Plum Torte and Jackson Heights

The past week was one of minor miracles. My husband recovered quickly from covid and knock on wood, I never succumbed! I have to confess that I was rather glad when it was time to commute to New York to teach at Hofstra; escape from the germ zone!

As a treat to Paul, I thought I would bring some Indian takeout back home; this would give me the opportunity to explore the vibrant Indian community in the New York City borough of Queens. I had heard about the neighborhood for years, but never had chance to visit the area.

A kindly cab driver motioned me into a parking spot that he was leaving and I took a picture of the street signs; no getting lost this week! From this point of reference, I started to slowly walk around the neighborhood, taking in all of the sights.

As I neared the entrance of the subway at 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, I was met by the sounds of popular Indian music blaring from a loud speaker in front of a store. As people pushed by me on all sides, I felt as if I could be in the middle of a bustling and vibrant movie set!

Enjoy this short video in front of the 74th Street subway station!

There were many thriving family businesses and clothing stores that displayed bold colorful fabrics.

The streets were lined with small grocery stores selling a wide variety of Indian spices, dals & grains and outside the stores, exotic vegetables were displayed on stands including Thai eggplants, small round purple eggplants, Bengali squash, gourds, and heaping boxes of hot green chilies. As I walked slowly through the neighborhood, a delicious aroma of garlic and spices wafted through the air.

Thai Eggplant

Bengali Squash

There were numerous cafes and Indian pastry shops with enticing displays of sweets.

The colorful and fragrant small desserts were like eye candy; I succumbed and selected a few small pastries to sample on the way back home.

I discovered that Jackson Heights is also one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the United States with over 167 languages spoken, including Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Columbians, Argentinians, Tibetans and Nepalese. As I walked down the streets and looked at all of the different faces of the people, I sensed the beautiful mix of cultures with everyone seeming to comingle peacefully!

I started to look for an Indian restaurant to order our takeout dinner and was distracted momentarily by a display of colorful cakes in the window of a Mexican bakery and of course I had to go inside. The counter person was a lovely young woman who proudly showed me the different breads , cakes and pastries.

Just down the street I saw a Tibetan restaurant that looked interesting and decided that maybe some momos (Tibetan dumplings) would be good instead of Indian food. I made a rather large order to take home along with a few other dishes. Often my instincts are on the mark when choosing restaurants, but alas not in this case. The food was greasy, lacking in flavor & the momos were filled with tough pieces of meat. So, this restaurant will remain nameless! The good news is the I will definitely make more trips to Jackson Heights and I know the next time I will find great Indian or Tibetan food!!

Back in the car, heading home, I took out one of the Indian pastry treats and took a bite. The flavor was delicious with hints of cardamom, but shockingly sweet and it made my teeth ache; time to think about a dessert that was guilt free but also delicious!

In my blog, I made a decision not to dwell on health issues, but I will make an exception for this post. More then 15 years ago my husband was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and this caused us to make major changes to our diet. You may have noticed that many of the dessert recipes in my blog are made either without sugar and if a recipe needs a sweetener, I use either small amounts of monk fruit sweetener, stevia, or coconut sugar; all with a very low glycemic index. I find that now when I taste recipes that use regular sugar, they taste way too sweet and I enjoy the fresh taste of apples and berries without sweeteners.

Recently, I reinvented a plum torte that was made famous by the NY Times food writer Marian Burros. The original plum torte is rich and buttery and very sweet. For my guilt free version, I used the same batter that is in my Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumble Tea Cake, with the addition of almond extract and for an extra treat, I made a glaze for the top of the torte with a small amount of honey that I microwaved with cinnamon. You could also use sliced apples or apricots when they are in season. I hope you enjoy this recipe!!

Plum Torte

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup unsweetened vanilla soy or almond milk

10-12 Italian plums or you can use sliced apples or apricots in season- cut plums in half and remove pits.

Glaze:

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cinamon

stir together honey and cinnamon and microwave for about 30 seconds until honey becomes liquid.

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

Lightly butter a tart pan or large pie dish.

To make cake batter:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Add egg, vanilla, canola oil, soy or almond milk and mix together just until the batter is smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and place plum halves cut side down in a decorative pattern over batter.

Drizzle glaze over top of the batter and fruit.

Bake until fruit starts to bubble and a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

ENJOY!!

This fall I have been watching a spider outside of my study window. It distracted me nicely as I avoided working on my oboe reeds! I was fascinated to watch how during stormy weather or heavy rain, the spider would retreat to a corner of the window and the web would be torn apart. When the weather cleared, the spider would slowly climb back out, repair it’s web and carry on; much like the resilience that our fragile democracy has recently exhibited!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“That was a close call”!!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Savory Tomato Bread Pudding and Mountain Meadow Preserve

Mountain Meadow Preserve- Williamstown, MA

A bucolic sunny afternoon on Labor Day weekend …..one of our last summer forays! My husband Paul, the intrepid trail blazer, found a walk at the Mountain Meadow Preserve in Williamstown, Massachusetts complete with stunning views of Mt. Greylock in the distance.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

The sun was strong and bright; a hot day. We walked slowly uphill through a fragrant meadow.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

Even with the warm temperature, we saw signs of fall; milkweed pods hung languidly from their stalks and we were delighted to come across late summer wildflowers. The air smelled sweet; at the edges of the field we peered into the cool woods. Ferns were starting to turn brown and gave off a slightly nutty aroma; almost like coconut.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

Mountain Meadow Preserve

We have been gifted with yet one more talented gardener’s summer bounty. We also had a rather large amount of stale sourdough bread hanging around from the Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton, MA; our new addiction!

Stuffing is one of my favorite cold weather comfort foods. I came up with a dish that combines my love of stuffing. It was a good use for stale bread and also for a surplus of cherry tomatoes. The combination of the crunchy savory bread moistened with chicken stock and vegetables full of flavor was irresistible; even better with a glass of chilled rose!

Enjoy!

Savory Tomato Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

3 cups stale sourdough bread cut into medium cubes

1 medium onion chopped finely

1/2 bunch lacinato kale chopped, tough center stem removed

5 mushrooms chopped

1 medium zucchini chopped into small pieces

1 cup chicken stock (more if needed) If you have home made stock on hand, this would be great.

1/2 cup feta cheese crumbled

12-13 cherry tomatoes halved

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Bread Pudding:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy saucepan.

Add chopped onions and saute until slightly softened over medium heat.

Add dried herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Add mushrooms and zucchini and saute about 5 minutes until mushrooms release their liquid and zucchini starts to soften.

Add kale and cook a few minutes.

Remove pan from heat and add bread cubes. Add chicken stock a bit at a time to let the bread absorb the liquid slowly. If the bread mixture seems to dry, you can always add a bit more stock.

Pre heat oven to 375 Degrees Farenheit

Place mixture in a lightly greased casserole dish.

Place tomatoes on top of the bread/vegetable mixture and sprinkle feta cheese over the tomatoes.

Pour a good glug of olive oil over the mixture and bake about 35-40 minutes until the tomatoes start to burst, the mixture bubbles and the bread is crunchy and browned around the edges of the pan.

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Feeling a bit long in the face!”

William Cullen Bryant Homestead Cummington, MA

HAPPY END OF SUMMER!

Foodie Heaven, Continued: Iceland Part 4

Tryggvaskali Restaurant- Selfloss, Iceland

On the second night of our Iceland adventure, we had dinner in the small town of Selfloss about an hour from Reykjavik. The charming Tryggvaskali Restaurant is housed in a historic building that was built in 1880 and since 1900 has been in continually in operation; either as a store, inn or restaurant.

The building even has it’s own ghost. According to local lore: “On September 30, 1929, there was a loud knock on the west door of Tryggvaskála, and when Óli J. Ísfeld, a restaurateur, opened the door, he saw a tall and thin woman with an 8-10 year old child with her. This vision disappeared from the restaurateur as quickly as it appeared. Testified later that it was a maid who was supposed to start at Tryggvaskála that day, but had died during the summer, without it being reported in Selfoss. She had been paid in advance for the work, and throughout the years the staff of Tryggvaskála have felt that they have been helped at times of stress.”

From our table by the window we looked out at lupines hugging the shore of the pristine Olfusa river.

Selfloss, Iceland

The fish in Iceland was incredibly fresh with many meals featuring either cod or salmon. At the Tryggvaskali restaurant I noticed an unusual appetizer on the menu; whale tataki with garlic soy wasabi and sesame seed. I had to try this, I wasn’t sure when I would have the opportunity to sample whale again! The fish was lightly grilled and similar to sashimi. The texture was a tiny bit rubbery but the flavor was delicate and briny.

Whale Tataki

For entrees we enjoyed beautiful presentations of pan fried ling cod served with garlic potato salad, grilled corn and honey glazed carrots and salmon with pesto and charred broccoli over barley.

We had many excellent meals, but one simple lunch stands out. We found the Geirabakari Kaffihus totally by accident. Once we left Reykjavik, the landscape changed dramatically, stark and atmospheric with waterfalls cascading down mountains that at one time were covered with trees.

On a cloudy overcast day, we drove down a desolate road and approached the small town of Borgarnes. We were looking for a place to have lunch, not setting our sights too high.

Geirabakari Kaffihus stands next to a few nondescript small businesses, slightly run down around the heel. But when we entered the bakery, we were met by the yeasty aroma of freshly baked goods and the cafe was filled with local people queued up to the counter. Keeping with the plan of the trip to indulge in whatever we wanted to eat, we chose flaky buttery croissant sandwiches filled to the brim with ham, cheese, cucumbers, lettuce and tomato; all covered with a creamy dill sauce. This was accompanied with mugs of rich steamy hot chocolate- simply delicious!

Geirabakari Kaffihus Borgarnes, Iceland

Way too soon, our Iceland adventure was coming to an end. On our last day of the trip, we returned to Reykjavik. For dinner that evening we had made a reservation at the Public House, a trendy gastro pub with Asian influences. The best way to describe the eclectic menu would be Asian Tapas. We ordered probably too much food: vegetable dumplings; crispy tacos with roasted beets, goat cheese, fig jam and truffle mayo and grilled lamb kebabs with miso, ginger and pickled cucumbers with sesame seeds. I am not a great fan of lamb, but this was the most tender and full of flavor lamb that I have ever tasted. The spicy and assertive flavor combinations from the various dishes were perfect with mugs of frosty Icelandic beer!

We left a tiny bit of room for two desserts: skyr panna cotta with coconut and salted caramel and strawberries with oat crumble and strawberry sorbet; then it really was time to travel back home!

Many of the restaurants and cafes that we visited offered excellent fish chowders; all unique and equally delicious. What they all had in common is that they were not thick and gluey like some New England fish chowders.

This past week I found myself with a surplus of sweet fresh corn and fish chowder came to mind. I channeled all of the Icelandic chowders that I had tasted and came up with up with a chowder filled with corn, cod, leeks, potatoes, celery and onion; garnished with crisp bits of prosciutto, scallion and parsley. This would also work with shrimp or chunks of salmon. You can also add a few pieces of fresh kale; I was lucky to be given the most tender kale from a friend’s garden. We ate this with hunks of rosemary sourdough bread from the Hungry Ghost Bakery and a salad of fresh greens and local tomatoes with balsamic dressing. A glass of chilled rose would also be lovely with this! Enjoy!

Summer Fish Chowder

Ingredients:

1 /2 pound cod cut into chunks

3 medium red potatoes cut into small pieces

1 onion finely chopped

1 medium leek, rinsed well finely chopped

4 ears fresh corn

2 stalks celery finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

few pieces fresh kale torn into small pieces (optional)

For garnish:

a few tablespoons of finely chopped parley

2 scallions finely chopped

1/8 pound prosciutto

2 tablespoons flour

Make Stock:

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add corn. Cook briefly for one minute and remove corn from pot.

With a sharp knife, scrape corn kernels from cobs and place in a small bowl. Put corn cobs back in pot and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Strain liquid and reserve stock.

In a clean soup pot, heat olive oil over and add onions.

Saute until onions soften slightly.

Add leeks and celery- cook for about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over mixture and combine well.

Add potatoes, thyme, bay leaf.

Add stock- it should come to about 1/2 way up the pot.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Cover pot and simmer until potatoes are soft and then add corn and pieces of fish. Cook only a few minutes, just until fish flakes easily.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

In a small pan heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add prosciutto and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towel and break into small pieces.

Add garnishes of scallions, parsley and prosciutto if desired.

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“It’s safe in here- I’ll just stay a little while!”

HAPPY END OF SUMMER! STAY SAFE!

Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

Iceland Part 1: Lupines and Blueberry Skyr Pie

I was convinced that something would prevent my friend Carol and I from traveling to Iceland. At the last minute, either my husband or I would get Covid or some other emergency would come up; but the heavens smiled in our favor and as the plane lifted up into the clouds, Carol and I held our hands tightly together and said, “We did it”!!

So many choices and things to write about the trip. I have decided to write a three part blog. The second post will be about geothermal pools, volcanos and the Icelandic brown bread that I am going to attempt to bake. The third post will be a foodie’s delight; a road tour of the restaurants and cafes that we visited- even with all of the hiking and walking that we did, I managed to put on a few pounds!

With all of the disturbing events in our world, I hope you enjoy the next few entries as a brief respite!

We spent the first two days of our trip in quaint and charming Reykjavik and could easily have spent a week there walking around interesting neighborhoods, visiting museums and enjoying excellent restaurants and cafes.

Harpa Concert Hall- Reykjavik
Reykjavik Harbor

After our stay in Reykjavik, we headed out in our rental car, about a 3 hour drive along the coast to the western peninsula towns near Anarstapi. I was not prepared for the breathtaking and unusual landscape.

Brilliant purple lupines lined coastal inlets and mountainsides.

Volcanic rock looked as if it was tossed randomly in the fields.

Often, we were the only car on the road with sheep slowly crossing the road.

So many things to share; a hike between the two small towns of Anarstapi and Hellnar stands out. From our cozy lodging, Fosshotel in Anarstapi, we walked to the trailhead for a 4 mile hike along the sea cliffs. The rocky path, high above the ocean, was strewn with volcanic rock.

Wildflowers dotted the rugged landscape with the cries of seabirds reverberating from the cliffs.

The air was bracing, clear and invigorating; my four layers of sweaters and winter raincoat a perfect match for the sudden blasts of artic air- and this was in July!!

At the end of the hike, there was a treat awaiting us; the path led up a small set of stairs to cozy and atmospheric Cafe Fjoruhusio. The tables were covered with embroidered place settings with patterns of tiny wildflowers. The air smelled of coffee and fresh baked pastries; cinnamon mingling with butter and chocolate.

Cafe Fjoruhusio- Hellnar, Iceland

An outside deck overlooked the cliffs and the ocean.

Sykr, Icelandic yogurt, appears in many dishes. After securing a lovely spot on the deck, we ordered a piece of Blueberry Skyr Cheesecake. I am normally not a big fan of cheesecake, but this cake was light, full of tangy flavor and had a blueberry topping; irresistible! Just a few bites were all I needed; any more and I don’t think I would have felt light footed enough to make the return trek back over the craggy and rocky trail to our hotel!

That night we had a delicious dinner at the Fosshotel and since it does not get dark at all this time of year, we were able to take one more small walk at 9 PM. Just down the road, we saw a small weather beaten church; it looked like the metal structure had withstood many storms. Next to the church was an ancient graveyard overlooking the sea.

Anarstapi, Iceland

There were hours of daylight left, but shortly after returning to our room, we fell into a deep sleep. I woke briefly in at 3:00 AM and the sun was still shining brightly!

More to come………

We made it back safely home, without incident and knock on wood, no Covid! As we entered the customs hall at Newark, I was expecting to be met by throngs of sweaty, exhausted travelers. There were at the most 20 people in line. Amazed, I asked the elderly African American guard: “Where are all of the people”. He remarked dryly, “Don’t ask questions, just pray to G-d!!”

During the trip, we enjoyed desserts, ice cream and treats with abandon. After all, we did not want to miss out on anything! One day, we had three desserts (although we did share them)! Back home and to reality, I was thinking fondly about the rich Skyr cheesecake that we devoured happily. I decided to create a version with no refined sugar, healthy and guilt free. I perused a few online versions and here is what I came up with. I made the crust from whole grain flax crackers rather than sweet graham crackers and sweetened it with a bit of coconut sugar. I added a handful of toasted walnuts and some lime zest and instead of butter used a vegan butter substitute, although melted butter would also be fine.

For the filling, I used plain lowfat skyr (I used the Siggi brand) and added some pureed wild blueberries. The best part was the substitute for whipped cream. Here is a bit of kitchen magic: I put a can of whole fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight and the next day opened it and scooped out the solids. Beat together with monk fruit sweetener and vanilla, it miraculously morphed into what looked like whipped cream and it was delicious!

Blueberry Skyr Pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

12 Back to Nature flax flatbread crackers

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lime zest

3 tablespoons melted butter ( I used Kite Hill plant based butter)

1/8 cup coconut sugar

Filling:

1 cup Wymans wild blueberries

2 cups plain low fat skyr

1 can full fat coconut milk ( refrigerated overnight)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1 cup fresh blueberries

To make pie:

In a small saucepan place blueberries and slowly bring berries to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until berries release their juice and berries soften. Place berries in a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and press down on solids. Refrigerate until cold.

Make pie crust:

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees

Place crackers and toasted walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Process until crackers and walnuts are finely ground. Place in a bowl and add cinnamon, lime zest and coconut sugar. Mix well and then add melted butter. Stir well and place mixture in the bottom of a pie pan. Pat firmly and place in oven. Bake about 8-10 minutes until crust is lightly brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Make whipped coconut:

Open can and carefully remove the solid coconut from the top of the can. Place in a mixer and start to slowly blend. The mixture will start to lighten- add the vanilla and monk fruit sweetener and beat on a high speed until mixture resembles whipped cream. Set aside.

Place skyr in a large bowl- slowly fold in whipped coconut mixture and then carefully fold in strained blueberries.

Place mixture in pie crust and smooth over evenly. Decorate with fresh berries and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. We liked this light dessert so much that we are bringing a tartlet version to our friends in Boston as a house gift this week!

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the Icelandic Tree of the Week from Reykjavik!!

“Glad that I could appear in the blog all the way from Iceland!!”

HAPPY SUMMER!

Wild Roses, Bobolinks and Crispy Cauliflower ala Siciliana!

Wild Rose: Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary- Standfordville, New York

Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Indigo Bunting, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Wood Thrush, Emerson Collard Dove, Gray Catbird, Red Wing Blackbird; strolling through the gentle hills and meadows of the Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Stanfordville, New York; we were serenaded by a symphony of bird song.

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary- Stanfordville, New York

A friend had told us about an app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called Merlin. It quickly identifies the bird call and a picture appears next to the name of the bird. For the amateur birder, this is simply quite amazing!

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary- Stanfordville, Vermont

The Buttercup Sanctuary is a haven for the many species of birds that flourish in the tall grasses and meadows.

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

We stand still and listen carefully to the delicate bird calls; breathing in the lightly perfumed air, is that wild honey suckle? We are drawn into the beauty that surrounds us.

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

At the top of Kite Hill in Ancram, New York, we sat in the rustic gazebo that over looks the Catskills and the Taconic Range. We turned on the merlin app and there it was; a bobolink with its reverse tuxedo and light yellow capped head, singing its distinctive throaty song!

On another cloudy day at Kite Hill, we caught a quick glimpse of a bobolink sitting on a bird house.

Wikepedia mentions that an old species name for Bobolinks is Rice Bird, because of the grain that they like to eat. The English “Bobolink” is from Bob o’ Lincoln, describing the call. I came across this lovely poem written by William Cullen Bryant titled Robert of Lincoln.

Robert of Lincoln

Merrily swinging on briar and weed,
Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
Robert of Lincoln is telling his name:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Snug and safe is that nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers;
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln is gaily drest,
Wearing a bright black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders, and white his crest;
Hear him call in his merry note:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Look what a nice new coat is mine,
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln’s Quaker wife,
Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
Passing at home a patient life,
Broods in the grass while her husband sings:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Brood, kind creature; you need not fear
Thieves and robbers while I am here.
Chee, chee, chee.

Modest and shy as a nun is she;
One weak chirp is her only note,
Braggart and prince of braggarts is he,
Pouring boasts from his little throat:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Never was I afraid of man;
Catch me cowardly knaves, if you can !
Chee, chee, chee.

Six white eggs on a bed of hay,
Flecked with purple, a pretty sight!
There as the mother sits all day,
Robert is singing with all his might:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nice good wife, that never goes out,
Keeping house while I frolic about.
Chee, chee, chee.

Soon as the little ones chip the shell,
Six wide mouths are open for food;
Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well,
Gathering seeds for the hungry brood.
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
This new life is likely to be
Hard for a gay young fellow like me.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln at length is made
Sober with work, and silent with care;
Off is his holiday garment laid,
Half forgotten that merry air:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nobody knows but my mate and I
Where our nest and our nestlings lie.
Chee, chee, chee.

Summer wanes; the children are grown;
Fun and frolic no more he knows;
Robert of Lincoln’s a humdrum crone;
Off he flies, and we sing as he goes :
“Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again.
Chee, chee, chee.

– William Cullen Bryant

Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

Kite Hill-Ancram, New York

Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

Organic cauliflower was on sale at our local food coop and I thought it would be nice to try to recreate the Sicilian cauliflower from Gigi’s Trattoria an excellent Italian restaurant in Rhinebeck, New York. I cut the cauliflower into small florets and parboiled them for a few minutes. I sliced some onion thinly, heated some extra virgin olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan and caramalized the onion. I tossed the drained cauliflower in a bit of flour and then added this to the onions along with some lemon juice, capers, salt and pepper. You can also add a handful of golden raisins. I put the pan into a hot oven and let the mixture cook until the cauliflower was crispy and nicely browned. The dish is good as a side with roast chicken or served over whole wheat pasta sprinkled with grated pecorino cheese and more freshly ground pepper.

ENJOY!!

Crispy Cauliflower ala Siciliana

Ingredients:

1 small parboiled organic cauliflower cut into small florets

1/2 medium onion sliced thinly crosswise

1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup capers

1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon flour

To Make Cauliflower:

Pre heat oven to 425 Degrees

Cut cauliflower into small florets and add to a medium pot of boiling water. Cook for a few minutes and softened a bit and then drain well. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan. Add sliced onion and cook until the onions start to color and caramalize.

Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon flour and add to pan. Add fresh lemon juice, capers and salt and pepper to taste.

Place pan in hot oven and cook stirring occasionally about 1/2 hour until mixture is crispy and nicely browned.

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Humph”!

Happy Summer and Stay Safe!

“Wolf Trees” and New Hiking Boots With a Curious Name!

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

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.

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

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

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

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.

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

Like the wolf trees now being appreciated for all their contributions to ecological health, the wolf is also being more deeply understood and appreciated.

For further reading about this topic visit northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/a-place-for-wolf-trees

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

Full of character, this tree was the inspiration for a recently featured “Tree of the Week”in my last blog.

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

“Oh Gee, Feeling a Bit Silly Today”!

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!!

Enjoy a rendition of “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Marricone

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

Ingredients:

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.

ENJOY!!

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!

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!

Spring Woodland Wildflowers, Yellow Violets and Lemon Fennel Almond Biscotti!

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:

The Yellow Violet

BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

When beechen buds begin to swell,

  And woods the blue-bird’s warble know,

The yellow violet’s modest bell

  Peeps from the last year’s leaves below.

Ere russet fields their green resume,

  Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,

To meet thee, when thy faint perfume

  Alone is in the virgin air.

Of all her train, the hands of Spring

  First plant thee in the watery mould,

And I have seen thee blossoming

  Beside the snow-bank’s edges cold.

Thy parent sun, who bade thee view

  Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,

Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,

  And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,

  And earthward bent thy gentle eye,

Unapt the passing view to meet

  When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

Oft, in the sunless April day,

  Thy early smile has stayed my walk;

But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,

  I passed thee on thy humble stalk.

So they, who climb to wealth, forget

  The friends in darker fortunes tried.

I copied them—but I regret

  That I should ape the ways of pride.

And when again the genial hour

  Awakes the painted tribes of light,

I’ll not o’erlook the modest flower

  That made the woods of April bright.

“An Ode to a Yellow Violet”- William Cullen Bryant Homestead

On our walks we were excited to see the return of many beautiful woodland wildflowers from last season and we also made a few new discoveries.

At the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut, columbines lined the forest floor.

White Memorial Conservation Center- Litchfield, CT

A gentle brook flowed down a hillside that led to a marsh area with beautiful yellow flowers.

At the Steeple Top Preserve in New Marlborough, MA, speckled trout lilies lined the trail.

Steeple Top Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

Tiny daisy like yellow flowers nestled next to rocks in a stream.

Steeple Top Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

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!

D’Alton Preserve- Sharon, CT

D’Alton Preserve- Sharon, CT

A pert line of flowers at the Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, Massachusetts……..

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

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature 
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • teaspoons fennel seeds 
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • zest from one organic lemon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
  • cup whole wheat pastry flour 
  • 1 cup whole grain spelt flour

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The biscotti will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container at room temperature- well maybe!!

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Oh Gee, Feeling a Bit Silly Today”

HAPPY SPRING!!

A Misty Walk at Dark Hollow and Ramp Mushroom Ravioli!

Dark Hollow Trail: Salisbury, CT

A slow steady rain was starting- undeterred, we put on our raincoats and water proof hiking boots and set out for a misty early spring hike on the Dark Hollow Trail in Salisbury.

As we walked up the trail, the air was damp and fragrant with pine and rich humus and we saw many early woodland wildflowers peeking hesitantly out of the soil.

Enthralled, we saw the first trilliums of the season!

Fiddlehead ferns were slowly unfurling on their stalks and tiny leaf buds glistened with moisture.

Through the mist from a vantage point high on the trail, we could see a home in the village.

Early spring is the time of year for wild ramps.

Wild Ramps Next to Trillium Flower

I had always heard about ramps and their delicate onion/garlic flavor, but had never tried them. Luckily, our dear friends Thomas and Fran are avid ramp foragers and they offered to take us to harvest ramps from one of their sources.

According to Spruce Eats:

Ramps–a cousin of onions, leeksscallions, and shallots–grow in low mountain altitudes from South Carolina to Canada. In many areas, they’re considered a spring delicacy and a reason for celebration. Harvesting ramps has a long tradition in the Appalachian region of the United States, with West Virginia particularly well known for its many festivals and events. Ramp festivals are also held in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. There are many ways to enjoy ramps: raw, sautéed, roasted, grilled, and pickled too.

On Mother’s Day we set off for a beautiful hike at the New Marlborough Land Trust- then we went off to find ramps at an undisclosed location!

New Marlborough Land Trust

Not far from the side of the road, we came upon a sizeable patch of ramps. Next to a swampy area, thousands of ramp plants were clustered together in the woods. Paul called them a “run of ramps”!

Paul had found a recipe for vegan ramp ravioli from Meatless Makeovers and I decided that this would be a perfect use for our foraged treasures. When we returned home in the late afternoon, I thought I might make the pasta dough and then prepare the filling and form the ravioli the next day. But, after the inspiring walks and ramp adventure with our friends, I found myself full of energy and decided to make the raviolis for dinner. I listened to Stile Antica on Pandora and found myself in cooking heaven.

The original vegan recipe calls for pasta dough made with ground flax seed instead of egg, but I decided to go with rich golden organic egg yolks, a wise decision; the pasta was tender and full of flavor! I also added mushrooms and a few seasonings: dried thyme, nutmeg, red pepper flakes and salt & pepper to taste. The flavor of the ramps was just as I had imagined; subtle and delicate and they blended beautifully with the mushrooms and vegan ricotta. I think that you could also make the raviolis with leeks and scallions for a similar flavor.

These are definitely a dish for company. We will serve these soon for a group that includes our favorite ramp foragers!

ENJOY!!

Wild Ramp and Mushroom Ravioli (almost vegan)

FILLING:

  • 3 cloves garlic (Minced)
  • 1 bunch ramps (chopped with white stems separated from leaves)* Note
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4- or 5 mushrooms finely chopped
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Vegan Ricotta ( I used Kite Hill plant based ricotta)

SAUCE:

  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter (I used Kite Hill Vegan Butter and it had a nice flavor, although you could just use unsalted butter)
  • 3 cloves garlic (sliced)
  • 15–20 sage Leaves
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts (chopped)
  • 1 ramp (chopped with white stems separated from leaves)

Ingredients for Pasta Dough

Makes enough dough for 24 ravioli or cappellacci

1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup water

Blend together all dough ingredients in a food processor until mixture just begins to form a ball. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface, incorporating only as much additional flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, 6 to 8 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Cooks’ note:

Dough can be made (but not rolled out) 1 day ahead and chilled, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature before rolling out.

  1. Prepare the Ramps: Meanwhile chop the ramps completely, separate the chopped leaves from the white ends. Mince the garlic.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp olive oil. Place the chopped white part of the ramp first and allow to cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Next, add the chopped ramp leaves, mushrooms and the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Making the Ravioli: Once the dough has rested, cut it into 8 equal pieces. Working in batches roll out the dough on a floured surface. Your dough should be about 3mm thick after rolling.
  5. Dollop 1 tsp vegan ricotta cheese about 3 inches apart along your rolled out dough. Place 1 tsp of the ramp filling onto each dollop of ricotta.
  6. Place another rolled out piece of dough over the filling piles. Carefully press out any trapped air and seal your ravioli tightly using your finger and cut them out with a knife or with a ravioli cutter. Dust your fresh ravioli with flour and set aside.
  7. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
  8. Make the sauce:  In a skillet over medium/low heat, melt the butter. Stir the butter frequently until it has a slight golden brown color. Approx. 4 minutes.
  9. Add the garlic, white part of the ramps, and the walnuts. Cook stirring constantly until garlic begins to brown. Approx. 3 minutes.
  10. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the ramp greens and sage leaves to the sauce and set aside.
  11. Once your water is boiling, place a few ravioli into the water at a time. Allow them to boil for 3-4 minutes.
  12. Serve: Plate the ravioli and spoon the sauce over them. Garnish with red pepper flakes, black pepper, or grated vegan parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!
  13. Store uncooked ravioli in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
  14. * Note: Make sure to wash ramps very well with plenty of cold water. They are quite gritty! After I washed the ramps, I spun them dry in a salad spinner.
  15. ENJOY!

AND: Here is I think, an appropriate “Tree of the Week!”


“I think I Smell Something Good”!

HAPPY SPRING!!

High Ledges and a Passover Delicacy

High Ledges- Shelburne, Massachusetts

It was a windy chilly early spring day with the unusual occurrence of Easter, Passover and Ramadan taking place over the same weekend. We took a walk with breath taking views on the High Ledge Wildlife Sanctuary Trail in Shelburne, Massachusetts. From the top of the trail one can see the Deerfield River weaving gracefully through the hills with Mt. Greylock in the distance.

The trail climbed gently through peaceful pine woods and passed a gentle gurgling stream. In no rush, we stopped to listen to the beautiful sounds.

From the vantage point at the top, looking down almost 1,000 feet, we were treated to a cookie cutter view of the village of Shelburne Falls. To the left of the village not too far off, nestled in the hills, is our newly purchased land!

This year was our first in person Passover Seder since 2019. What a wonderful feeling to get out our fancy tableware and set the table for our guests! Although, I had lost track where the serving platters and large bowls were stored away. I needed to recalibrate how much food to prepare; I had gotten so used to cooking for two people!

One of the best things about hosting a Passover dinner again was that I could prepare Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Fish! When you mention gefilte fish to most people, there is a bit of eye rolling; we have a collective memory of cold gloppy fish that came from a jar with a strange after taste complete with an unappealing gooey gelatin. Mostly I think we ate it because we were starved after the long Seder service!

I found the recipe several years ago on Epicurious from an April 2002 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. I love it when a person tastes the dish; skeptically the first time and then a look of delight crosses their face! A request has been made for a summer version of the dish; perhaps with a glass of chilled rose wine and served with tender baby lettuce with fresh peas from a local farm stand!

Each year, a few weeks before Passover, I make my annual pilgrimage to Zabars on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to purchase the freshest smoked whitefish; one of the ingredients for the gefilte fish. I do believe this is what makes the dish so special. I always enjoy watching the rude irreverent countermen carefully slice nova and other smoked fish. As I stand in a long line waiting for my turn, Mozart is playing softly in the background accompanied by the aroma of smoked fish and freshly baked bagels in the air. I listen to the back and forth banter between the customers and countermen. Then, I take my treasure home and keep it in the freezer for a few weeks until it is time to prepare the dish. The fish can be made up to 2 days before serving.

It had been several years since I had made the recipe and I needed to read the directions carefully. This recipe is a bit of a slog, but the result is well worth the effort! I hope you will try this recipe!!

Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Fish with Lemon-Horseradish Sauce

Ingredients

Makes about 24 dumplings

Gefilte fish

3/4 cup thinly sliced peeled carrots

1/4 cup matzo meal

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped green onions ( reserve a small amount to garnish the fish)

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 pounds mild white fish fillets (such as sole or flounder), cut into small pieces

2 cups flaked smoked whitefish (about 8 ounces), carefully boned

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauce:

2 garlic cloves

1/4 cup prepared white horseradish

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup mayonnaise ( I use vegannaise)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For gefilte fish:

Step 1

Cook carrots in pan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water in small bowl. Stir matzo meal into water; let stand 10 minutes. Place carrots in processor. Heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add green onions and stir 1 minute. Add onion mixture to carrots in processor. Add matzo meal mixture; blend until mixture is pureed and smooth. Using electric mixer, beat 3 eggs and lemon juice in large bowl until foamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in mixture from processor; do not clean processor bowl.

Step 2

Blend fish fillets, smoked fish, salt, and pepper in same processor bowl until fish is finely chopped. Add remaining egg and blend to coarse paste. Add fish mixture to matzo meal mixture and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours.

Step 3

Line large baking sheet with waxed paper. Using wet hands, shape 1/4 cup fish mixture for each dumpling into egg-shaped oval. Place on prepared sheet. Cover with waxed paper and chill before steaming.

Step 4

Set vegetable steamer rack in large pot. Fill pot with enough water to meet, but not cover, bottom of rack. Line rack with parchment paper. Arrange 8 fish dumplings on parchment paper. Bring water to boil. Cover pot and steam dumplings until cooked through and firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Steam remaining dumplings in 2 more batches. Cover and refrigerate gefilte fish until cold, at least 6 hours. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

For Sauce:

Step 5

Mince garlic and place in small bowl. Mix in horseradish and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in mayonnaisse. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings adding more lemon juice or horseradish to taste. Cover; chill up to 1 day. The flavors develop overnight!

Serve fish on a large platter sprinkled with remaining chopped scallions.

ENJOY!!

As is the tradition, at the end of the Seder, we opened our door to let Elijah enter. As dusk was falling we could hear the sounds of the birds tucking in for the evening and peepers calling from the pond across the street. I always imagine at this time of the year that a hungry bear enticed by the aroma of smoked whitefish gefilte fish, matzo ball soup and roast chicken may enter the door instead of Elijah! What a joy it was to be gathered around our table with dear friends once again!

AND, here is the “Tree of the Week”:

“It’s been a whirlwind of a year so far!”

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!

A Sunny Trek at Thousand Acre Swamp and Ukrainian Dried Fruit Strudel!

March 14, 2022 Thousand Acre Swamp- New Marlborough, MA

Winter really is over, the sun felt warm on our faces and the sky was a brilliant blue; a lovely day for an invigorating walk with friends at Thousand Acre Swamp in New Marlborough , MA. The trail meanders gently through a forest of hemlock and black cherry trees with views of Thousand Acre Swamp.

How quickly the weather changes this time of year. We returned yesterday and the landscape was completely different; although a brisk chilly wind reminded us that winter has only just left us!

Thousand Acre Swamp- March 21, 2022

We crossed a rickety suspension bridge. The strong wind whipped the water underneath into interesting patterns and made the bridge sway back and forth with a motion that was a bit unsettling to say the least!

In my last blog entry, I talked about the family history on my father’s side. They came from the section of Russia that at the time included Poland and Ukraine; around 1914. My Grandpa Sam wrote a detailed and poignant account about growing up in a small poor town rife with antisemitism and their eventful trip to the United States. I don’t have the same documentation for my Grandma Bella, who came from the same area of the Ukraine. But, I do have rich memories; I remember her deep throaty voice with a heavy Russian accent. She had intelligent bright brown eyes and she rubbed her tiny worn hands energetically together as she listened avidly to other’s conversations. She did not have much formal education and spent her life taking care of a small dark apartment in St. Louis; I remember the plastic covered sofa and the scent of mothballs and schmalz in the air. I imagine that in different circumstances she would have been an excellent journalist or lawyer.

Grandma Bella

Her life revolved around her family and she often sent us packages of her homemade strudel. I regret that I never watched her prepare the pastry; I was an impatient teenager. I didn’t have the chance to listen to her family stories about the old country, although perhaps she would not have been comfortable talking about the hardships that she had endured.

I have never tasted any other strudel like my grandmother’s. Most strudels that I have tried had a flaky almost phyllo like pastry and were filled with either apples, cherries or poppy seeds. Grandma Bella’s strudel had a pastry covering that was very thin, more like the pastry for rugelach or a thin pliable pie crust. The filling had dried apricots, raisins and walnuts and was flavored with cinnamon.

I did a google search for Ukrainian/Russian strudel and although some of the ingredients were different, the recipe sounded a great deal like her strudel. I decided to make strudel and this is what I came up with. It was remarkably similar and was delicious. I liked it way too much and tried to give away as much as possible. I think Grandma Bella would have approved!!

Ukrainian Dried Fruit Strudel

Ukrainian Dried Fruit Strudel ( from Food Network; based on a recipe by Wayne Harley Brachman)

Sour Cream Pastry:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter cut into pea sized bits

1/2 cup sour cream

Dried Fruit Filling:

1 cup pitted organic prunes

1/2 cup organic prune juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cherries

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

cinnamon for dusting top of strudel

1 egg

2 tablespoons water

Directions

  1. Put the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. On slow, mix in the butter until it looks like very coarse meal. Mix in the sour cream until it masses together to form a dough. Pat into a rectangle, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

Dried Fruit Filling:

  1. Filling:
  2. Coarsely chop the prunes. In a small saucepan, cover the prunes with the prune juice and sugar. Bring to a simmer for 3 minutes. Place in a food processor with the vanilla and puree to a paste. Mix in the raisins, cherries and walnuts. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a square 16 by16 inches. Place the filling in a log running along the bottom and roll up. Pinch the ends closed. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet, seam side down. Mix the egg and water together to form a wash and paint the strudel. Dust lightly with cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes until crisp and golden. Let cool on a rack, then slice into 1 inch pieces. Wait until very cool to slice; use a serrated bread knife.

This week, I have strayed from my trusty “Tree of the Week” and morphed to stone! No fear, the trees will be back shortly. This rock caught my eye and I imagined a face with a crooked sly smile and one tooth sticking out the corner of it’s mouth!

Thousand Acre Swamp New Marlborough, MA

HAPPY SPRING!!