Coming Soon: “Bird Songs and Mozart’s Starling”!

Wood Thrush perched on a limb singing.

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

Ingredients:

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

For Topping:

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!

ENJOY!!

Norbrook Brewery: Colebrook, CT

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

A Joyous Christmas Concert by The Salisbury Four!

The Salisbury Four”- Salisbury Congregational Church December 4, 2021

What a pleasure it was to recently perform with some of my favorite musicians at the Salisbury Congregational Church in Salisbury, Connecticut.

Salisbury Congregational Church

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!

Holley Williams House- Lakeville, CT

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.

Academy Building- Salisbury, CT

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 Messenger”– 1941 Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959)

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!

Mixed Greens and Bean Pie with Olive Oil Crust

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!

ENJOY!

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!

“It’s Been Quite a Year!”

BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY AND SAFE HOLIDAY AND NEW YEAR!!

Oboe Boot Camp + Inspiring Respites= A Joyous New Recording!

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!

Overlook Tail- Great Mountain Forest: Norfolk, CT

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!

Overlook Trail- Great Mountain Forest

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!

Woodcreek Pond, Norfolk, CT

Another day we returned to one of our favorite walks at the Overmountain Conservation 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.

Kite Hill-Ancram, NY
Kite Hill, Ancram, NY

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.

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA
Kelsey Road-Sheffield, MA

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!!

Ralph Farris & myself

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

Ingredients

Makes one 9×5″ loaf

STREUSEL

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

3large eggs

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)

Preparation

STREUSEL

Step 1

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

BREAD

Step 2

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).

Step 3

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.

Step 4

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.

Step 5

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.

Step 6

Run a small offset spatula or paring knife around sides of zucchini bread to help loosen, then turn it out onto rack.

Step 7

To serve, cut zucchini bread into thick slices and divide among plates. Top with jam and crème fraîche if desired.

ENJOY!!

AND- here is the Tree of the Week!

I may have developed a bit of a double chin!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! 11/26/21

The Amazing Guest, Fantastic Fungi and Spooky Sounds!

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 started our glorious fall weekend at the Ashintully Gardens in Tyringham, Massachusetts.

Ashintully Gardens Trustees of the Reservation

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.

Parsons Marsh-Berkshire Natural Resources Council
Parsons 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.

Bridge of Flowers-Shelburne Falls, MA

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!

Upland Meadows Farm B & B

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.

Rivulet Trail- William Cullen Bryant Homestead

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!

Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters

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

Ingredients:

Topping:

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

Apple Filling:

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!

BOO!

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!!