Concert Review: Inti Illimani

Inti Illimani at the Shalin Liu Peformance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts

Inti Illimani at the Shalin Liu Peformance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts

For a couple of years now we have wanted to go to a concert at Rockport’s beautiful new Shalin Liu Performance Center. Finally we made it earlier this month to see the famous Chilean music group Inti Illimani perform there on October 14.

My wife first saw Inti Illimani perform back in the 1970s in Italy, where the band spent much of their time while in  exile from Chile during the time Pinochet was in power, and she took me to see them back in the 1980s in Somerville, Massachusetts. I remember at the time that the music I listened to was absolutely captivating, so I was very much looking forward to seeing them in Rockport after so many years.

We met our son Matthew a couple of hours before the show and had a (very) early dinner at Roy Moore’s Lobster Shack. Great prices, very good food, attentive but unobtrusive wait staff, and just the perfect amount of tacky kitsch on the walls. My favorite was a sign that said “Warning, unattended children will be fed espresso and given a free kitten.” If only it were so. After the meal we strolled through the touristy shops that are a staple of almost any small seaside town anywhere in the world, and then we headed over to the venue to claim our tickets and go inside.

View From Reception Hall, Shalin Liu Peformance Center

View From Reception Hall, Shalin Liu Peformance Center

The concert hall is as beautiful as it appears in the photographs on their website. I think that the orchestra seating is a mere 15 rows or so, with seating along the side and also balcony seating on the second level, both along the sides and behind (and above) the main seating area. We took the elevator to the top floor where there is a reception area, and enjoyed the view of the Rockport Harbor.

Inti Illimani played two sets, about fifty minutes each, separated by an intermission. As expected, the music did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I do not speak Spanish and do not recognize most of the group’s repertoire when performed, but frankly, none of that mattered. The singing, often strong harmony vocals, and the amazing music these eight musicians create are awe-inspiring. Their website says that they play over 30 different instruments, and to that I would just add that one of the things that amazes me is that virtually everybody in the band plays stringed instruments, percussion, and a variety of wind instruments, and yet the quality of the playing is incredibly high. I believe that there were more orchestral (for want of a better term) instruments played than when I saw them twenty-five years ago. There was flute, bass flute, saxophone, perhaps a soprano saxophone, in addition to the variety of more indigenous wind instruments such as pan pipes and wooden flutes.

During the intermission I spoke briefly with the person who is in charge of sound at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, and he described to me the difficulties in bringing amplified music to a hall that was specifically designed for chamber music. The phenomenal sound system is built in and very unobtrusive despite being almost an afterthought during the design and construction process. Atypically for most groups who performed there, Inti Illimani had their own engineer with them to man the sound board, and he did a great job. For their encore they brought out one of their road crew to perform with them, and even he blew me away. What a wonderful evening!

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Boston Tall Ships Commemorate War of 1812 Bicentennial

The Lynx (USA); Privateer Replica, built 2001, Rockport, Maine

The Lynx (USA); Privateer Replica, built 2001, Rockport, Maine

The Tall Ships are in Boston celebrating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. My wife’s mother is visiting us from Italy, and as a belated Mother’s Day present, we took her to Boston on Saturday, June 30 and went on a harbor cruise to view the tall ships from the water. We took advantage of a trip that was organized by the Rindge Recreation Department that included transportation and the cruise for a very nominal fee.  We arrived at Faneuil Hall well before the scheduled cruise, and had time to walk around a bit and have a leisurely lunch and do some people watching at a restaurant with outdoor tables. The weather on Saturday was beautiful, although the temperature did climb into the 90s.

Once the cruise was underway and we were out on the water, the ocean breeze was a refreshing change from the more stifling heat in Boston itself. I’ve seen the tall ships when they’ve visited Boston before, but never from a tour boat. It was very pleasant to view them from the water. While there were not as many tall ships present this year as we have seen in the past, several countries were represented by the large, steel-hulled training vessels that are used both to train their Navy personnel and to act as good-will ambassadors as they tour the world for events like this one.

Additionally, there were also many modern naval vessels present from several countries, including Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and of course the United States. Sailors and Marines from many nations were scattered throughout Boston doing some sightseeing, and it was interesting to see the many different uniforms on display. But we went primarily to view the tall ships, and it was very pleasant to be able to see them from the deck of a sightseeing boat. The first ship we passed was the Lynx, a replica of a 19th century privateer. The modern Lynx was built in Rockport, Maine and launched in 2001.

After that, we passed the Dewaruci (Indonesia), the Gloria (Columbia), the Guayas (Ecuador), and the Cisne Branco (Brazil), which were all docked together at Fish Pier. All of these large ships are modern, steel-hulled vessels used primarily as training vessels.

 

From there we passed by several of the modern warships that were docked in the harbor, until we eventually arrived at the location where the Eagle (USA) was berthed. It was great to see all this ships in one place, and a wonderful way for Boston to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

The Dewaruci - 191-foot Barquentine from Indonesia

The Dewaruci – 191-foot Barquentine from Indonesia

 

Gloria - 249-foot Barque from Columbia

Gloria – 249-foot Barque from Columbia

 

Guayas - 257-foot Barque from Ecuador

Guayas – 257-foot Barque from Ecuador


 
Cisne Branco - 254-foot Full Rigged Ship from Brazil

Cisne Branco – 254-foot Full Rigged Ship from Brazil


 

 

Eagle - 295-foot Barque from USA

Eagle – 295-foot Barque from USA


 

 

 

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Fathers’ Day, Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Bistecca alla Fiorentina on the Wood Grill

Bistecca alla Fiorentina on the Wood Grill

I don’t have a formal bucket list, but if I did, at the top would be a visit to Panzano, so I could experience eating the beef of Dario Cecchini, arguably the world’s greatest butcher.

I first read about Dario in the Bill Buford book Heat, and later saw segments of a couple of different cooking shows (Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and David Rocco’s Dolce Vita) that featured his butcher shop and restaurant.

Traditionally, Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a thick, bone-in porterhouse made from an Italian cattle breed, the Chianina, which is the largest breed of cattle in the world. Due to a lack of supply of Chianina beef in Italy, Dario imports beef from a similarly large breed of cattle that is raised in Spain. His instructions for cooking Bistecca alla Fiorentina are simple: The cut of steak needs to be four fingers thick. On the hearth of a wood-fired oven, sear each side for five minutes, and then finish cooking the meat standing on end, on its bone, typically for another 15 minutes.

I don’t have access to Chianina beef, but I do have a wood-fired Grill (thanks, Elisa!). Our butcher at the local Market Basket was more than happy to slice us off a ‘four-finger’ thick Porterhouse, so on father’s day, we gave Bistecca alla Fiorentina a shot. Matt, my older son, arrived at the house a bit before 2:00 pm, and we fired up the grill. My method is to use a charcoal chimney starter to quickly get 8-10 pounds of charcoal going well, and then dump it onto the charcoal grate of my grill. I then cover the charcoal with four or five small pieces of oak (16 inches long and 2-3 inches thick).

Sliced and Ready to Serve

Once the oak has burned down to the point where the flames are no longer reaching up through the grill, I cook the porterhouse per Dario’s instructions, although I find that the meat needs to spend longer than 15 minutes cooking on its bone in order to get the internal temperature up to about 120 degrees fahrenheit (the medium-rare that I prefer).

Once it has been removed from the grill, let it rest for at least 20 minutes and then slice it for serving … to multiple peope … do not eat this four-pounder alone. Trust me, it’s not a good idea.

All that’s left is sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and we also use an emulsion made with a crushed clove of garlic, some rosemary, some fruttato olive oil and a splash of lemon juice. The lemon juice isn’t traditional, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Our side dishes were roasted potatoes and a Caesar salad. All that was left for us was to work our way through the meal and retire to the couch in a beef-induced stupor.

Another successful fathers’ day! Grazie mille a tutti!

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Rendering Leaf Lard or Beef Suet

Antique Leaf Lard Tin

Antique Leaf Lard Tin

I’ve been using processed lard in my Vodka Pie Crust Recipe for several years because I get a more flaky crust than I do when using butter or shortening. But store bought lard is partially hydrogenated to extend its shelf life. Using commercially available lard simply is not as good as using lard that you render yourself. And when we’re talking lard, we’re talking about leaf lard, which comes from the fat that surrounds the kidneys of the pig. Kettle-rendered Leaf lard, sold in metal buckets, was a kitchen staple in the first half of the 20th century, and was most likely your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) fat of choice when making pie crust, unless her preference happened to be beef suet.

I have recently moved from buying partially hydrogenated store bought lard to buying leaf lard from a farmer and bringing it home and rendering it. Using rendered leaf lard in my pie crust has definitely made a difference and I’ve been extremely pleased with the results. For this Thanksgiving, I’ll be switching things up a bit and using beef suet instead of leaf lard, because some of our Thanksgiving guests do not eat pork. But as far as the rendering process goes, it is the same for either lard or suet.

Rendering Leaf Lard

Rendering Leaf Lard

The first step is to dice up your leaf lard. I try for a 1/4-inch dice, because the smaller the dice, the more rendered lard we’ll have at the end of the process.  And here’s a tip: cold lard dices much easier than lard at room temperature.

Once it’s diced, you need to decide where you want to cook it. Rendering lard produces some rather unpleasant odors. Even with beef suet, which doesn’t smell nearly as bad, you may want to move your rendering activities outdoors if possible.

Now it’s time to put it in a kettle on low heat–we need to avoid browning the fat. You will want to leave your kettle uncovered.

At this point, the process does not need constant attention, but you should check in on it every few minutes, to make sure it’s not too hot. As long as the bits are not browning, everything is good. Gradually the diced lard will render liquid, although the bits of solid lard (cracklings) will remain. It should take about two hours to fully render the lard.

Leaf Lard, Separated From Cracklings

Leaf Lard, Separated From Cracklings

The Final Product

The Final Product

When the lard is fully rendered, you’ll want to slowly (and carefully) pour the contents of the kettle through a strainer and into a container (I use a glass food container), in order to separate the rendered lard from the cracklings. Let the rendered lard cool at room temperature until in solidifies.

Once that happens, your rendered leaf lard will be a very nice shade of white. It’s time to cover it and put it in the refrigerator until pie baking day arrives.

Lard lasts for up to two months in your refrigerator, and over a year should you choose to freeze it.

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Apple Picking in Northern New England

It’s the time of the year when New England apple orchards put out their ‘pick your own’ signs and New Englanders pack up their families on the weekend and go in search of the ultimate apple picking experience. Here’s an admittedly arbitrary sampling of orchards to visit in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts.

New Hampshire

Alyson's Apple Orchard, Walpole, NH

Alyson's Apple Orchard, Walpole, NH

Alyson’s Apple Orchard (Walpole, NH) is a can’t miss picking destination in New Hampshire’s Connecticut River Valley. Their pick-your-own orchards are open until Halloween and they also have a very nice farm stand.

During the fall they have several events, including a Chili Contest, Pumpkin Carving Demonstrations, an Heirloom Apple Tasting, and a Halloween Costume Contest. Their website, among other things, lists which varieties of apples are being picked on a particular weekend.

Alyson’s offers lodging for people who wish to explore the area in greater detail, and they also hosts weddings, special events, and corporate retreats.

 

DeMeritt Hill Farm, Lee, NH

DeMeritt Hill Farm, Lee, NH

DeMeritt Hill Farm (Lee, NH). This place is a favorite of my son Matt and his wife Rebekah. If you’re anywhere near the seacoast region of New Hampshire, a visit to Lee is worth the effort. DeMerritt Hill Farm is particularly kid friendly; goats, chickens, horses, pigs, and more.

They offer hayrides, and host birthday parties and school tours. There are pony rides as well, and the fall season is full of events, including something they call their “Haunted Overload.”

There are more than twenty varieties of apples at the farm, and they also have an excellent farm store with many treats available from their own Bakery. For more information, visit my earlier post, Apple Picking at DeMeritt Hill Farm.

Vermont

Zeke Goodband, Orchardist at Scott Farm

Zeke Goodband, Orchardist at Scott Farm

Scott Farm (Dummerston, VT). Scott Farm is my personal favorite among the orchards I have visited in New England. The number of heirloom varieties at Scott Farm is staggering, but the Columbus Day weekend Apple Tasting is, in my opinion, the event of the season.

Zeke Goodband, the orchardist, possesses an incredible wealth of knowledge when it comes to heirloom apples, and ultimately, any apple tasting you might go to fits in one of two categories. Either Zeke ran it, or he did not. That’s why we make a point of going to the Scott Farm Apple tasting as often as our schedule permits.

In 2009 my wife and I went on our annual foliage drive and kicked it off with the early Scott Farm apple tasting, see this post for additional details.

Approaching Scott Farm, you’ll drive by Naulakha, the Vermont home designed by Rudyard Kipling, where he wrote the Jungle Books and Captains Courageous and began Kim and the Just So Stories. Both Naulakha and Scott Farm are owned and managed by Landmark Trust USA, a nonprofit that rescues and restores threatened historic properties.Scott Farm was also one of the filming locations for the movie  Cider House Rules, where all the apple orchard scenes were filmed.

Maine

Apple Acres Farm

Apple Acres Farm

Apple Acres Farm (South Hiram, ME). Northwest of Portland and tucked away between Sebago Lake and Jackson, New Hampshire, Apple Acres Farm is a great place to visit when you’re in the area.

Their website has a lot of great information and the combination of vintage and modern photographs are enchanting.

At Apple Acres Farm you can also sample homemade apple pie, try some of their fresh cider, picnic at one of the many picnic tables scattered through the orchard, and even do a bit of birdwatching. The orchard began its life in 1949, and it’s tucked well away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Massachusetts

Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, MA

Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, MA

Red Apple Farm (Phillipston, MA). In Massachusetts, many of the best foliage drives spend all or some of their time on the Mohawk Trail, which consists of the western portion of Route 2, an east-west highway that runs from Boston to Williamstown. Red Apple Farm is conveniently located in Phillipston, close to the official start of the Mohawk trail, which is in nearby Orange. So it’s a great choice for picking apples during a fall foliage drive.

Red Apple Farm has been owned and operated by the Rose family for four generations, and is a green farm–it is 100% powered by solar and wind energy. There is a farm stand and activities include hay rides, weekend barbeque events, farm animals and walking trails–and of course, PYO (pick your own) apples. You can choose from several different varieties, with additional ones available in the farm stand. Red Apple Farm also has pick your own pumpkins.

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Summer Folk Music Festivals in New England for 2011

New England has a generous number of music festivals that take place throughout the summer months each year. Regardless of the musical genre you are seeking, chances are that there’s a festival out there that’s just right for you. My own musical tastes lean towards American roots music (folk, bluegrass, old-timey, zydeco, blues, etc.). Here are just a few of New England’s music festivals that I find particularly appealing.

Basin Bluegrass Festival (July 7-10, Brandon, Vermont). If it’s bluegrass you’re looking for, this is a great place to watch, listen, and pick a few, if you’re so inclined.

Green River Music Festival (July 16-17, Greenfield, Massachusetts). Originally a Hot Air Balloon Festival, the balloons are still there, and the music is a great addition. Emmylou Harris, Toots and the Maytals, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Terry Adams and the New NRBQ (and many, many more) will be playing this year!

Lowell Folk Festival (July 29-31, Lowell, Massachusetts). The largest free folk festival in America, the Lowell Folk Festival does an excellent job of presenting a wide variety of folk music and dance from around the world. The music, combined with the wonderful ethnic food sold at the festival, makes this an event not to be missed. This year’s festival performers range from The Angkor Dance Troup (Cambodian Dance) to Ledward Kaapana (Hawaiian slack-key guitar); from polka (Stanky and the Coal Miners) to Zydeco (Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas).

Prescott Park Folk Festival (July 30,  Prescott Park, Portsmouth, New Hampshire). This one-day festival sits in an absolutely beautiful location overlooking the water. Natalie MacMaster, Eilen Jewell, Christine Lavin, and C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band are among this year’s headliners.

Newport Folk Festival (July 30-31, Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island). Beginning in 1959, the Newport Folk Festival is the granddaddy of folk festivals in America. Joan Baez (in 1959) and Bob Dylan (in 1963) were both introduced to a national audience at the Newport Folk Festival, and the list of performers who have been featured there reads like a who’s who of American roots musicians. This year some of the more notable musicians appearing at the festival include The Civil Wars, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Earl Scruggs, Mavis Staples, The Wailin’ Jennys, and Gillian Welch.

Bennington Irish Music Festival (August 20-21, Colgate Park, Bennington, Vermont). If you’re enamored of all things Gaelic, visit lovely southern Vermont and enjoy the Bennington Irish Music Festival. The Makem and Spain Brothers, The Gibson Brothers, and Donnybrook Fair are among the talented musicians that will be providing the music. Irish crafts, jewelry, and art are also part of the goings-on.

Connecticut Folk Festival (September 9-11, Edgerton Park, New Haven, Connecticut). With Boston favorite Vance Gilbert as the emcee, and appearances by The Nields and Leo Kottke (not to mention the Green Expo that takes place at this event), this is one not to be missed!

Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival (September 24-25, Portsmouth, New Hampshire). In its 28th year, this year the festival features such artists as Gordon Bok, Mudhook, and John Roberts (among others).

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Dave’s Chili Con Carne

Chili, for most Americans, contains beans. This is a little odd, because as anyone who has been to a Chili competition can tell you, fillers such as beans, pasta, or rice are simply not allowed. This is pretty much consistent no matter what organization is running the competition.

My recipe adheres to the rules; not a bean nor a scrap of pasta to be found. If you haven’t tried making a traditional homemade Chili, this recipe is a great place to start. As written, it has just enough heat for you to notice, but not enough to make you suffer any life-threatening physical maladies. Let me know what you think!

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Ingredients

  • 14 ounces of Crushed Tomatoes (preferably Pastene if you can get it)
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped fine
  • 4-5 pounds of boneless Chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces.
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 Jalapeño chili, seeded and chopped fine.
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pimentón
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons masa harina

Instructions

  1. Cut the chuck roast into 3/4 inch pieces, trimming away any excess fat, and reserving the larger pieces of fat for use in the next step. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Dice up the beef fat (suet) into 1/4 inch pieces, and cook over low heat in a large dutch oven, until the fat is rendered. Remove the solid pieces of fat and discard, keeping the liquid in the pot.
  3. Add the diced bacon and cook until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside.
  4. Remove all of the fat from the dutch oven and set aside, then pour 1 tablespoon of the fat back into the dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat until the fat is almost smoking.
  5. Brown half of the beef cubes, turning occasionally. This should take about eight minutes. Set the browned beef cubes aside in a bowl, add another tablespoon of the fat to the dutch oven, and brown the other half of the beef cubes as before. Add the second batch of browned beef cubes to the bowl with the first batch.
  6. Add the remaining fat to the dutch oven along with the onions and jalapeño peppers and saute until softened, about 4 minutes.
  7. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  8. Add the browned beef, the bacon, the pimentón, the water, and the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for one hour.
  9. Remove the cover and continue to simmer for another 45 minutes.
  10. Remove about a cup of the chili liquid and put in a microwave-proof bowl. Stir in the masa harina and microwave for one minute, until thickened. Slowly add the mixture to the chili and whisk until thickened, about five minutes.
  11. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.




 

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Maple Syrup Season in New Hampshire

Fieldstone Farm, East Rindge

It’s maple syrup season here in New England, and for the past few weeks, sugarhouses have been busy, boiling down maple sap to create maple syrup. You really don’t see sap buckets on the trees like the ones shown in the photograph on the left anymore. About the only place you can find those are in antique shops. That’s because the process of collecting sap has been streamlined over the years.

Look carefully into the woods and the evidence is unmistakable: plastic tubing snaking from tree to tree, terminating in large, sealed plastic containers that can hold many gallons of sap. It takes about forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and streamlining the collection process allows farmers to tap a larger number of trees.

I really love maple syrup, probably because I grew up in a house where pancakes and waffles were served with margarine and fake, maple “flavored” syrup. Until I moved to New England, I truly don’t think I knew what I was missing. For me, no matter how good a pancake is, without real butter and authentic maple syrup it’s just not worth the effort.

Elisa and I are lucky enough to live within a mile of Fieldstone Farm, a small, family owned and operated farm in East Rindge, New Hampshire. Every year in the spring we head down the road to buy our maple syrup there. We usually wait until later in the season so we can buy Grade B maple syrup, which is darker and has a stronger maple flavor than what is usually found at the supermarket. Basically, there are four grades of syrup here, Grade A Light Amber; Grade A Medium Amber; Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. The grading is based entirely on the opacity of the syrup, and the same grade of syrup purchased from two different producers can and will have subtle differences in flavor. The lighter syrups are produced at the beginning of the season and the darker grades arrive later.

Fieldstone Farm's Sugarhouse

Visiting Fieldstone Farm during their open house weekend in March is great! They raise cattle and sell their own beef, and they also have a Buffalo wandering around, which is a somewhat uncommon sight in New Hampshire. They provide hot dogs and juice, and it’s quite nice to squeeze into their sugarhouse and sample their  syrup while they boil down the maple sap for the next batch.

When we’ve purchased our maple syrup and gotten back to the house, we make up a batch of fresh pancakes right away. It’s a distinct pleasure to have homemade pancakes with maple syrup when the syrup was bottled the same day, less than a mile down the road.

I’ve posted my pancake recipe previously, which I like for two reasons. First, you can make a mix of the dry ingredients and keep it in your cupboard, which gives you the convenience of using a store-bought mix, with the wholesome ingredients of home made. The second reason is because it’s really, really good. Give it a try!

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