"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Ronald Smith, English pianist . . .


Ronald Smith‘s playing of Alkan‘s “Concerto for Piano” is so thoughtfully wrought – majestic, musical and just plain gorgeous. We came upon a snippet recording of it on YouTube David Dubal’s 30 minute interview of RS and were astonished that we had never heard this performance before. Up to two nights ago, my husband and I had thought only Marc-Andre Hamelin’s two recordings of it stood as the gold standard of this piece which, truth be told, was the composition which embraced the early days of our courtship.

Now there’s room for this beautiful recording. I had to track it down in a 2004 EMI remastered compendium of Ronald Smith’s ALKAN PROJECT on and download it as a MP3 recording. (I tried to find it again to link to this post but was unable to locate it.)

My husband was an Alkan “nut” when we first met over twenty years ago and although the Internet was not around then, he had amassed almost all of the Alkan scores and CDs of pianists playing Alkan at the time: John Ogdon, Raymond Lewanthal, Marc Andre Hamelin and Laurent Martin. He also had a copy of Ronald Smith’s two-volume biography of Charles Valentin Alkan.

When we travelled to England to visit my daughter who was a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1994, my husband was able to contact Ronald Smith on the telephone, a gracious encounter – and we also had dinner with the Secretary of the Alkan Society in Salisbury when we first arrived.

Ronald Smith has done the musical world a service worth its weight in gold by promoting the music of Charles Valentin Alkan. There is none other as poignantly beautiful. Thank you, Ronald Smith!

a nice vinaigrette! . . .


vinaigrette photo

Last night, I tried out a new way to make vinaigrette. It included Alice Waters’ process of macerating a clove of garlic with salt in a mortar and pestle before adding vinegar and oil. Here’s the recipe with tweaking suggestions. It’s a combination of Alice Waters’ garlic process and my own vinaigrette ingredients.

Its success depends on tweaking the amount of vinegars, sugar and garlic – the macerated garlic tends to make it a little bitter, I think.

1. Peel a good sized clove of garlic. cut into pieces to make pounding it easier.

2. In a mortar with a pestle, scrape and press the garlic with 2-3 pinches of Maldon salt (sea salt) until the garlic is pureed.

    This is not as easy as it sounds and I’m thinking you could do it in a small food processor too.

3. Add 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons Marukan gourmet seasoned Japanese vinegar.

4. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of olive oil until well combined.

5. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of Poupon Dijon country mustard

6. Add cracked pepper and zest/juice of a wedge of fresh lemon to taste.

Now, you’ve got the basics and the tweaking begins – let it sit for a few minutes, whisk it again and dip a leaf of lettuce in it.

If it’s too bitter, I added more Marukan vinegar and more lemon. If it’s too sour, add a dab more sugar.

It’s very important to empty your greens into a salad spinner and soak it in very cold water. Rinse well and spin it thoroughly. Then store the spun greens in the fridge. This cleaning and rinsing step provides a freshness and the cold air a crispiness to the greens. Doing this ahead of time makes it so much easier to put the salad together when dinner is ready.

I like to keep a salad simple without too many ingredients since the dressing is complex. A handful of fresh thyme, basil cut up in strips goes with anything you want to include: fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onion.

If I’m making a salad with fruit (fresh orange sections or pears with or without pomegranate seeds) I would omit the garlic macerating step and just make the vinaigrette with some chopped up garlic pieces marinating in the dressing ahead of time. The vinaigrette keeps in the fridge and also at room temperature if it’s not too hot.


a new chocolate cake! . . .

chocolate cake

There’s been a sour cream chocolate cake made with cocoa that has been a favorite in my family since my kids were young. It was called Ethel Bruce’s Grandmother’s chocolate cake. Yesterday, I couldn’t find the recipe and looked online for a “chocolate sour cream cake recipe.” I found one and decided to make a few changes to it and make it for dessert tonight.

We are having a dinner celebration for someone who has just passed his Ph.D. exams and the cake will top off a dinner menu of wild Atlantic salmon, farm stand corn on the cob and a big green salad with garden tomatoes from next door and fresh thyme, chives and basil.

I’ve discovered that if I cut dessert recipes in half that there’s more than enough for four (with enough left over for tomorrow night too!) and that it’s more fun to make a good-looking cake in an antique cake tin too! So, here’s the recipe I followed:

Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Cake:

1/2 cup Ghiardelli unsweetened baking cocoa (already had some in the pantry!)

1/2 cup boiling water

1 stick unsalted butter softened (in the microwave)

1 1/4 cup turbinado sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon Maldon sea salt

1/2 cup sour cream (I used Oikos Greek plain yogurt)

Boil water and combine with powdered cocoa to blend. With mixer on low, add butter, sugar and eggs gradually and mix at medium speed. Combine dry ingredients and add slowly while mixing. Lastly, add the sour cream or yogurt and combine.

I used a 9 inch fluted antique cake pan which had an indented bottom. I buttered it thoroughly making sure all the ridges had butter on them. Filled the pan with the batter and found it was too full. Spooned out three paper muffin cups with batter to bake in a separate pan. cupcakes

Preheated the oven to 350 degrees. Baked the cakes with a sheet of aluminum foil underneath to catch any overrun drips. Thankfully, the batter held in the fluted pan.

Tested at 25 minutes and left in for another 8 minutes. When toothpicks came out clean, turned off the oven, opened the door and slid the rack halfway out of the oven. Let sit for 10 minutes so cake would not fall. Moved to a plate and countertop to cool.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting:

I’ve made very thin chocolate chip cookies before with cut-up bars of Lindt or Ghiardelli chocolate and toasted macadamia nuts before with yummy results. So instead of using semi-sweet chocolate chips for this frosting, I’m using a 3.5 ounce bar of Lindt dark chocolate (smooth texture,) breaking the chocolate into small pieces.

Melt chocolate with half stick unsalted butter in the microwave. Stir to combine.

Add 1/2 cup sour cream (no substitutions here) and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. With mixer, add 1 cup confectioners sugar and taste. Add a little more up to 1 1/2 cups total so that it is not too sweet. Chill.

When cake and frosting are cooled, frost the cake (and cupcakes) leaving the edges showing to make it easier to loosen the cake from the fluted edge of the pan.

So, this goes to show that one can move forward from the past and that there are no hard and fast rules that one has to follow to make something delicious and a little different. Making the frosting from a dark chocolate bar as a departure from boring semi-chocolate chips elevates the flavor of the frosting (and the cake) to another level.

I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about letting go of the past and taking life to the next level, right?








“social media” . . .

a reclaimed wood-fired soy bottle with sprigs of dill from herb planter

a reclaimed wood-fired soy bottle with sprigs of dill from herb planter

Well, I’ve tried Facebook a couple of times now. For someone who is basically a LONER (in capital letters) it was a social experiment that I followed out of curiosity at first and then, out of habit. I guess that’s the way it gets to you.

For any of you who haven’t partaken being on FB, there is a subtle and very sophisticated system of “likes” that people you know (or don’t know) can put on things that you post or comments that you make. You can also be in or out with people depending upon whether they reply to your “friend” request or not. Simply put, it’s like being in junior high school again when some people like you for the shoes you wear or ignore you in the lunchroom because they’re, well, ignoring you. Despite the superficiality of this “likes” system, it does grab you and you start to care about it because as a human being, everyone wants to be “liked.” But being on Facebook puts you in the crosshairs of being “liked” or not – by people you don’t even know very well. Or being ignored by people that you do know well! See how subtle the passive aggressive nature of the “likes” system can be?

At first, it’s easy to get caught up in assembling “likes” on to photos that you put up or posts that you make about what’s going on in your life. Then, there are the die-hards who post weird things and then get caught up in one-on-one exchanges in public for all the world to see. One FB thread included a comment from his friend on EVERY post he made, as though he had a FB babysitter who would compliment him on some really far-out nonsense. I felt like telling them to “get a room.”

On another note, I’ve noticed that Facebook has gradually and insistently inserted advertisements from vendors on to one’s Facebook page. First, they appeared on the right side column where you could choose to ignore it or not. Recently, free form ads now pop up in the main column of your “home” page: ads selling bras, clothing, etc. When you click the “X” to hide or delete the ad, there’s a nervy four item questionnaire asking you why you want to delete it. Really?

The proliferation and expansiveness of the ad campaigns were enough to turn me off of Facebook. But it was an inconsequential annoyance compared to the time-consuming and fatuous entries made by people, trivializing our culture even more than it already is: “national dog day,” for example and arguing about politics with each other in a long stream of “comments” as though they mattered to anyone else but themselves. It’s more of the narcissistic trend for the narcissists. And since we are all susceptible to that too, or maybe we wouldn’t even be on FB at ALL, it’s a self-propelling prophecy.

Anyhow, I turned it off after I discovered how much I had allowed myself to be roped into that part of the culture of Facebook. So it wasn’t anyone else’s fault that I left, it’s because I found myself wasting so much time on stuff that was trivial, entered by people whom I’m not even friends with but only know slightly. I asked myself, “what am I doing? and why am I doing it?” There were no good answers. So, it was time to log-off.


cutting loose! . . .


a sweet bouquet given to me by my daughter. . .

a sweet bouquet given to me by my daughter. . .

Sometimes, I realize that I’ve been in a rut. But funnily enough, I didn’t know I was in that bad of a rut until I’m out of it! Has that ever happened to you? If so, you’ll know that it just feels like nothing will ever change and it’s easy to get depressed and feeling hopeless about things. Then, suddenly, when the bottom doesn’t feel good anymore, the cloud suddenly lifts.

Maybe it’s because you get tired of yourself finally and find that you’re ready for a change. Maybe it’s because feeling worried or bad about things gets just plain boring anymore. Whatever it is, I’m over it, whatever “it” is, or was. I’m ready for a change. And that doesn’t mean getting in the car and taking a drive to Albuquerque either (I live in Massachusetts.) Even though I’ve had ideas about maybe visiting a friend who sounds like she could use some company. Or, maybe just change my routine, big time. Whatever it is, I’m ready.

And, I’ve got some good ideas about what’s going to be different too. It’ll be fun to see how it all turns out too! Sometimes, I think the human psyche has its limits for feeling a certain way. Maybe it helps to unload on some poor hapless listener. Being resilient means snapping back from being stretched too thin for too long. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter, does it?



national peach pie day! . . .


peach pie with pastry wheel

Someone said that today is National Peach Pie Day.

So, here’s our contribution, made with a shortcrust lattice edging and woven top; no bottom crust; peeled fresh peaches from our local Concord farm stand, Verrill Farm. To sliced peaches, added a tablespoon of flour, heaping teaspoons of cinnamon and nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of agave nectar, dotted with unsalted butter before weaving lattice top (like a potholder when I was 7!)

Shortcrust pie crust made this a.m. in small food processor: 1 cup flour, 1/3 stick cold butter, 2 Tablespoons cold lard; 4-5 tablespoons ice water. Whirred dry ingredients until blended, then added ice water until blended into a ball– wrapped and refrigerated until ready to use.

These lattice strips were cut with a vintage handmade wooden pastry wheel. Brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with turbinado sugar. Baked at 375 for 15-20 minutes until brown and bubbly. Will serve with a scoop of Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream on warm pie after supper tonight.

living the good life . . .


I’ve just finished reading “Loving and Leaving the Good Life,” a memoir written by Helen Nearing after the death of her husband, Scott Nearing (at the age of 100.) She died in 1997 and their books remain classics of the “back to the land” movement before others lived a life of self-sufficiency in a modern culture.

Their books are not just a chronicle of hard labor to be self-sufficient, theirs is a story of a deep partnership between two individuals who also happened to be married. Together for fifty years, they homesteaded in Vermont, building nine stone buildings and maple sugaring for income. She selected and placed the stone while he mixed the concrete to hold them together. Then, they relocated in Maine along the Penobscot Bay where they raised blueberries as a cash crop.

In today’s fast-moving culture, brutal politics and anything-goes environment of people wanting their 10 minutes of fame, it is refreshing just to READ these books, “Living the Good Life” and “The Good Life.”

Makes me want to think about what’s really good about our lives and to value it by improving relationships, simplifying food, playing and listening to music and reading books.

This one volume edition of Living the Good Life and Continuing the Good Life brings these classics on rural…

path to winning . . .


Okay, so this is probably the last post I’ll make (for awhile at least) about the 1958 Van Cliburn Tchaikowsky competition. Not only had Russia just launched Sputnik six months earlier at the height of the Cold War, but this was also the very FIRST Tchaikowsky competition ever.

In an interview, Van Cliburn said that he was greeted at the airport by a very nice Russian woman who mispronounced his name – so in Russia, he was known as “Van CLEE-BURN.”

In addition, he said to the interviewer that it was an incredible jury which included world-famous musicians: Dmitry Kabalevsky, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter and chaired by the composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch! Apparently, there were some shenanigans in the scoring that went on as described in the article below – wherein certain jurors were scoring the American with mediocre marks (15s & 16s out of 25.)

Sviatoslav Richter caught on to this and began giving Van Cliburn all 25s, perfect marks while scoring everybody else with zeroes! “Either they have it or they don’t!” Richter was quoted as saying. The jury approached Khrushchev to get his approval for them to declare their choice of Van Cliburn as the winner. On the way home, the stewardess on the plane showed the pianist a copy of TIme Magazine with a pastel portrait of Van Cliburn on the cover.

Liu Shu Kun was a Chinese pianist who placed second in the 1958 Tchaikowsky competition when Van Cliburn won the gold medal. As a pianist, I was introduced to Liu Shu Kun when I visited Beijing in the 1970’s. AND he visited my home in Lexington, MA. in the 1980’s during a trip to the States. Small world, right?

“at ease with whatever comes. . . “

DSC_0093_2If any of us has led a life as sincerely altruistic as Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have for as long as they have (40 years after his presidency,) then I guess we might be at ease with whatever comes when we’re ninety years old too.

To me, It’s not just that his demeanor and self-possession make such a stark contrast to the bloviators (Trump & his Republican candidate counterparts) that we are forced to listen to in the news. More pointedly to me, it makes the everyday personal conflicts that all of us have with members of our family or friends that seem so petty and such a waste of time and life energy.

It’s interesting to note also that serious illness, like melanoma cancer and its invasive reach into the brain, serves as a catapult for the world’s attention. Had Jimmy Carter not gotten cancer and died instead by falling off a ladder, would the world (and the news media) have had a chance to acknowledge the humanitarian contributions that he and his foundation have achieved? For example, a rampant worm infestation in millions of Africans has been eradicated now to only a few.

Also notable to me is that his successor at the Carter Center is not one of their three sons or even Amy, the infamous redhead kid in the White House – but a grandson who was named Chairman of the Board last November. Jimmy Carter also mentioned that their endowment is $600 million strong.

Throughout these newsbreaks, his wife, Rosalynn has been silent by his side. But she has also been by his side doing rather than staying home and drinking tea. Did you know that Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were BOTH awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for their humanitarian efforts?

So, even if we’re not planning to fly to Nepal to build houses for village people or to travel to Guyana to monitor elections, what can we do to make our own lives more meaningful?

That’s a good question – and lives like the Carters are inspirational to taking a break from the bullying emptiness of campaign rhetoric and petty internecine struggles that seem so commonplace everywhere we look.

‘work in progress’ . . .


I visited a pianist friend of mine yesterday out in Hadley, Massachusetts. We’ve known each other since junior high school. He’s been ill but seems to be recovering better than anyone had hoped after what appeared to be a debilitating round of radiation. I played a piece by Robert Schumann called “Abschied” which he said he had never heard before.

I asked him if he thought he would start playing the piano again and how he would go about it. He said that he would “work up my technique first. then resurrect all the pieces I know I can play and get them up to speed. Then learn something new.” He also said he might get some work done on his Story and Clark baby grand piano.

I thought about that on the drive home. And also had a conversation about Beethoven sonatas last night with another pianist friend. I’ve been practicing some Bach and Chopin along with a piece by Schumann.

After yesterday’s conversations, I think what I’m going to do next is to sightread at a slow tempo all of the Beethoven piano sonatas starting with Book One. There are thirty-two of them in two volumes. I’ll play them slowly to listen to the harmonies and see what they feel like under my fingers. I’ve especially liked the Adagios that are in some of them. I’m pretty sure it will be an interesting experience.

and a work in progress. . .


Now that I’m thinking about it, in parallel, I think I’ll also read through my favorite piano concerto scores: Beethoven’s 3rd, 4th and 5th; Saint Saens 5th (“Egyptian”); Rachmaninoff 2nd & 3rd, Tchaikovsky (Van Cliburn’s triumphant Moscow performance) Brahms 1st and 2nd. That should keep me going for awhile at least.


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