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!

Resonating Sounds from Silver Bay!

My group Hevreh Ensemble’s first live indoor concert– it couldn’t have been a more wonderful experience! I wrote part of this blog sitting on an Adirondack rocking chair on the porch of the Victorian era Silver Bay Inn that overlooks Lake George.

This past weekend, we performed a concert for a small, warm enthusiastic audience of fully vaccinated people in the historic Auditorium at The Silver Bay YMCA Conference Center. The hall had a high wooden ceiling and the acoustics were vibrant and at the same time mellow. I felt as if I was enveloped in a cozy blanket of sound; I felt totally safe and enjoyed a wonderful sense of connection with our audience.

For the next two days, as guests of the Silver Bay YMCA, we relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful site; kayaking, taking walks and a good deal of sitting on the inn’s porch, reading and talking together!

My husband Paul was able to accompany the group on our trip and he and I enjoyed a trail that wound around a section of the lake.

We also discovered a lovely wildflower close to the water.

AND: then there is the backstory of what took place before the idyllic concert and beauty of the Silver Bay area!

As an oboist who carves my own reeds, I have come to believe over the years, that there must be a special Reed Muse. Often times, I whittle and carve and adjust and readjust a recalcitrant piece of cane and the result is horrid!! Then, seemingly out of the blue, with almost no effort, a reed will play beautifully almost immediately and then- I know that this might sound eccentric- I look up at the sky and say softly, “Thank you”! But hey, I am an oboist after all!!

There is also another protector that I think of the Travel and Parking Muse. It seems that more often than not, I travel to rehearsals and concerts and especially when I come into Manhattan for rehearsals, I will find a parking spot easily. The members of Hevreh Ensemble often remark that I have special parking karma. My little bright blue Impreza can squeeze into the most unlikely of spots!

Well, recently I believe that the Travel and Parking Muses thought I was getting a mite too cocky and decided that it was time for a little comeuppance! I imagined that there was a hastily held committee meeting and the consensus was to “play with this one a little bit!”

A few blogs ago, I wrote a true life story that is akin to a modern day Yiddish Folk Tale! So, here is Part 2 of a true life experience that once again illustrates the old Yiddish proverb: “Mann Tracht, un Gott Lacht”- “man plans and god laughs!”

Driving into Manhattan for a rehearsal with Hevreh Ensemble last week, I made sure to allot plenty of time for any extra traffic; the ride should take about 2 1/2 hours. I left my home in Northwest, CT at 1:15 with the rehearsal set to start at 4:30- plenty of time, right?? I also felt that I was getting my “sea legs” back driving into New York, adjusting to the noise and large numbers of people.

I encountered traffic jams in 4 locations, The Hutchinson Parkway, Cross County Parkway, West Side highway and the usual Manhattan tie ups and finally arrived to Adam’s Hell’s Kitchen studio (appropriately named) at 4:45. I thought that I might put my car for once in a garage on West 38th Street, but not so fast!

A broken down delivery truck was blocking the street, so I made a very slow slog around the congested and almost completely blocked streets. I finally found a garage 5 blocks away and by the time I made it back to West 38th Street, I was an hour late for the rehearsal.

The rehearsal was great; amazingly after a year of not playing together, we are sounding tight and unified. BUT: the Travel and Parking Muses had plenty more in store for me!!

After the rehearsal I returned to the garage to retrieve my car and was met with an outrageous charge for parking and the rude attendant ignored me at first and then could not find my car keys for 20 minutes.

Luckily I am easily placated with food and I found a cozy little bakery and cafe on the corner of 38th Street and Ninth Avenue. I was fortified with a frosty smoothie that was made from coconut milk, chocolate protein powder, peanut butter and banana and also a hefty turkey, cheddar, onion, pesto, tomato sandwich on a French baguette. I happily munched and slurped on this in my car as I wound my way through a few traffic jams and up the West Side Highway getting out of the city. I was treated to a beautiful sunset view of the lights twinkling on the George Washington Bridge as my car inched ever so slowly forward. And then, after just a few more snarls of traffic, a broken down car blocking a lane, road construction, a small bug that kept biting me and dodging deer on the Sawmill Parkway, I made it safely and more than a bit dazed, back home at 10:30 PM! The saying: “Mann Tracht un Gott Lacht” (“man plans and god laughs”) I believe that the Travel and Parking Muses made their point!!

Here is the “Tree of the Week” that I thought fit the bill perfectly!

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

Postscript: We made it safely home from Silver Bay and found time in the late afternoon to enjoy a short walk to the Drury Preserve in Sheffield, MA. Although muggy and very buggy, the sun shining through the trees was beautiful!

A Tune for Yellow Violets at Steepletop Preserve!

The week after our yellow violet discovery at the Bryant Homestead, we returned to another favorite place; The Steepletop Preserve in New Marlborough, MA. It was a beautiful spring day with bright sunshine overhead and gentle cool breezes. Fiddlehead ferns were just starting to unfurl on their graceful stems.

And wouldn’t you know it; as we walked down a gently sloping path towards a marsh, we happened upon a whole family of yellow violets; right in front of our noses!

They lined the path on both sides and a lone yellow violet was even intermingling with purple violets!

A tune for an improvisation came to me; I made a mental note of their location and we decided to return the following day with my alto recorder in hand.

On our return, we found the violets and as I played, the sound reverberated around me like being in a small chapel. A strong sense of joy washed over me!

This was our first visit to the trail since last fall and it was as peaceful and inspiring as we remembered it. We followed the path down a small slope to a marsh where the reflection of the sky and clouds on the water was breathtaking and birds were singing their intricate melodies.

Continuing on the 2 mile loop of the trail, we saw mayflowers that decorated the forest floor with their tiny delicate flowers.

We passed a gently gurgling stream………

…….. then made our way back up the hill, looking forward to returning again soon!

And, then of course it was time to think of what to make for dinner! I had just bought some fresh organic collard greens at our local food coop and was trying to think of a way to get a large amount of the greens into us and also into a delicious dish! I came up with an idea for a spicy stew using kidney beans and here is the result. Served with brown rice, blue corn tortillas, salsa and guacamole, it was very tasty. This evening we will have the leftovers with cornbread!

Spicy Kidney Beans with Collard Greens

Ingredients:

2 cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic minced

1 small can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons smoked red paprika

1 teaspoon or more to taste red pepper flakes

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 or 5 large collard green leaves- center rib removed, rolled up like a cigar and sliced thinly into ribbons.

To make Spicy Kidney Beans:

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Saute the onions until they soften and then add the garlic. Cook a minute or 2 more.

Add rest of ingredients and about a can of water. You can always add more if the mixture is too thick.

Cook about 1 hour- the mixture will thicken slightly and the collard greens should be very tender.

ENJOY!!

For many of my recent posts, I have had great fun anthromorphosizing trees. A few weeks ago I traveled to NYC for our first rehearsal with my group Hevreh Ensemble and it was Paul’s turn to go on a solo walk. I was overjoyed when he came back from his hike and told me that he had found a great tree! My job is done! AND, here it is- He did ask that I make up the caption!!

” I have had a lot on my shoulders this year!”

STAY SAFE!

Music from Kite Hill!

It was a glorious spring afternoon. We walked slowly up the gentle slope of Kite Hill reveling in the clear fresh air and the bright green spring colors. In the distance we saw misty views of the Harlem and Hudson Valley and the Taconics. Part of the Overmountain-Columbia Land Conservancy, the Kite Hill Trail is located in Ancram, New York. This day was also my first musical improvisation of the season!

For those new to my blog; during the pandemic I started to bring my recorder, oboe and Native American flutes on our hikes. Since I could not play with others, it became an important creative outlet. I discovered that I was profoundly inspired by the beauty that surrounded me and a series of short improvisations were born! Even though I will be fortunate to meet with my groups Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness and start to rehearse and perform again, I plan to continue my improvisations in beautiful and inspiring settings. Later this week we will return to a beloved place, the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA. to search for yellow violets blooming by stream and see what melodies may transpire!

As Paul carried my recorder up the hill in his backpack, we were treated to an intricate symphony of bird calls.

The Overmountain Land Conservancy has placed nesting boxes all along the trail. The birds were busy tending to their nests and did not seem perturbed as we observed them rather closely. I saw birds with iridescent markings on their wings and heads and after checking a reference guide, believe that they may have been blue buntings. Their complex and lyrical calls were enthralling!

A melody on Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

AND: Yesterday we returned to the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA and found an illusive yellow violet. More about this in the next blog!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Provence Revisited: The Search For Illusive Oboe Cane!

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

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

First, a bit of context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

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

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

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

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the cold snowy winter!

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

1 firm large eggplant

1 large can whole tomatoes

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped

olive oil

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

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

To Make Eggplant:

Pre-heat Broiler

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

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

Broil each side until browned and slight softened.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

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

Layer eggplant on top and sprinkle with the garlic.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

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

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

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

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

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

This is also great the next day!

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

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

The 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!