willie-nelsons-greatest-hits.jpgLet’s be real, here. People who grow up like I did are not often country music fans. Aside from my mother’s odd taste for the sounds of the Grand Old Opry (acquired during her years at Wellesley, no doubt) I knew no country music unless it was from one of those “Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” ads that ran constantly on our local CBS station. Well, sometimes I caught a little bit of “Hee Haw” if no one changed the channel in time. Suffice it to say that “another somebody done somebody wrong song” was never my music of choice.

I like irony, subtly, and a literary lyric. Like my tea, I tend to like my music un-sweet, unless the sweetness is only one of many layers and has no cloying quality. There was a kind of song that made me queasy from the time I was very small:  ”Baby, I’m a want you,” and “Cherish” come to mind. Well, and that other kind; the kind where a dog dies and is carried out to sea, or someone (or something) named “Wildfire” is apparently lost. There was a kind of broad, needy, whiny quality about those songs, and that Ick Factor seemed to exist in every country song I heard. “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain?” Seriously?!

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ImageThere were no more than 300 students in grades 1-12 at Baker Academy and I graduated with pretty much the same 17 people I started 1st grade with. Needless to say, I knew these people quite well and knew exactly what I wanted their mother's to make when I came to visit. Lisa's mother, Ms. Martha made an 'apricot nectar cake', Susan's mom "Ms. Betty" made a 'peach pie' and the list goes on. My mother has many of these recipes saved in a nice little recipe box after her Baker Academy cookbook was reduced to shreds.

The "Baker" cookbook was the first one I ever used. It's a compilation of the best recipes from all the families I grew up with. I wish we would have been more gentle with it as was typed on plane paper and bound with spiral plastic; no doubt a project a group of mother's took on, probably 'assembly-line' style in the school lunchroom. 

Several years ago, when my grandmother died, guess what we found? An old Baker Academy cookbook. The cover is missing but it's in pretty good shape. I'm thinking about making copies of it and giving them to all my friends, who ask me for the same recipes that I always ask my mom for that come from the Baker Academy cookbook.

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img 0404 01Lest you think we are all farm and no play around here…Yesterday we took advantage of a 24-hour visit from Libby and the most beautiful day we’ve seen in months and headed up to the clay cliffs at Gay Head for a spectacular beach walk.  My iPhone ran out of juice, so I didn’t get to document Libby covered in clay from head to toe. (We always forget to bring appropriate clean-up materials on this kind of walk.)

While Roy looked for arrowheads and Libby painted herself with warrior clay, I lay down in the warm sand with my face to the sun and almost fell asleep. In my head, Keith Urban’s song, These Are The Days, was playing. Partly because I was thinking, “These are the days we’ve been waiting for all through the cold mucky winter.” But also I was thinking how great it is to be present and to know that it absolutely does not get any better than it is right in that moment.

Maybe all that sunshine was going to my head—it is incredibly uplifting after all. And no doubt we are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, though we tend to forget it sometimes. But no matter where you are or what the weather is this weekend, I hope you find yourself walking into the light, enjoying moments with your family or friends, and remembering to take a mental snapshot of what you love most so you can conjure it up on a rainy day.

almondcake.jpgA few months ago I had an amazing dinner among friends at Vino's, a local family-run Italian restaurant in Fairfield, CT. We enjoyed all their best Italian dishes and their desserts accompanied by live music. One dessert stood out in particular, the almond cake. My friend demanded that I make one soon.

I took it upon myself to bake one that captured the best of an almond cake: a soft yet textural interior, buttery color, crisp exterior, and most importantly a noticeable fragrance and flavor of almonds. It turned out that baking the cake was far from the hardest part of this recipe. The biggest feat was finding almond paste in my area. I visited every grocery store and supermarket and could not find a can or tube of it. Luckily I was reminded of the Italian market. How could have I neglected to look there first?

Almond paste has a sort of grainy texture due to all the ground almonds. But to further play on that texture, this cake combines cornmeal with flour. The cornmeal lends a homey quality and along with the butter and egg yolks, a beautiful pale straw color.

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donnasummfeatDonna Summer emerged in 1975 and dance music has never been the same! Summer co-wrote and recorded a demo version of "Love to Love You Baby." Producers liked Summer's demo so much that they released an unprecedented 17 minute long version. The song featured Summer's tantalizingly soft vocals and sensual sound so suggestive that many radio stations initially refused to play the song. The path-breaking disco track became an overnight sensation, skyrocketing to No. 2 on the U.S. singles chart.  

I was shocked to hear May 17th that Donna Summer had passed away. Donna Summer was just 63 and still breaking records for her phenomenal singing as well as her art work. She blamed her lung cancer on the pollution in New York City following 9/11. Her music brought so much joy to me and others of my generation.

Like many great Black singers, Summer began singing in Church at the age of ten. To everyone's surprise, the voice that bellowed out of Donna's tiny body that Sunday morning was overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful.

In 1967, Summer auditioned for and was cast in a production of Hair scheduled to run in Munich. Summer learned to speak fluent German within a few months, and remained in Munich, marrying German singer Helmuth Sommer in 1974 and giving birth to the first of her three daughters.

"Love To Love You Baby" paved the way for such international hits as "MacArthur Park," "Bad Girls," "Hot Stuff," "Dim All The Lights," "On The Radio," and "Enough Is Enough," as well as the Grammy and Academy award winning theme song "Last Dance," from the film "Thank God It's Friday," which remains a milestone in Donna's career.

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