Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Food of Love

Sunday, July 24th, 2016


My most recent television appearance was devoted to encouraging viewers to come to my concert this coming Saturday. Alice Parker and I (known near and far—mostly near—as the Divas of Hawley, Massachusetts) will star in LOVE WALKED IN, an evening of classic love songs by such songwriters as the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach, and Alice herself.

If you’re in Western Massachusetts this weekend, I urge you to join us on July 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Federated Church on Route 2 in Charlemont. Donations at the door will go to the Rose Anna Dixwell Fund, which helps fund music lessons for local children.

I firmly believe that all children—and all adults, for that matter!—should make music whenever possible so I’m proud to be associated with this endeavor.

The evening will be fun, with lots of hamming it up from the resident soprano and lots of singing along. Cabot Cheese has donated nibbles for the after-concert reception, and bakers are standing by to brave the heat and make cookies, so our program should be delicious literally as well as figuratively.

To highlight the concert’s romantic theme on Mass Appeal, I prepared my idea of a romantic meal. Everyone’s ideal romantic meal is different. This one was loosely based on a meal I enjoyed when I was 19 at la Maison de Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

Van Gogh's Bedroom

Van Gogh’s Bedroom

My companions and I toured the tiny room in which Van Gogh spent his last months. We then dined downstairs in a lovely, convenient restaurant. I ordered a small steak (really, the French know how to cook steak to perfection) with a delectable salad. To complete the meal the waiter brought an ENORMOUS bowl of chocolate mousse to our table. I was in food heaven.

The company—my honorary godmother Dagny Johnson and her nephew Eric—was pretty wonderful, too. If Van Gogh had been able to enjoy such food and such company, he would probably never have committed suicide.

I couldn’t replicate the steak or salad exactly; I’m not French. So instead for my romantic meal I made my favorite flank steak, which I have described before on this blog, and a fresh salad with my neighbor Gam’s herbed buttermilk dressing. Gam’s recipe calls for dried herbs, but since I had fresh ones I used those instead. The dressing turned a fascinating shade of green.


I did have a French recipe for chocolate mousse, thanks to my mother’s cordon-bleu studies. So the mousse was authentic.

I didn’t have QUITE enough time to beat the egg whites for the mousse on the air—live TV presents unique challenges—but I brought along some mousse to serve and share with everyone at the studio.

It went fast!


Seth comforted me following the egg-white debacle.

Gam’s Herbed Buttermilk Dressing


2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley (or more!)
1/2 teaspoon dried chives or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried basil or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon or lots of fresh
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus more if you like)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise


Combine all ingredients in the order indicated and mix well. Store in the refrigerator, and re-shake before using. Makes a little over 2 cups of dressing.


Taffy’s Cordon Bleu Chocolate Mousse


6 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) sweet butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 tablespoons coffee, divided (you may use water instead or use a bit of each)
4 eggs at room temperature, separated
1/2 cup superfine sugar, divided (if you don’t have superfine sugar and don’t want to buy it, whirl regular sugar around in a food processor for a bit; that will do just fine.)
1 pinch salt


In the top of a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over warm water) combine the chocolate, the butter, the vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of coffee. Cook the mixture over hot water, stirring, until the chocolate melts. Remove the pan from the top of the hot water, and set it aside to cool.

In another heatproof bowl combine the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of coffee, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Place them over the hot water and cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture becomes uniformly frothy and lighter in color.

Remove the yolk mixture from the top of the hot water, and whisk it for another minute or so. Whisk in the chocolate mixture. Allow the resulting concoction to cool for a few minutes so that it is lukewarm to the touch. (You may begin beating the egg whites while the chocolate/yolk mixture is cooling.)

Combine the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat them until the egg whites are foamy. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar and beat the egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. (It helps to add a little bit of them at first, then the rest.)

Spoon the mousse into a serving bowl or bowls. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight; then serve with a little whipped cream. Serves 8.

And now the videos……

A Sinatra Centennial Cookie

Saturday, December 12th, 2015


Today music lovers around the country (and probably around the world) celebrate the centennial of the 20th century’s most popular singer. Frank Sinatra crossed generations in his appeal, then and now. He was born on December 12, 1915.

I actually fêted Frank and his birthday a bit early to avoid the rush. In August, with the help of my neighbor Alice Parker, I performed my own Sinatra concert in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

sinatra poster smaller copy

The concert was a delight. I didn’t actually try to BE Sinatra, of course. I don’t look like him, and I don’t sound like him. Instead, I tried to be Sinatra-esque in my approach to the music, working on my phrasing and feeling the melody and lyrics as much as I could.

The audience loved the evening—and so did I.

The concert was a fundraiser for the minister’s discretionary fund at the local church. We asked community members to bring refreshments to serve after the music. One of the offerings was particularly appropriate for the concert’s Italian-American subject.

Camille Azzalina White is a lively, attractive widow who directs the local senior center. Camille baked her grandmother’s Italian cookies for the concert. Everyone who tasted one fell in love. Naturally, I asked the baker to give me the recipe—and a little information about her grandmother.

Camille’s “Nana,” Marie Incoronata Danata Colantonio, lived from 1897 to 1988. Although her parents were immigrants from Frosolone, Italy (she was one of ten children), Marie was born in this country.

Nevertheless, because of a 1907 law that was fortunately changed during her lifetime, she actually lost her U.S. citizenship in 1916 when she married Angelo Melchionda, an immigrant who had not yet been naturalized. She was forced to take a test to regain her status.

Marie & Angelo Melchionda 1916

This and other vintage photos come courtesy of Camille White.

Camille grew up in a multigenerational house in Medford, Massachusetts, along with her parents, grandparents, siblings, and aunt and uncle. Her grandmother was a benevolent, generous matriarch.

“Although Nana worked full time outside the home [she was a stitcher in a factory in the north end of Boston],” her granddaughter remembered, “she found time to cook many delicious meals for her family, who always came first. Sunday meals especially became a family gathering with relatives visiting for dinner or dessert after dinner.

“In later years at different times, she was a caregiver for her ill mother, her husband, a widowed sister, and then for young grandchildren. She embraced her family with boundless love and gave comfort to others freely and without question.”

Nana making cookie frosting.web

Nana Melchionda makes frosting for her cookies.

One of Camille’s earliest recollections is of making these cookies with her grandmother, although the recipe has changed over the years. (It originally featured five pounds of flour and 18 eggs!)

“Each time I make and bake these cookies,” she told me, “I recall many happy childhood memories of family, anticipation for the holidays, and mostly so many loving times spent with my dear Nana.

“With this recipe, I continue to make new memories with my children and grandchildren….”

I’ll definitely make these cookies for Christmas this year. (I have a cookie swap coming up!) My baking will honor the Sinatra centennial—and also Camille’s Nana Melchionda.

Meanwhile, I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all….

Nana's cookiesweb

Nana Melchionda’s Italian Cookies


1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature
4 eggs
1 teaspoon anise oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
confectioner’s sugar, milk, and lemon flavoring to taste
sprinkles for topping


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cream together the sugar and the butter. Add the eggs, the anise oil, and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl blend together the sifted flour and the baking powder; then add them to the butter mixture.

The dough will be sticky. Refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, to make it easier to handle.

When the dough has cooled form rounds about a teaspoon wide (a little larger is acceptable) by rolling them between your palms. Place the rounds on the prepared cookie sheets, and press down on the top of each lightly.

Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned on the bottom, about 20 minutes–MAYBE LESS. Start looking at 13 minutes. Watch the cookies carefully as they can burn easily.

While the cookies are in the oven prepare the frosting. In a bowl whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, the milk, and the lemon flavoring until the mixture pleases you. It should be thick but not too thick.

Dip the tops of the cookies into the frosting, place them on wax paper, and add sprinkles to make them extra festive. Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them.

M5 Marie Melchionda

The Ponder Heart

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Image by Lee Peters, adapted from cover art, Vintage Paperbacks, 1954 (original artist unknown)

Charlemont, Massachusetts, is a musical town.
With only about 1300 residents it manages to support a summer chamber-music series, Mohawk Trail Concerts, as well as a yearly reggae festival and frequent performances by singer Charlotte Dewey, the co-owner of and spirit behind the Charlemont Inn.
The town has never hosted an opera, however … until now.
On Friday and Saturday, a concert production of The Ponder Heart will debut at the Charlemont Federated Church. The opera was composed by Alice Parker, a splendid musician and a loyal NOT (neighbor of Tinky).
Eudora Welty’s short novel The Ponder Heart first appeared in the New Yorker in 1953 and was published in book form the following year.
Alice adapted it into a short opera in 1982 with Eudora Welty’s blessing. Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and several local cultural councils, the upcoming production will reintroduce this  humor-filled musical gem to the public and provide a concert recording for future listening. 

As I type, Alice’s Musicians of Melodious Accord are arriving to fill up houses all over Charlemont, Heath, and Hawley and get ready for their final rehearsals. 

Alice Parker (Courtesy of Melodious Accord)

I haven’t seen the opera, although I have read the novella—a delightful comic Gothic piece set in Mississippi in the 1930s.
Narrator Edna Earle Ponder is a character with whom I can identify. She tells anyone who will listen, “It’s always taken a lot out of me, being smart.” I have often felt this way myself.
Like me, Miss Edna Earle likes to make fudge and keep track of her neighbors. The proprietor of the Beulah Hotel in the small but bustling town of Clay, she knows everyone in town and has an opinion about everything.
It is her lot in life to mediate between her Grandfather Ponder and her lovable but impulsive-to-the-point-of insanity Uncle Daniel Ponder. In the course of the story, Uncle Daniel gives away just about everything he owns (including his grave site), marries twice, and goes on trial for murder.
It seems appropriate to me that this small-town story will be performed in another tight-knit community, and I look forward to seeing what Alice has done with Eudora Welty’s tale. I’m sure the composer’s ear for vernacular music will do justice to the saga of Edna Earle and Uncle Daniel.
Naturally, I have a recipe to share in honor of The Ponder Heart. I was hoping to write about divinity, a confection dear to the heart of both Eudora Welty and Edna Earle Ponder. 

My friend Bill Kubasek’s mother Win gave me her divinity recipe, and I obligingly covered much of my kitchen in sticky sugar syrup in an attempt the make the stuff.

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to get the hang of it yet. As Miss Edna Earle says in the story, divinity is NOT “the kind of fudge anybody can make.”

Part of the Sticky MESS!

I plan to return to divinity in December, when it should make a lovely holiday gift. Meanwhile, here is a recipe from the composer of The Ponder Heart for a simple, tasty, and fairly healthy dip. Alice often calls it “Grandma’s Dip” and keeps it in the house to use as a quick appetizer when company stops by.
It would be perfectly at home at the Beulah Hotel, where guests, including Miss Edna Earle’s beau the traveling salesman, could dip vegetables or chips in it while listening to Uncle Daniel wax operatic about his trials and tribulations.
Try it—and if you’re in New England this weekend, come see and hear Edna Earle, Uncle Daniel, and the townspeople of Clay in the New England premiere of Alice Parker’s Ponder Heart. 

Performances will take place on Friday, October 8, at 7:30 pm and on Saturday, October 9, at 11 am. Tickets cost $20 and may be reserved by contacting Kay Holt at

Alice’s Herb Dip
Alice pretty much wings this dip, and I did, too. Adjust flavors to taste, and add anything you think might enhance the mixture. Fresh herbs out of the garden are of course preferred, but you could probably throw in a few dried ones in winter.
2 cups cottage cheese (low fat is fine)
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
seasoned salt, garlic salt, and/or seasoning mixes to taste (I eschewed the salt and pepper and threw in several sprinklings of my Zatarain’s spice mixture, as well as a dash of something from Penzey’s Spices called “mural of flavor” seasoning)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
a handful of chives, finely chopped
other fresh green herbs to taste (I used parsley, basil, and dill), finely chopped
Combine the cottage cheese and sour cream in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat in the remaining ingredients.
Place the dip in a bowl, and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Serve with veggies, chips, sliced apples, or crackers. This dip also tastes great atop a baked potato. 

Makes about 3 cups.

To Be Perfectly Frank: 100 Years of Frank Loesser

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer and lyricist Frank Loesser.
Loesser was born on June 29, 1910, in New York City and died in 1969. He wrote or co-wrote some of our most singable songs—“On a Slow Boat to China,” “Heart and Soul,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “Two Sleepy People,” “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” and about 700 others.
I’ve read a fair amount about Loesser, but I feel as though I don’t really know him. In books he comes across as contradictory. He rejected his family’s love of classical music yet longed to write an American opera. He was moody and quick to anger yet nurturing of his peers. He worked far too many hours yet loved parties. 

The man I can’t quite find in print comes across in his music as brilliant, playful, and intuitive. He knew how to structure a musical number so that it was easy to sing yet constantly surprising. And he knew how to reveal character through song.
His Guys and Dolls, to me the quintessential Broadway musical, illustrates this attention to character. Nathan Detroit’s passive yet sincere love for his longtime fiancée shines through “Sue Me.”
Sky Masterson shares his love of the city and his secret longing for connection to others in “My Time of Day.” Shy-no-more heroine Sarah lets her wild side peal in “If I Were a Bell.” And Miss Adelaide’s language and lifelong dilemma are defined in “Adelaide’s Lament.”
The lament exemplifies one of Loesser’s other strengths—his ability to translate colloquial conversation into music and lyrics. Miss Adelaide’s voice goes up (as mine certainly would!) whenever she gets particularly agitated contemplating her perpetually ALMOST married state: 

When they get on the train for NIAG’RA
She can hear CHURCH bells CHIME.
And the MOOD sublime.
A person can develop la grippe….

I look forward to learning more about Loesser tomorrow evening as I remain glued to the TV (well, actually, I’ll probably save some of the material for later viewing via TiVo) watching Turner Classic Movies’ salute to Loesser.
The lineup will include How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1967; star Robert Morse will co-host the TCM evening!), the 2006 documentary Heart & Soul: The Music of Frank Loesser, and several other films.
Although there are several gems to choose from I wish one of the films were Hollywood Canteen (1944), which features Bette Davis singing (!) the first Loesser song I ever performed, “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.”
I couldn’t dream of emulating La Bette’s perfect diction. On the other hand, I can of course sing rings around her.
I’ll also learn about Loesser as I rehearse for—you guessed it—MY OWN LOESSER CENTENNIAL TRIBUTE WITH ALICE PARKER! 

This will take place on Saturday, August 21, at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. (See fabulous poster below.)

Alice and I are still planning the program so if readers have a favorite Loesser song they should suggest it now! 
Meanwhile, in tribute to tomorrow’s anniversary here is a special seasonal cocktail. It’s appropriate for two reasons. First, it was invented by my friend Michael Collins, the chef at the Green Emporium.
Second, I MUST have something to hold in my hand when Donald Freeman and I perform “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” another song that shows off Loesser’s way of turning conversation into song.
“Baby” is one of Loesser’s famous overlapping songs, in which characters (in this case “The Wolf” and “The Mouse”) sing complementary music and lyrics over each other.
According to Loesser’s daughter Susan, the composer and his first wife Lynn Garland Loesser performed this song privately many times. She quotes her mother as saying: 

We got invited to all the best parties for years on the basis of “Baby.” It was our ticket to caviar and truffles. Parties were built around our being the closing act.

(Time Life)

Eventually, Loesser sold the song to MGM to be sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban in the 1948 film Neptune’s Daughter.
Lynn Loesser was deeply saddened, but “Baby” won her husband his only Academy Award for best song. (As time went by he managed to scoop up a couple of Tonys and a Pulitzer as well.)
On August 21 as Don (doing his best Ricardo Montalban impression) finishes the line, “Beautiful, please don’t hurry,” I’ll pop in with,
“Well, maybe just a half a drink more………….” 

Let’s all raise our glasses to an American original!

Chef Michael Collins informs me that he was inspired to create this cocktail by my late neighbor Florette, who made a mean rhubarb tea.
I have tried it three ways—with rum (as described below) at his restaurant, with a little Grand Marnier at home when I couldn’t find rum, and in “virgin” form with a little pink lemonade for my young friend Audrey. I like it all three ways.
for the base:
6 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups strawberries, cut in half
1/2 lime
1 tablespoon grenadine (optional–for color; I found with really fresh fruit I didn’t necessarily need it)
for the cocktail:
1 cup cocktail base (see above)
2 ounces white rum
lime juice as needed for rimming
sugar as needed for rimming
Bring the water to a boil. Add the sugar and stir. When the sugar has dissolved add the fruit.
Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the fruit breaks down. Toward the end of this process add the grenadine if you are using it.
Allow the mixture to cool. Remove the half lime (DO NOT FORGET THIS STEP!), and place the liquid in a blender in batches. Blend it; then strain it, first through a strainer (don’t try to push the fuzz down through the holes) and then through cheesecloth.
Place it in a jar and keep it refrigerated until it is needed.
To make a cocktail (or two): Place the rum in a cocktail shaker, and add ice. Pour in the cup of cocktail base. Shake.
Pour a little lime juice around the rim of 1 large or 2 small glass(es), and dip it/them in sugar so that the sugar coats the rim(s). Strain the drink into the glass(es). 

The drink recipe serves 1 to 2. The base makes about 6 cups.

Audrey drank this cocktail with pink lemonade instead of rum.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider taking out an email subscription to my blog. Just click on the link below!

Subscribe to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens by Email.

Sip and Sing Along!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

I’m not from a horsy family so I didn’t watch the Kentucky Derby as a child.
This annual ritual began for me in graduate school. Each year my friend Dan Streible gave a Derby party at which guests wore colorful hats (well, this guest did, anyway), sipped mint juleps, and sang “My Old Kentucky Home” along with the folks at Churchill Downs.
We also watched the horse race.
Dan is a darling person and a terrific scholar. He was also smart enough to marry my friend Teri the Renaissance Woman. I think of him every time I watch the Kentucky Derby, sip a mint julep, or sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Dan at his recent Orphan Film Symposium, obviously getting ready to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" (Courtesy of the Orphanistas)

Like other tunes by Stephen Foster such as “Hard Times” and “Old Black Joe,” the state song of Kentucky is nostalgically sentimental and easy to sing.
The act of crooning it and watching the VERY brief horse race (which often seems shorter than the song) always starts May off with a bang for me.
The song is traditionally played at the Derby by the University of Louisville Marching Band.
I was lucky enough to find a recording of the band at the Kentucky Derby Information site (which also provides a little history of the relationship between the song and the race, as well as a look at some outstanding Derby hats and of course a few recipes!).
I used it as background for our sing-along. Click on the sheet music below to start the recording and then minimize your audio player so you can read the lyrics and sing with me. That way you’ll be in good voice for the Derby tomorrow.
I’m still working on the recording technology; my loud voice may sound a little fuzzy and faint. I think I messed up a couple of notes and lyrics. And frankly if I’d been in charge of the band I would have asked the musicians to play the song a little faster and a little higher.
If you drink a couple of mint juleps before listening, none of those things should bother you, however.
Here we go……..  
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home.
‘Tis summer, the people are gay.
The corn top’s ripe, and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy, and bright.
By’n by hard times comes a knockin’ at the door.
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.
Weep no more, my lady. Oh! Weep no more today.
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home, far away.
Dan’s Mint Juleps
I asked Dan for his julep recipe and then immediately changed it just a little bit by adding mint directly to the simple syrup to make the concoction more minty.
He was vague about amounts of syrup and bourbon. Basically, you should make this drink to your taste! Here I’m giving you the proportions my family uses, along with his instructions, slightly modified.
for the simple syrup:
2 large sprigs very fresh spearmint, slightly crushed
1 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
for each julep:
lots of shaved, finely crushed, or snow ice
(You can see from the picture above that I wasn’t the most thorough crusher in the world, but luckily the glasses still ended up frosty as we sipped!)
about 1 ounce simple syrup
about 2 ounces Kentucky bourbon whiskey
(Dan says, “There is no such thing as Tennessee bourbon. Don’t make the mistake of using sour-mash whiskey.”)
2 sprigs very fresh spearmint
The day before the Derby (that’s today!) prepare the simple syrup. Combine the mint with the sugar, and pour the boiling water on top. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool and refrigerate overnight.
The next day make the julep.
Pack a julep glass with ice. (No julep glass or cup? Use a highball glass if you must.)
Drizzle simple syrup over the ice. Top off the glass with more ice if needed.
Pour the bourbon over the sweetened ice until the glass is nearly full.
Add sprigs of very fresh spearmint. Stir slowly. Sip slowly, with a straw or not. Be sure to get a snootful of mint as you sip. The longer the bourbon blends with the mint oils the better.
Do not drive or operate heavy machinery. 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider taking out an email subscription to my blog. Just click on the link below!

Subscribe to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens by Email.