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!

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!