The days are short and the late afternoon sun slips quickly into darkness. I have a break from teaching with just enough time to take a walk at nearby Kite Hill in Ancram, New York. The light is beautiful with rich shades of brown and dark blue clouds; the cold air is brisk and invigorating.
All to soon, the light starts to fade. I anticipate returning home after teaching to make a fire in the wood stove and sit with a cup of hot tea while I think about what to make for a quick dinner. Comfort food comes to mind- maybe baked double stuffed potatoes. This could turn into one of my favorite dinners that we call “German Night”; assembled with whatever ingredients are in the freezer or refrigerator. This evening’s feast includes sauteed apples spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and allspice, stone ground German mustard with organic chicken/mushroom sausages, Hosta Hill spicy Crimson Sauerkraut and twice baked potatoes.
Potatoes are baked in a hot oven until the skin is crisp and the insides are soft. I scoop out middle of the potatoes and usually mash the mixture with butter and milk. I decided to try a less rich method using extra virgin olive oil, kefir and plenty of salt and pepper. This gave the mixture a tangy rich taste. Topped off with grated parmesan cheese and baked until the cheese is melted and browned, they are the perfect comfort food to eat in front of a hot fire!
Baked Double Stuffed Potatoes
This really is a no-recipe dish. I usually make 2 potatoes, but you can make as many as you want.
Pre heat the oven to 375 Degrees.
Rinse off potatoes and make a few slashes with a sharp paring knife in each potato.
Bake about an hour until the skin is crisp and the inside of the potatoes are very soft.
Cut around the circumference of the potatoes, scoop out the middles and place in a medium pot. Pour in a few glugs of olive oil and enough kefir so that when you mash the mixture you get a soft filling. You could also use yogurt or buttermilk. You can’t go wrong here- any amount of oil or kefir will make a delicious filling. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place filling into potato shells and sprinkle tops with plenty of grated parmesan. Bake in oven about 30-35 minutes. The potatoes should be steaming hot and the parmesan will be brown and crispy. ENJOY!!
At this time of the year, I often take stock of how fortunate we are in our neck of the woods and I am so grateful that music and art is such an important part of my life. When I look at the sweet earnest faces of the members of my Recorder Ensemble from Hofstra University before a recent concert, all of this is brought home to me!
The trail at Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary in Worthington, Massachusetts starts off on a straight path that was once a farm road. Gnarly old trees line the edges of meadows where farms once flourished; known as “wolf trees”, we were curious to learn more about the origin of the name. Here is a very interesting article from Berkshire Natural Resources Council interspersed with pictures from our walk.
Debunking the “Wolf Tree”
During the early 19th century a vast portion of the New England landscape was cut and cleared for agricultural use. At the peak of deforestation, 60 to 80 percent of the land was cleared for pasture, tillage, orchards and buildings. However, some trees remained in pastures as shade trees for livestock, along boundaries, or grew later along rocky outcrops and fences.
During farm abandonment, primarily from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, pastures and fields developed rapidly into forests and the old, wide-spreading pasture trees were encircled by young trees. Many of these older trees are still prominent features of our forests and are commonly known as wolf trees. This terminology came from foresters in the late 20th century who believed that the wide-spreading, old trees were exhausting forest resources and should be eradicated to make way for profitable wood, much as wolves had been eradicated from the landscape because they were viewed as harmful predators that exhausted forest resources
As forestry practices transitioned to more integrated methods, the perception of “wolf trees” began to shift. Today, best forestry practices reflect the need to keep many of these pasture trees in the landscape because they are very important to wildlife.
These giants provide a location for animals to communicate via scent marking, and have attractive features like large limbs, decaying limbs, wide branching patterns, wrinkled bark, and cavities. The relatively young surrounding forests don’t have these diverse characteristics, proving that these relics from another time are truly anchors to the forests we experience today.
Like the wolf trees now being appreciated for all their contributions to ecological health, the wolf is also being more deeply understood and appreciated.
Full of character, this tree was the inspiration for a recently featured “Tree of the Week”in my last blog.
If all goes well, in a few weeks, I will be traveling to Reykjavik for an adventure with my dear friend Carol. The weather there at this time of year is cold, rainy and windy. I decided to treat myself to a new pair of water proof hiking boots. After trying on a pair of hiking shoes with the brand name Oboz, the young and helpful salesman at LL Bean asked how they felt. I told him that they were extremely comfortable but also being an oboist, it was quite a surprise to find the brand name of a shoe seemingly, if not intentionally named after my instrument! He may have been amused or confused; I am not sure which!
I plan to break the shoes in the for the next few weeks on our hikes and then my Oboz will travel to Iceland; I will look forward to writing about our adventures and discoveries!!
I was inspired to offer a short musical interlude!!
Sometimes the inspiration for a new dish will come together from a few left over ingredients. In this case it was mashed potatoes made with kefir and vegan butter and a surplus of sourdough breadcrumbs made from an old loaf of Hungry Ghost Bakery whole grain bread. I imagined a kind of a vegetarian shepherd’s pie with a crispy potato topping. In a large pot, I sauteed some onion, garlic and leeks in olive oil and then added whatever vegetables were in the bin; carrots, zucchini and lacinato kale. I added a small can of diced tomatoes with their juice, a small can of rinsed organic garbanzo beans and a small bag of corn from Howden Farm that I froze last summer. Seasoned with curry powder, turmeric and ground coriander, I placed the mixture in a baking dish, topped it with the mashed potatoes and sprinkled it with the sour dough bread crumbs. I poured a few glugs of love oil on top and baked it until it was bubbling and the top was golden brown and crusty. It was delicious with a green salad and slices of fresh crusty sour dough bread!
Curried Vegetable Shephard’s Pie
2 carrots cut into small pieces
1 medium zucchini cut into small pieces
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 medium leek rinsed carefully and finely chopped
1 cup lacinato kale- finely chopped, tough ribs removed
1/2 cup frozen corn defrosted
1 small can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 small can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and more for top of casserole
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup sour dough bread crumbs (any bread crumbs would be fine, panko crumbs would also be good.)
To Make Shephard’s Pie:
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Saute onion until soft, add leeks and cook a few minutes more, add garlic and cook one more minute. Add spices and cook about 4 minutes.
Add carrots and zucchini and cook about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook about 10-15 minutes. Pour mixture into a casserole dish. a Cover top with the mashed potatoes and then the bread crumbs. Pour a few glugs of olive oil over top and cover with foil. Bake about 30 minutes until mixture starts to bubble. Remove foil and cook about 15-20 minutes more or until the top starts to brown and crisp up.
AND: Instead of a the usual “Tree of the Week“, Here is the “Most Unusual Squirrel of the Week”!! This little fellow held still long enough on my patio to get a close pic-I have not seen him scampering through the woods again!
There they were– our little patch of yellow violets; waiting for us to rediscover them and coo over their delicate beauty! Last year, we went on a prolonged search for the seemingly elusive flowers and they turned out to be right under our noses; just across the street from the trailhead to the Pine Loop Trail at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead.
With so much uncertainty and turbulence in our times, the predictable cycle of seasons is comforting and small observances are a delight!
During the pandemic when we were sequestered in place and could not perform in public, I found inspiration and a creative outlet by playing short improvisations in woodland and other outdoor settings. This past year, I have been back to playing indoor concerts and it is wonderful to once again communicate with live audiences; case in point, a performance of the Mozart Coronation Mass that I performed in this past weekend. Written in 1779 in Salzburg, the composition became known as a preferred piece of music for the Imperial Court of Vienna to commemorate royal and imperial coronations. The entire mass is in the cheerful key of C major; full of lively and at the same time poignant oboe duets with lovely lyrical lines.
Enveloped by the sounds of Mozart’s ethereal music with violins, viola, cello and double bass along with two resonant oboes playing in close harmonies was an intense aural experience; one that I realized I had missed dearly.
Even though this was a heartwarming and wonderful experience, I realized that I also missed my solo impromptu concerts! When we went on our yellow violet exploration, I brought along my alto recorder. Although playing outside alone was a very different, I enjoyed hearing the sound of the recorder waft off gently into the distance. Here is a short “Ode to the Yellow Violet” inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem:
Tiny daisy like yellow flowers nestled next to rocks in a stream.
At the D’Alton Preserve in the Ellsworth section of Sharon, CT, we happened upon flowers we had not seen before; white star shaped flowers and delicate pink flowers capped with yellow tops. On a rainy day I plan to look up all of their names!
We often find ourselves in Northampton, MA and have become addicted to the sourdough bread at the Hungry Ghost Bakery. Made from excellent ingredients, it has an delicious sourdough flavor and if we are lucky, we arrive when fresh wholegrain sesame loaves have just come out of the oven. We take our treasure back to the car and break off crusty hunks of piping hot bread; so good it is almost enough for dinner! They also sell scones, cookies and biscotti. I tried an irresistible lemon fennel almond biscotti that was rich with butter and sugar. I decided to try to create an equally good biscotti that was guilt free. I used the same basic recipe that I created for Gingerbread Biscotti featured in my Ol’ Stoney Lonesome Blog. I swapped out the warming winter spices; ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and star anise and used lemon zest, fennel seeds and toasted almonds. They were delicious and they quickly disappeared! The biscotti would be good dipped in iced coffee or with a bowl of fresh strawberries. I hope you enjoy making these!!
Lemon Fennel Almond Biscotti
1large egg plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature
1/4 cupmonk fruit sweetener
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
zest from one organic lemon
1teaspoon kosher salt
½teaspoon baking soda
1teaspoon almond extract
¼teaspoon lemon extractor orange extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the egg, egg white, both sugars, salt, baking soda, almond extract and lemon extract. Beat on medium speed just to combine, scrape down the bowl and beater, then increase the speed to high and beat for a full 90 seconds or until the mixture is slightly paler, thick and ribbon like.
Add the flour. Beat on low speed until mostly combined, stopping the beater just before all the flour is incorporated so you don’t overmix. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to incorporate any remaining dry bits into the dough. Add fennel and almonds.
Gather the dough with your hands, kneading lightly in the bowl just to bring everything together into a cohesive mass. Place the dough on the center of the prepared sheet, then dampen your hands with water and mold the dough into a 9-by-4-inch log about 1 inch tall. Bake until the log puffs and spreads a little, turns golden brown at the edges and is firm to the touch, 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut at a diagonal into 12 (¾-inch-wide) slices. Turn the slices on their sides and return to the oven.
Bake, flipping the slices halfway through, until slightly browned and dry in the centers, 10 to 15 minutes. Bake longer for drier, crunchier biscotti. Remove from the oven and cool the biscotti on the sheet. Turn the slices top sides up.
The biscotti will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container at room temperature- well maybe!!
What better time to write about birds and their elegant and exquisite songs to get us through this stretch of winter and to help harbor thoughts of spring!
I start with my own talented little Cockatiel Lucy, who learned to sing a snippet from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet when he was a baby!
I was delighted to discover that my little genius was in good company with no less than a starling that was Mozart’s dear pet! I have been reading a charming book; Mozart’s Starling written by eco philosopher and naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
Today, starlings are considered to be nuisance birds; a species that is aggressive and invasive. In Mozart’s time, starlings were endearing and delightful household pets.
In her book, Lyanda Lynn Haupt describes a beloved starling that Mozart bought in a pet shop in Vienna in 1784. The story goes that as Mozart entered the store, the starling sang a snippet from a piano concerto that Mozart had completed a few months before but was yet to be performed in public! He ended up purchasing the bird, naming it Vogelstar, which means starling in German. He became so attached to his pet, that when it passed away 3 years later, he held a small funeral for Vogelstar and wrote a short elegy:
Here rests a beloved fool, A starling bird. Still in his prime did he experience the bitter pain of death. My heart bleeds when I think about it. Oh, reader! Shed a tear for him. […] I bet he is up above to praise me without payment for this act of friendship. Since while he, unsuspecting, bled to death he thought not at all of the man who can write such good rhymes as these.
Countless works have been composed that depict bird song and much has been written about the practical use of bird song. Is it for the creation and defense of territory, declaring sexual maturity and attracting a mate or simply beautiful music? When we are treated to the throaty and lyrical song of a wood thrush as dusk falls at the end of a long summer day, I prefer to think of the latter!
The talented young composer Alexander Liebermann has transcribed intricate and complicated birdsongs into musical notation. In this video, you can follow the complex rhythm and remarkable pitch of a thrush nightingale!
Coming back inside from the bracing cold calls for comfort food and Chicken Potpie Cornbread Muffins fit the bill! I adapted this dish from a recipe written by Scott Hocker from a recent Food and Wine Magazine article. What can be better than both chicken potpie and cornbread muffins; in one meal! The house smelled heavenly as they baked and they were delicious for dinner along with a green mesclun salad with slices of pear, chunks of parmesan cheese and toasted pecans.
Chicken Potpie Cornbread Muffins
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 small celery, cut into medium dice
1 small carrot, cut into medium dice
4-5 mushrooms cut into small pieces
1/3 cup frozen peas defrosted
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 cup cooked chicken cut into small pieces
Make the cornbread:
Step 1 In a bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the egg and soy or almond milk into the cornmeal mixture. Fill 12 (1/2-cup) greased muffin tins about 2/3 full with the cornbread batter. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the filling:
Step 2 In a large cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot, then saute the onion until it softens. Add carrots, mushrooms, celery, salt and pepper to taste, thyme and sage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in green peas. Stir in the flour and cook, until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, then stir in the chicken. Season the filling with salt and pepper to taste. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling over each batter-filled muffin tin.
Step 3 Bake the muffins until golden around the edges, about 25 minutes. Let the muffins cool slightly and then run a table knife around the edges of the muffins. They will be easier to remove if you wait a bit, although this may be hard to do!!
I decided to use a tree of the week from a trip that I took to the New York Botanical Gardens last fall. I thought a bit a greenery would be appropriate! The tree was part of a whimsical and eccentric exhibit, Kusama: Cosmic Nature by the contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama; more about the exhibit in my next blog!
“Tree of the Week” from NY Botanical Garden- 9/12/21
My next blog will be all about intricate bird songs, Mozart’s love of birds and his talented starling, my own talented Cockatiel Lucy and more! In the meantime on this frigid and blustery day, here is a recipe for Blue Corn Waffles.
At the start of the pandemic, we made a mail order for organic blue corn flour. The order was huge and I squirreled away large bags of it in our freezer. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find a use for all of this flour; not a hard resolution to keep! Yesterday, I made Blue Corn Blueberry Banana Muffins!
Blue Corn Flour Waffles
Yield: 5-6 waffles
3/4 cup whole grain spelt flour
3/4 whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup blue corn flour- *Note
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
1 1/2 cups wild frozen blueberries (I like the Wyman brand)
Cook blueberries in microwave about 2 minutes until soft and syrupy.
To make waffles:
Heat a waffle maker
In a medium sized bowl, mix together dried ingredients.
Add oil, egg and soy or almond milk and mix together.
For each waffle, place about 2 large spoonfuls of mixture in center of waffle maker and cook until light brown and crisp on the edges.
Serve with blueberry sauce, plenty of maple syrup and we enjoy a dollop of Oatley Oatgurt; creamy and totally delicious!
Note: Blue Corn Flour can be hard to find. We found a source on the excellent Milk Street Store site!
The church, completed in 1842, is an example of Greek Revival architecture. At the time, it was the center of political, social and religious activity. I have performed often at the church and have always felt a strong sense of history and a feeling of calm and peace in the light filled sanctuary.
For our recent concert, I was joined by Marcia Young, singer and historical harpist and my Hofstra University colleague, lutenist Christopher Morrongiello. My daughter, Alicia DePaolo sang with us for several years, but recently moved to Virginia with her partner. We miss her presence in the group, but were happy to welcome a new friend this year; singer and Baroque dancer, Zahra Brown. For many years, I have performed an annual Christmas concert in Salisbury, Connecticut that has been generously sponsored by the Salisbury Association.
Originally the concert was held at the historic Holley House Museum, now a private home. It was complete with it’s own mischievous poltergeist! On two separate occasions, strings snapped suddenly on a viola and harp; in another concert, a note stopped playing on my oboe, as if someone was holding down an extra key! And, then there was time that I felt somebody was tickling my nose with a feather while I was playing!
Next, the concert was held for several years at the cozy intimate space at the historical Salisbury Academy building Built in 1833, the exterior is an example of a Federal style school building.
Living in this bucolic New England town, I routinely pass by all of these all of these historical buildings and architectural gems; they have become part of my fabric, almost like a familiar family member!
Last year, we presented an online version of the concert and we felt so fortunate to be able to consider a live concert this year; a few weeks before our current Omicron situation. With proof of vaccination required and a socially distanced audience, the venue of the spacious church with beautiful resonant acoustics was perfect!
I always look forward to the rehearsals we have in NYC; usually a few weeks before the concert. This year, we set two rehearsals on late Saturday afternoons. Both weeks, I had taught at Hofstra University the day before and stayed overnight in the city. Each Saturday I had a few hours to fill and decided to make long over due visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Frick Museum.
It was heart warming to walk down Fifth Avenue and see the crowds of people outside of the museum.
And, then as I entered the familiar space of the grand hallway, I stood in awe for moment taking in all of the art and beauty surrounding me. I made my choice of what to view that day. I walked up the grand stairway towards the impressionism wing; through the hallway filled with Rodin and Degas sculptures and eagerly tried to take it all in! I decided to concentrate on an exhibit of Surrealistic painters.
It can be overwhelming at times with so much to visual stimulation; I find that concentrating on one or two works of art is most rewarding. I stroll slowly through an exhibit and stop when a work of art is compelling. Such was the case with a painting by the Austrian-Mexican painter Wolfgang Paalen; who I was not familiar with. A friend of Frida Kahlos, he moved to Mexico in 1939 to escape the Nazi regime. He became interested in the Fourth Dimension and studied with the Russian mystic Peter Ouspensky. I found his painting “The Messenger” fascinating and was drawn to the bold lines of the brush strokes and the hidden symbolism in the work.
The next Saturday, I visited the Frick Museum, which I discovered had recently moved their entire collection to the modern stark Whitney Museum, while renovations are taking place.
At first, it was jarring to see masterpieces from the permanent collection that date from the Renaissance to the early 20th century displayed in a building with modern architecture. I chatted with a surprisingly friendly guard about the new location for the artwork and he thought that some patrons might be able to appreciate the artwork more in a sleek pared down setting. I tended to agree and as I viewed the exhibition, I found that I could concentrate on the art without becoming visually tired. Unfortunately, I was asked to not take any photographs, although I did sneak in one photo; (a tiny sculpture tucked into the wall) as I walked up the stairwell to another floor!
Then, it was time to get ready for our rehearsal and of course think about what to pick up to eat in the car on the way home that evening! We were rehearsing at the apartment of one of the musicians who lives in a high rise in the mid fifties near Eighth Avenue.
One of my favorite dumpling places, Kungfu Kitchen, is on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street, not too far from our rehearsal location!
I knew there was a place to park my car for free on 38th Street; between Eighth & Ninth Avenue, where Hevreh Ensemble usually rehearses at our keyboardist’s studio. AND, here was my plan:
Find a parking spot on West 38th Street; walk to Kungfu Kitchen on West 41st Street and place an order for pickup after our rehearsal; walk to rehearsal on West 55th Street and rehearse for about 1 1/2 hours; retrace my steps and pickup my order- it all worked like a charm! The only thing I had to do was to find a place to park!
I am usually a very calm and considerate driver and pride myself on my smooth acceleration and braking, but a transformation overcomes me when I am seeking out parking spots in New York City. I become eagle eyed and aggressive looking for possible spots and delight in squeezing my car into the tightest of places. Such was the case on this day! I believe that this New Yorker cartoon expresses my metamorphoses perfectly!
After the rehearsal, I picked up my order at the appointed time, walked back to my car and laid my treasure of 2 steamed buns filled with bok choy and shitake museums, an order of steamed chicken dumplings with a pungent black vinegar sauce and a large icy bubble tea made with lemonade; sweetened with honey on the seat next to me. I navigated my way through the midtown traffic making sure to not get into a left turn only lane that would force me to go through Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey and then I could enjoy my treats as I headed up the West Side Highway towards home-Heaven on earth!
In past years, the musicians from the Salisbury Four would drive up to my house in Northwest, CT the day before the concert. We would have a dress rehearsal and I was treated to the most excellent house guests for the weekend. One of the members is vegan, so I would always have fun dreaming up interesting dishes, like this Mixed Greens Pie inspired by the delightful PBS Kitchen Vignette Series!
A favorite and often requested dessert by the Salisbury Four members are Strawberry and Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones. This year, we had a quick rehearsal before our Saturday evening concert and enjoyed tea and these scones together. This simple one bowl recipe is adapted from Erin McKenna’s Baby Cakes NYC Bakery. I found the recipe several years ago in an article from Food and Wine Magazine. For my version, I swap out agave nectar with coconut sugar and I add cinnamon. These scones are not very sweet, but are guilt free; perfect for a snack or with a bowl of yogurt and granola for breakfast!
Strawberry Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones
2 cups spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅓ to 1/2 cup cup hot water
1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries cut into pieces (if using frozen berries, thaw slightly and then cut into small pieces-don’t defrost all of the way, it will make the mixture too soft).
1/2 cup toasted walnuts broken into small pieces
To Make Scones:
Step 1 Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, whisk the spelt with the baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, coconut sugar and vanilla. Stir in the hot water and strawberries- if mixture seems to dry, add a bit more hot water at a time.
Step 2 Scoop 12 mounds of batter 1/3 cup each onto the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the tops with oil. Bake the scones for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the baking sheet cool completely on top of a rack.
AND, here is the last “Tree of the Week” for 2021!
BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY AND SAFE HOLIDAY AND NEW YEAR!!
The week before my group Hevreh Ensemble began our new recording project at Oktaven Audio in NYC, I cleared my schedule, arranged substitutes for my students and dove headfirst into Oboe Boot Camp! I wanted make sure that I had enough time to make reeds; my normal practice routine was greatly extended. This was to insure that I had enough endurance on this most aerobic of instruments. I was accomplishing my goal, but felt that was getting what I like to call, “Oboe Brain”, loosely translated as feeling a bit loopy, unfocused and spacey. Nothing a cup of tea and a good walk would not cure!
The perfect respite was to take a few hikes, some familiar and my husband Paul happily researched a few new locations.
The weather that week was glorious; cool and sunny with the trees in their last blaze of fall color!
We headed up to Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, CT for a lovely walk on the Overlook Trail. The path climbed gently uphill with views of Tobey Pond peeking through the trees. I discovered this idyllic pond years ago as a student at the Yale Summer School of Music!
Next, we scouted out Woodcreek Pond, not far from the center of the village of Norfolk. We thought this might be an excellent place to kayak next spring!
Another day we returned to one of our favorite walks at the OvermountainConservation Area in Ancram, NY. The Kite Hill Loop Trail winds through a large meadow with distant views of the Catskills and the Taconic Range. A rustic gazebo graces the top of the meadow with glorious views.
On a cloudy slightly overcast day, I took a solo walk at another favorite in Sheffield, MA on Kelsey Road. The peaceful dirt road, where one can stroll for miles, has distant views of the Taconic Ridge and passes by a beautiful marshland area.
All of the walks were very calming and centering, preparing me for the intensity of the next few days.
The morning of the recording, I woke up earlier than usual and was treated to golden light filtering through the woods near our house. Perhaps a sign of good things to come??
I arrived early at Oktaven Audio, about a two hour drive from our house to warmup, just as the affable and talented engineer Ryan Streber co-owner of the studio was setting up. One option was to be in the large room with sound baffling on either side of the musicians or to be in a small isolation booth. The big room had a direct view into the control room, where the engineers and our producer would sit. I felt a bit of trepidation; as if I would be a guppy in a fish bowl. I volunteered to be in the small booth, with no sight line to the control room. I immediately felt that I had made the right choice. With a rug on the floor, enough room to lay out my reed tools; the lighting was dark but with a stand light, I could see perfectly and I felt cozy and protected!
Then the work began; three days of continuous recording with the sessions starting at 10:30 AM and ending at 8:00 PM- talk about Oboe Brain!!
Our colleague and violist Ralph Farris, who is a member of the acclaimed string quartet ETHEL, is producing the album. He has an incredible ear, a seemingly endless supply of energy along with creative and innovative ideas. Combined with a quirky and irreverent sense of humor, I think he would be the ideal orchestral conductor, if only!!
During one of our sessions when I was not playing, I listened as Ralph gently teased the others; to Shane Shanahan our wonderful guest artist on percussion: “Shane, you’re making us angry in here- that take was so good it was offensive!!” Or, to Jeff Adler, Hevreh group member and composer- Jeff had an improvisation section on bass clarinet in one of the pieces- it was going to be over dubbed at a later time, so there was silence during the take. From the control room Ralph said loudly over the speaker, “that’s the best you’ve ever sounded!”. Or, he would share a self deprecating viola joke with the humor (being a violist) turned toward himself. All of this made us feel relaxed but also kept us razor focused on our playing. Ralph mentioned that he believed that 98% of performing well is psychological; I believe that his unorthodox methods created a supportive, safe and creative environment for all of us.
When we finished the recording sessions, I felt a sense of elation and accomplishment, BUT…..I was completely exhausted! I was hoping that the adrenalin that was rushing through me would last for for the long drive home, but what really did the trick was the snack that I had squirreled away into my bag! Rooting around in my freezer, I had found a few slices of Cardamom Streusel Zucchini Bread that I had made for our Prentice Barn concert this past summer. Spiced with ginger and cardamom with a crunchy streusel topping, the flavors danced around in my mouth and helped keep me alert! The recipe is from the June 2021 Bon Appetit magazine. I left out the turmeric called for in the recipe. Now, we can look forward to the release and distribution of the album by our amazing record label PARMA sometime in the late spring- stay tuned for updates!!
Cardamom Streusel Zucchini Bread – from Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes one 9×5″ loaf
⅓cup (42 g) all-purposeflour
2Tbsp. plus 1½ tsp. (30 g) dark brown sugar
¼cup (24 g) old-fashioned oats
½tsp. ground cardamom
½tsp. ground ginger
½tsp. ground turmeric
¼tsp. baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
2Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2½medium zucchini (about 1 lb.), trimmed
¾tsp. vanilla extract
1½cups (300 g) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
¾cup grapeseed oil
1¾cups (219 g) all-purpose flour
2¼tsp. ground cardamom
2¼tsp. ground ginger
2tsp. baking powder
1¼tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¾ tsp. Morton kosher saltBlueberry jam and/or crème fraîche (for serving; optional)
Whisk flour, brown sugar, oats, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl to combine. Drizzle butter over and, using your fingers, work into dry ingredients until butter is absorbed and clumps form. Set streusel aside
Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Coat a 9×5″ loaf pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides. Using the grater attachment of a food processor or the large holes of a box grater, grate zucchini. (You should have about 3 cups.) Wrap shredded zucchini in a kitchen towel and wring out as much excess moisture as you can. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in vanilla extract (adding the vanilla here means the zucchini will take on more of its flavor).
Place granulated sugar and lemon zest in a medium bowl and, using your fingers, work zest into sugar until sugar starts to clump and mixture is very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add eggs and oil to bowl and whisk to combine. Add grated zucchini and whisk again to incorporate.
Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift flour into another small bowl. Add cardamom, ginger, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula until there are no visible flour streaks remaining and batter is homogeneous. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth surface. Scatter reserved streusel evenly on top.
Bake zucchini bread, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let zucchini bread cool completely in pan.
Run a small offset spatula or paring knife around sides of zucchini bread to help loosen, then turn it out onto rack.
To serve, cut zucchini bread into thick slices and divide among plates. Top with jam and crème fraîche if desired.
I read a recent New York Times article that talked about how excited a couple was to host a guest for the weekend. They were determined to fill the planned itinerary with as many activities as possible, after being denied time together for so long. The guest went home feeling tired and overwhelmed. Our dear friend Carol was planning to meet us for some well deserved R & R; first at our home and then at a Bed and Breakfast in Cummington, Massachusetts. My husband Paul and I talked for weeks about all of the places we would take Carol; among them, many of our favorite hikes. And, although we wanted to avoid the same pitfalls of over booking, we were not sure this would be possible!
We walked up a hill through a field of dried wildflowers standing at attention like soldiers in a row and quickly realized that Carol was the perfect guest- she was delighted and engaged with everything we showed her and being a visual artist, she innately understood my love of close observation.
Before our dinner reservation on the patio at the excellent restaurant, John Andrews in Hillsdale, New York, we squeezed in a short walk at Parsons Marsh in Lenox, MA. The late afternoon sun was beautiful as we walked on a boardwalk that wove gently through the woods to the marsh.
After a delicious dinner at John Andrew’s, we returned home, watched an episode of Only Murders in the Building on Netflix and then fell into a deep slumber! The next day we were eager to show Carol our land that we recently closed on in Buckland, MA in the hill towns above Northampton. Our big news is that in a few years we plan to build our dream house there! On the way, we made a stop in Northampton to the Woodstar Cafe to pick up a picnic (that included their yummy vegan peanut butter cookies) and headed up into the hills! Near Buckland, is an old cemetery that was a perfect location to make a creepy Halloween video.
We put on our hiking boots and traipsed uphill on our land. Carol bravely joined us in a bit of bush whacking!
On the land, the trees are beautiful with many tall evergreens, but our eyes were drawn close to the ground. The patterns of autumn leaves, fungi, rocks and twigs made beautiful collages.
Carol came up with an interesting concept-along with photographs of my recipes, we could make natural place settings with leaves and twigs and photograph them with a woodland backdrop; perhaps a cottage industry was born!!
Continuing on our walk, we saw some incredible and unusual fungi.
Back in the car, we took a short five minute jaunt to the charming village of Shelburne Falls; complete with art galleries, cozy cafes, bookstores, restaurants, an artisanal bakery and the beautiful Bridge of Flowers, the site was created in 1929, when the old trolley bridge was no longer used.
On a bit of a schedule, we moved on to our next activity; a beautiful fall drive through the country roads to Cummington, MA where we were guests at The Upland Meadows Farm B & B. The quaint old farmhouse was full of character with cozy rooms and the surrounding area was quiet and peaceful. And, it was right down the road from our beloved William Cullen Bryant Homestead. We could walk through a pasture to reach the Sugar Bush Trail!
We took a short walk and then headed down towards Chester for our dinner reservation at the Chester Common Table. I was not sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. Tucked away in the small town of Chester that borders the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley, the small restaurant opened in 2016 and is housed in a charming vintage house. We sat on the covered front porch and inside a folk group with mandolin and guitar played gentle Appalachian and bluegrass tunes that wafted softly through the open window. It started to rain, but with our jackets on and a cozy space heater next to us, we were totally comfortable. I enjoyed a tall glass of a local IPL draft beer brewed in MA, called Jack’s Abbey “Hiponius Union”. The light lemony flavor of the beer was perfect with a big plate of Coconut Curry Noodles that was lightly spicy. The dish included rice noodles, grilled chicken, crunchy bits of broccoli, red peppers, zucchini and red onions. Along with a few pieces of homemade corn bread, I was a happy camper!
Sunday morning, we took a misty early morning walk on the Rivulet Trail at the Bryant Homestead. I had been wanting to show this trail to Carol and she was enthralled by the tranquility and peacefulness of the fragrant pine woods.
On the trail, we came upon one of my favorite trees that I call “The Wise Man”.
And, then after coffee and brunch at the Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, it was time to hug tightly and say goodbye. All in all, an incredible weekend- hopefully with not too much packed in for our amazing guest!
When I was little, my mother often made a favorite fall dessert; a sticky, gooey, very sweet dessert called Apple Brown Betty. It was rich with melted butter, brown sugar, graham crackers, raisins, lemon juice and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. The recipe was from Erma Bombauer’s, The Joy of Cooking. I found myself craving this dessert, but wanted something much lighter. I decided to make an almost sugar free healthy version. I am happy to say, I may have found it!! I had a loaf of stale whole grain sourdough bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery hanging around. I cut it into pieces and made bread crumbs in my food processor. I toasted them in the oven until they crisped up. Instead of using butter I substituted fresh apple cider for the liquid and I used Monk Fruit instead of sugar. It has a very low glycemic index and it can be used the same way as granulated sugar.
The dessert is even better the next day and perfect to eat sitting curled up on the couch with one of the first woodstove fires of the season; perhaps watching an old Hitchcock film- I think Psycho might be too scary, maybe something along the line of The Trouble with Harry, still with a macabre theme, but with plenty of black humor and a great film score by Bernard Herrmann or maybe something dark and atmospheric like Rebecca. Happy Halloween!!
Apple Brown Betty Redux
3 1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs ( preferably from whole grain bread- I just made another version and used Rockhill Raisin and Cinnamon bread that was also really good!)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from an organic lemon)
1/8-1/4 cup Monk Fruit sweetener (you could also use granulated sugar)
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon all spice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4-5 large apples peeled and cored (try to use a combination of firm local apples for the best flavor).
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
To Make Apple Brown Betty:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Place 3 1/2 to 4 cups bread crumbs on a baking sheet. Bake and crispy and lightly browned.
Place breadcrumbs in a medium sized bowl. Add grated lemon zest, lemon juice, spices, raisins and monk fruit sweetener. Slowly add 3/4 apple cider until absorbed. The mixture should feel lightly moistened when squeezed.
Cut apples into quarters, peeled and then thinly slice them. Place in a medium sized casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and stir.
Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over apples in baking dish and pour remaining 1/4 cup apple cider over the top. Cover tightly with foil and bake until apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove foil and bake about 5-10 more until bread crumbs crisp up a bit. Let cool briefly- Enjoy!!
AND of course here is the: The Halloween Tree of the Week!
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.
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.
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
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.
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”!
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!
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.
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 inBach’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.
This wasa perfect Rosh Hashanah! Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy 5782!