Twin Oaks Preserve and a Passover Treat!

Twin Oaks Preserve

This past week, I listened to a segment featuring poet Tess Taylor on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and it resonated deeply with me. For so many people this past year has been one of isolation, grief and hardship and then there are others like myself who have had the good fortune to spend the year safely sheltered with our partners in our homes and surrounded by natural beauty. At first, it felt surreal and strange to be so anchored to one place, but after some time passed, I began to notice subtle changes in my daily life. Taylor selected a few poems about that in her words: “speak to an appreciation for that sense of being stuck”.

One of the poems she chose was by the Harvard based poet Stephanie Burt:

Love poem with horticulture and anxiety. Of course we have feet of clay or fins. Of course we made promises – everyone does – that we will make good, but not today. We cherish our oversized shoes. Our garden also has sylphs that only we can see and peonies and badger tracks and a sandstone Artemis and colors not found in nature except in flower beds – intense maroons, deep golds, sleek pinks, warm blues.Stephanie Burt

In Taylor’s words: “I think this is a poem that actually says it’s OK to be stuck. It’s OK to be watching this time pass. Things are flowering that you may not even understand. You are stuck. You are in this garden. This world is enormous and beyond you. And there’s a beautiful surrender to just watching. And so there’s a way in which just trying to think what are the good parts of this strange year that we’ll treasure, that feels like a particularly domestic assignment and a way of circling this strange life that we’ve been thrown into and having the chance to evaluate what is it that I have figured out how to love this year.”

I decided to make a list of the things about this most unusual of years that I will treasure:

1.The unexpected gift of time gave us the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us and to explore it in a deep way. Of course, my husband Paul’s knack of finding unusual walks and hidden away trails helped!

2. Although it was hard not to perform with my group and others, I developed a satisfying routine of practicing oboe where I could smooth out my tonal production, finger technique and other aspects of my playing. In a normal year, I would mostly be practicing repertoire for concerts; my interest in improvisation was rekindled and I discovered that I love creating small improvisations on my recorder, oboe and Native American flute. I played anywhere- on our hikes to mountain tops, marshes and other inspiring places. I plan to continue this and look forward to playing in chapels and other beautiful locations- and dreaming a bit- I have started researching locations in Croatia!

3. Finding ourselves together constantly, my relationship with my dear and sweet husband Paul deepened as well as our mutual sense of humor relating to the absurdities of our situation. Or, perhaps I should say- poor man– my silly streak rubbed off on him!

4. Perhaps best of all, I have started to write about my experiences and had the time to take a creative writing class. I don’t think this would have happened in such a wonderful and organic way given another set of circumstances!

The other day, I took a solo walk at Twin Oaks Preserve in Sharon, CT. This was one of our first walks that we took at the beginning of the pandemic last March.

As I walked up the gentle slope of the meadow, I experienced a bitter sweet emotion as I observed the change of the seasons. The birds have returned, a strong March wind was blowing and I smelled the sweet air of spring. We had come through this year and survived!

The Sharon Land Trust bought the 70 acre Twin Oaks property in 1998. Two oak trees that stood in the middle of the field were there since before the American Revolution. The first tree fell shortly after hurricane Sandy in 2013 and it’s twin fell shortly after. Paul and I have been reading a book called: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The author talks about how trees communicate with each other and what they feel; very thought provoking. We don’t know if somehow the root systems were interdependent or perhaps the second tree died of a broken heart! A local artist created a beautiful sculpture from the wood that stands at the beginning of the trail.

We just had our second ZOOM Passover this past weekend and it was so heartwarming to see our daughter and her partner Katie, along with other dear friends. Not being able to see each other in person was also bittersweet, but with the use of technology we managed to see people living in Massachusetts, Virginia and Connecticut all at the same time! Our daughter led the first part of the service and then we signed off to have our own dinners. We resumed the service and were treated to Alicia & Katie’s beautiful singing. At the end of a Seder, a door is traditionally opened to symbolically allow the prophet Elijah to enter. As we opened our individual doors, I thought that the bittersweet chocolate pots de creme I had made for dessert fit the mood perfectly. We had to close our own door a bit abruptly as a bat flew close by and also the bears have awakened from their winter slumber! No reason to invite a bear into our home!

I adapted this simple recipe from the book Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. I used Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate and just a touch of coconut sugar, but feel free to add maple syrup if you would like a sweeter flavor! This recipe makes a dense rich textured pudding that is delicious on it’s own, but also would be lovely served with fresh strawberries and maybe a touch of whipped cream!

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

2 tablespoons coconut sugar

4 ounces Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate

To Make the Pots de Creme:

Ina small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of the almond milk.

In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the remaining 1 cup almond milk to a simmer with the coconut sugar, stirring often so that the milk does not boil over. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Whisk the cornstarch again to make sure it is completely dissolved and add this to the hot milk mixture.

Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat and sprinkle chocolate over the top. Whisk until chocolate is completely mixed in and is smooth. Place in individual ramekins or a bowl. Refrigerate until cold.

Note: This recipe can be easily doubled. The pudding has a very bittersweet flavor. Add maple syrup to taste.

ENJOY!!

As of this writing, both my husband and I are completely vaccinated! Now comes the part of becoming “unstuck” from our safe haven. I feel like a tortoise slowly poking it’s head out of it’s shell and looking warily around!

One of our first ventures will be to the Aldrich Museum with timed tickets to see an exhibit by the amazing 91 year sculptor Tim Prentice. Hevreh Ensemble members and close friends Laurie and Jeff will meet us there. Afterwards , we are going to a restaurant called the Farmer and The Fish, where we will celebrate Pauls’ birthday! We will be seated safely outside!

Next, we plan to visit our dear friends Carol & Hal in Boston. Carol has told me how much she misses my cooking and our dinners together. So, I am planning to make her a dinner that we are calling: “Carol’s Feast”. AND– yes, there will be blog posts about all of this; complete with recipes!

I end with my favorite Tree of the Week:

“What a Year! “Looking Forward to Spring”

STAY SAFE!

The Joffe Sanctuary and More Potpies!

Woah! What a week! I started to write this blog thinking that the certification process would have gone smoothly and all was now on a relatively even keel! As the next few weeks unfold, we will be need to take solace from music, nature and comfort food more then ever- so here we go!

The Joffe Sanctuary in New Marlborough Massachusetts, is a beautiful ecosystem with wetlands and upland habitats. The small trail loops around a vernal pond; a shallow body of water that is usually devoid of fish. With no competition, amphibians and insect species can thrive. This past summer, we were treated to a full length antiphonal symphony between the frogs and insects. Now the stillness is lovely and the patterns of twigs and branches on the ice and water are mesmerizing.

Since this is a short loop, on our way home we stopped by to walk on Kelsey Road in Sheffield MA, which also crosses over a few marshes.

At this time in history, our democracy seems as fragile as these ice crystals on the ground!

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA.

I love and admire many composers, but find that I always return to Bach. His music inspires me in a profound way and even when I play a slow melody in a minor key, I find Bach’s music uplifting and centering. This morning, I pulled out the Larghetto from Bach’s Concerto in A Major for Oboe and Strings. It seemed so appropriate for this time. I look forward to playing this piece in it’s entirety with harpsichord and strings- maybe soon?? Here is an excerpt:

And then of course, we can turn to comfort food! What could be better than a bubbling hot Chicken Pot Pie!

For Christmas dinner this year, our menu was based on beloved traditions that included chicken breasts filled with a sour dough stuffing made with pecans, shallots, mushrooms, celery and onion. With just two of us, there was plenty of leftover chicken. I froze a few chicken breasts until needed and this was certainly the week! I cut up the chicken and discovered there was also the added treat of small chunks of leftover stuffing! This along with onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms and some frozen green peas, dried thyme and sage, made a tasty filling; although shitake mushrooms or green beans would also be good! I made a quick lightly thickened sauce with chicken stock, butter and flour and topped the pot pie with spelt/whole wheat pastry flour biscuits. With a salad of mixed greens, dried cranberries, shaved parmesan and pecans, it almost felt like a holiday! I hope you enjoy making this!

Chicken Pot Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

1-2 cups cooked chicken cut into small pieces

2 carrots diced into medium pieces

1 stalk celery diced into medium pieces

1 onion finely chopped

5-6 mushrooms, stemmed and cut into small slices

1/2 cup frozen peas defrosted

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage

salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup white flour

1 1/2 cups chicken broth (home made if possible, low sodium canned organic broth may be substituted). * Note

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Biscuits:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1 scallion finely chopped(optional)

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup hot water

To Make Filling:

In a medium saucepan heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute onion until it softens. Add carrots, mushrooms ,celery, thyme and sage. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook about 10 minutes until vegetables soften a bit and are lightly browned. Add peas and set aside.

To Make Sauce:

Over medium heat melt butter in a small pot.

Stir in flour and cook briefly.

Slowly whisk in broth and continue to stir until mixture comes to a slow boil and thickens. If sauce is too thick, you can always a bit more broth. Adjust seasoning.

* Note- If you are using canned broth, I sometimes add a few dashes of Tamari to boost the flavor.

Pre-heat oven to 375 Degrees

To Make Biscuits:

In a large bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and if you are using parmesan cheese and scallion. Mix well.

Add oil and hot water, stir to combine and knead mixture gently a few times with your hands.

Assemble the Pot Pie:

Place filling in a medium oval or square baking dish.

Pour sauce over filling.

Form biscuits with your hands and place over the filling, (they can be any size, I usually make about 8-10 biscuits). These biscuits are very forgiving and do not need to look uniform, the shaggier the better!!

Bake uncovered for about 40-45 minutes until the mixture bubbles and the biscuits are lightly browned. At this point, everything starts to smells heavenly and all troubles are forgotten!!

ENJOY!!

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

“Watching with eyes wide open!!”

Please be Safe!!