, I did a quick search in the refrigerator and found a red onion, a few shrimp, a handful of green beans and a bit of feta cheese. I marinated the shrimp for a bit with a few cloves of garlic minced with a tablespoon of salt, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and smoked Spanish paprika. In a small oval shaped cast iron pan I caramelized the red onion. I heated the broiler to high, added the green beans (which I had steamed), placed the shrimp and the marinade on top and broiled the mixture until the shrimp and green beans were crisp and lightly charred. I added a bit of feta and broiled it until the feta was bubbly and browned on top. Served with crusty bread or brown rice; or better yet both, this will help to fortify us for the next coming weeks!

Spicy Shrimp

AND, here is the tree of the week!

Title: “What are we gonna do now??”

Please stay safe!!

A Song of Joy!

Election Day Lentil Soup

What a week this has been; awaiting election news, hoping for the best and dreading possible outcomes!

My best coping strategy was to take long solo walks on Kelsey Road in Sheffield, Massachusetts. It is surrounded by mountains on one side and a protected nature preserve with wetlands on the other. On Election day, I tried to create a “news blackout” policy and after teaching my online students, headed out to Kelsey Road in the late afternoon. I found myself drawn into closely into the idyllic beauty encompassing me. It was deeply calming.

After a mostly sleepless night, the day after the election was a challenge. I was thankful to have the distraction of my online students and in the late afternoon headed out to Kelsey Road again. I noticed that the tamarack trees were just changing color and in the late afternoon light, they seemed to take on a golden glow.

I walked briskly for about three miles; forgetting the shorter amount of daylight, and on my return, was treated to a beautiful sunset.

After this, it was time for some serious comfort food! Earlier in the day, between students, I started a big pot of Lentil Soup; with carrots, onions, celery, diced tomatoes, kale, bay leaf, coriander, cayenne, cumin and chicken chorizo sausage. When I arrived back home, I heated up the soup, removed the bay leaf and with an immersion blender pureed a bit of the soup to make a creamy texture. Served with toasts made from an old loaf of multi-grain bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, it was the perfect antidote! I hope you enjoy this recipe!

“Election Day Lentil Soup”

Ingredients:

2 cups dried lentils-rinsed and picked over

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 large carrot finely chopped

1 stalk celery finely chopped

6 large pieces kale, stems removed and torn into small pieces

1 small can diced tomatoes

2 chicken chorizo sausages, cut into small pieces

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried coriander

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper- more if desired

salt and pepper to taste

To Make Soup:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot.

Saute onions until they soften slightly.

Add spices and cook a few minutes more.

Add vegetables and lentils

Cover with water, about 2 inches over the vegetables and lentils.

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Cover pot and cook about 1 1/2 hours until vegetables and lentils are very soft.

If you would like soup to be thicker uncover pot and cook a bit more until soup thickens.

At this point you can let the soup sit on the stove for a few hours to let the flavors meld- this is where the walk comes in!

To serve: bring soup back to a simmer, remove bay leaf and using an immersion blender, puree a part of the soup. This will give the soup a nice creamy texture.

Adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper.

Take a big breath and ENJOY!!

BUT, it was Saturday November 7th, that was historic and remarkable. Paul and I were about to enter the Mass Pike, heading out for a hike, when an announcer from NPR interrupted Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and said there was a special message. I was driving and looked over at Paul with hope and as the announcer said that Biden had just flipped Pennsylvania, I started to sob with joy, squeezed Paul’s hand way too hard and made the wise decision to pull the car off to the side of the road!! I took a few deep breaths of relief and I think the whole world has also done so!

My Hevreh Ensemble colleague and dear friend Laurie Friedman says it all in this video! The joyful sounds of the Shofar rang loud and clear from Laurie’s Brooklyn rooftop!!