"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?