October: Looking back, looking ahead

We are exactly three weeks away from Thanksgiving, and this year, my plans look a little different than in Novembers past: on Thanksgiving morning, I will be lacing up my running shoes and joining my friend R. in Prospect Park for a 5-mile Turkey Trot.

In early October, I began using a running app that, despite its horrible name, has been a really effective tool for gradually building speed and endurance. As an added bonus, the app comes with DJ-curated running playlists, including a whole lot of 90s hip-hop, which means I may occasionally be spotted lip-syncing to FELLOW BROOKLYNITE Biggie Smalls as I jog through Brooklyn Bridge Park.

New shoes, autumn leaves...Turkey Trot T-minus 3 weeks & counting!

New shoes, autumn leaves…Turkey Trot T-minus 3 weeks & counting!

Last month, I also had the delight and honor of performing with the great saxophonist, Harry Allen, for two sold-out nights at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center).  Talk about a dream gig: singing to a packed house with a swinging, supportive band against the panoramic backdrop of Columbus Circle and Central Park. I’m grateful for every gig I have, but those evenings with Harry at Dizzy’s were truly special.

Singing and swinging with Harry Allen & friends. Photo by Ivana Falconi Allen.

Singing and swinging with Harry Allen & friends. Photo by Ivana Falconi Allen.

Looking ahead, the DUCHESS gals and I have a couple of really exciting shows on the horizon. We’ll be at the Jazz Standard here in NYC on 11/29 and 11/30, joined by special guests Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson. We’re reviving the “variety hour” concept, inspired by Rat Pack-era shows from years ago, and we cannot wait to sing, laugh, and make merry with our friends and fans.

Finally, Tuesday, November 8 is just a handful of days away. Come on, America. Let’s appeal to what Lincoln himself called the “better angels of our nature” and not elect a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, KKK-endorsed (!) narcissistic liar to the highest office in the land.

In October, I…
Blogged about: Traveling through Italy with my mom. Singer-friend Nicky Schrire. DUCHESS turning 3.

Read: Old journals. I’ve been doing a little excavating of my past for a writing project I’ve got in mind. Good heavens, if there is anything more humbling than reading one’s own terrible poetry, penned in one’s lovelorn early 20s, I don’t know what it is. Hilarious and mortifying.

Watched: The Search for General Tso. An informative, fun, and unexpectedly moving film about searching for the origins of a quintessential Chinese-American dish. Trumbo. Bryan Cranston is fantastic as blacklisted Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo, although I wish they’d given the always-excellent Diane Lane, who plays Trumbo’s wife, a little more to do. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Because it’s a Halloween classic (can you believe it’s 50 years old!?).

Listened to: The Land of Desire. This well-researched, conversational podcast exploring the history of France is fun and educational. Worth a listen.

#ImWithHer

Patriotic pumpkins, seen in Brooklyn Heights. Friends, please VOTE!!! #ImWithHer

September: Looking back, looking ahead

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La Serenissima…

We have veered so sharply into misty, cool autumn over the past couple of days, it scarcely seems possible that, a scant two weeks ago, I was picking sun-warmed tomatoes from Domenico’s garden for an al fresco lunch in Italy. And yet…

Last month, my mother and I spent over two weeks traveling in Italy. We began with six days in Venice, then spent a week in Tuscany (Lucca, followed by Siena), before heading back up north to Merate, where I spent my foreign exchange, to visit my host families and friends.

Since I was seventeen, my mother and I have lived thousands of miles apart, so we relished the chance to walk through Italian days together, enjoying unencumbered hours in the most beautiful of places. We ate gelato and pasta, laughed ourselves silly on multiple occasions, and were overwhelmed by the beauty of the piazze, churches, and people we encountered every day.

Italy is infinite and immediate. Sleek modernity exists casually, effortlessly, beside (and often, within) centuries-old art, architecture, and traditions. By the end of our stay, I was speaking and thinking and dreaming in Italian again. When it was time to bid Italy and my beloved host families farewell, I wept, as I always do.

One afternoon, in Venice’s sun-dappled Campo Santa Margherita, I sipped an Aperol spritz and wrote the following passage in my journal:

When one is partnered–and, perhaps, especially when one is happily so—traveling to a beloved, familiar (and yet mysterious) place is the closest we ever come to falling in love again. Heady infatuation, “getting-to-know-you” growing pains, the frustrations of familiarity and rediscovery of forgotten joys…travel is not only about one’s relationship to a place, it’s about one’s relationship to oneself.

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Piazza del Campo under moody Siena skies.

Looking ahead, I’m excited about several new projects: the new Duchess CD is slated for an early 2017 release, and a recording I made with drummer Charles Ruggiero is entering post-production in the coming weeks. My dear friend and musical partner Ehud Asherie and I are also making plans to head into the studio later this fall.

And, in the meantime, autumn in New York is here! Autumnal cooking, the donning of thick sweaters, and crisp October air all make me very happy.

In September, I…
Blogged about: July & August. Loving NYC. How We Spent Our Summer Vacation (DUCHESS blog).

Read: Fodor’s travel guides, mostly. And a lot of maps. And my 21-year-old Italian/English dictionary.

Watched: The first presidential debate. Listen, I know that Hillary Clinton may not be everyone’s ideal candidate (although I am, and have long been, a Hillary supporter). But if you watched that debate and were anything less than horrified by Trump’s staggering lack of knowledge and preparation (to say nothing of his visible contempt for Hillary Clinton, moderator Lester Holt, and the American public), I can only say this to you: Donald Trump is a racist, misogynist, and narcissist. He is wildly unfit for the presidency, and his value system runs counter to every principle upon which the United States of America were founded. You can support Hillary Clinton’s campaign HERE.

Listened to: The musical lilts and cadences of the Italian language. Even in my sleep, words and phrases I thought I’d forgotten filled my dreams and found their way into my speech the next day.

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Lucca’s medieval walls at sunset.

 

I still love New York

Sometimes it seems like New York City is on its way to becoming (or, depending on whom you ask, is already) a tiny island filled with nothing but banks and Duane Reade stores. A number of my friends have recently moved west, having decided that New York is “over,” and L.A. is now the place to be.

I get it. I know that living in New York City is not for everyone. But if a hipster is somebody who loves something before it’s cool enough to capture the fancy of the general public, I suppose I, then, am the opposite. I love New York City as much today as ever, even though lots of people seem to have decided it’s not cool anymore.

By the time this post is published, I’ll be in Tuscany, on a long-anticipated vacation with my mother. When it comes time to depart Italy, I know I’ll be terribly sad to leave la dolce vita, but there will be solace in knowing that autumn in New York awaits.

Brooklyn Bridge will be filled with tourists and locals, strolling in the still-warm September sun. The greatest musicians in the world will be performing at Mezzrow in Greenwich Village every night. The leaves will be starting to turn in Central Park. And, as I walk briskly through Manhattan’s “canyons of steel,” with every footfall, my heart will beat, “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home.” 

I love New York, today and every day.

Autumn: Looking back, looking ahead

The fact that I’m writing one recap for all three months of September, October, and November from a hotel room in Jerusalem while on tour with DUCHESS is probably sufficient information for you to gauge the overall level of busy-ness this fall.  I’ve been doing lots of traveling and lots of singing, which has made me happy, if a bit harried.

September’s highlight was the week DUCHESS spent on the west coast, bringing #girlongirlharmony to California.  We had an amazing time on tour, beginning in Los Angeles and culminating in our debut at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  After the tour ended, I hung out for an extra day to spend some time with my parents.  I’m including a couple of pictures here, but a more comprehensive rundown of our tour is here.

The L.A. leg of our CA trip began with a wild & crazy night at Rockwell, singing with Jeff Goldblum. Reggie Watts made the hang, too.

The L.A. leg of our CA trip began with a wild & crazy night at Rockwell, singing with Jeff Goldblum. Reggie Watts made the hang, too.

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DUCHESS at the Monterey Jazz Festival, onstage, at our CD signing, and with Jazz at Lincoln Center bari saxophonist Paul Nedzela.

October began with a fairytale trip to the south of France with my husband and in-laws.  Our “home base” was the tiny mountain village of La Garde-Freinet, home to a charming, twice-weekly outdoor market, mountain trails leading to sweeping vistas of the French countryside, and a sizable expatriate community, as well as natives Jean-Jacques the butcher, Hervé the wine purveyor, and Valerie, proprietress of La Freixenet bakery.

We took day trips to St. Paul-de-Vence, Cap d’Antibes, St. Remo (we hopped the border for an afternoon in Italy), Eze, St. Tropez, and Ramatuelle, taking in the breathtaking scenery and sweet villages.  And, oh, how we ate!  We greeted every morning with Valerie’s croissants (the Platonic ideal of pastry), and rosé accompanied every meal.

The charming Provencal village of La Garde-Freinet.

The charming Provencal village of La Garde-Freinet.

A gorgeous afternoon in Eze, with lunch at La Chèvre d'Or.

A gorgeous afternoon in Eze, with lunch at La Chèvre d’Or.

November was a whirlwind of more travel and great DUCHESS gigs, which you can read about on our blog. Another huge November highlight?  Oh, no biggie…I JUST GOT TO MEET NIGELLA LAWSON, THAT’S ALL!  She appeared at the 92nd Street Y in conversation with the wonderful chef/writer Gabrielle Hamilton, and afterward there was a book signing.  (For the record, Nigella was luminous and poised. I was supremely awkward and starstruck.)  Then came Thanksgiving, which was just as it should be: filled with family, friends, delicious food, and the acquisition of a Christmas tree.

NIGELLA!!!!

NIGELLA!!!!

I am very thankful for the extraordinary privilege of traveling freely and sharing the joy of music with others.  Looking ahead, as we enter the holiday season, I hope we can all extend one another peace and kindness, which are needed now more than ever.

This fall, I…
Blogged about: The 20-year anniversary of my year in Italy. rené marie. Dorothy Parker’s thoughts on New York City. Kendra Shank.

Read: Simply Nigella (OBVIOUSLY). Her sweet potato mac & cheese recipe was a hit at Thanksgiving. It’s what I do: a photographer’s life of love and war, by Lynsey Addario.  A riveting memoir by a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer.  The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel. Another haunting, lyrical novel by the author of Station ElevenThe Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, by Matthew Dicks. A fun and poignant novel about the ways our high school years can shape the rest of our lives. 

Watched: Bridge of Spies. Trainwreck. This incredible mash-up of old Hollywood musicals, set to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”

Listened to: Recreational Love, the new album from the bird and the bee. Rufus Wainwright. Roy Ayers.

Autumn in New York

LeavesAndPumpkinsCollageWe have careened headlong into fall.  Summer was a nonstop flurry of singing and travel, and the past three weeks or so have been such a blur of activity (my CD was officially released, my parents came to visit, DUCHESS took a trip to New Orleans) that the turning leaves and ever-cooler temperatures took me by surprise.  I savor this time of year, and it was a bit jarring to glance at the calendar and realize that we’re rapidly nearing the end of October.  With the exception of drinking a couple of pumpkin spice lattes recently (I know, I know) and the happy donning of my favorite scarves and sweaters, I’ve scarcely noticed that my favorite season is flying by; Thanksgiving will be here before we know it!

Yesterday, the lure of crisp air and clear skies proved to be irresistible and I took a couple of hours to meander through my Brooklyn neighborhood.  With no particular destination in mind, I was free to stop and smile at brightly decorated brownstone stoops, festooned with oddly-shaped gourds and pumpkins of all colors and sizes.  Upon returning home, I made a big pot of roasted butternut squash and apple soup.  It’s a start.

Brooklyn stoops, in full autumn regalia.

Brooklyn stoops, in full autumn regalia.

Still on my fall to-do list?  More only-in-autumn recipes, like this butternut squash strata from my culinary hero, Diana Henry.  A caramel apple from the farmers market, and some apple cider to heat on the stove with a stick of cinnamon, too.  Definitely a trip to Central Park for some quiet reading in the Conservatory Gardens (maybe I’ll pair this excursion with a visit to the MOMA to take in the Matisse exhibit).  A late-afternoon glass of red wine in a cozy bistro, catching up with an old friend.

I know I’m biased—my all-consuming love of New York City is well documented on this blog—but autumn in New York glows with a singular beauty, perhaps borne of the juxtaposition of nature’s splendor and the city’s hustle and bustle.  As the song goes, “it’s good to live it again.”

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The Great Pumpkin

When the sweltering, wilted summer gives way to turning leaves and a sharpness in the air, I always feel a quickening of sorts. My autumnal surge of energy may simply be a force of habit, a cellular tip of the hat to the “back-to-school” jitters that I felt every September as a kid. Or maybe the sense of urgency that suffuses every autumn has to do with something far more primal: provisions must be made in anticipation of winter’s chill.

Whatever the reason, I find myself pulled every autumn to all things pumpkin. The Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, clocking in at about a million calories, is a surefire harbinger of fall. And my boyfriend and I recently enjoyed a six-pack of pumpkin beer, which one of my Facebook friends described as “awesome…just like pumpkin pie, only beer!”

Recently, I made a couple of pumpkin dishes that are elegant, simple, and the essence of autumn. The first is a pumpkin and apple soup. The recipe, which I got from Italy Today-the Beautiful Cookbook, couldn’t be easier:

1 small pumpkin (2 lbs.)
1/4 C unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, sliced
6 C chicken stock
2 apples, peeled, cored & sliced
salt & pepper
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Pumpkin Soup

Crema di Zucca e Mele

Cut the pumpkin into small pieces; remove peel & seeds. Melt the butter over medium heat in a soup pot and add the onions. Cook onions until translucent (about 3 mins.). Add the stock, pumpkin, & apples and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low & cook, uncovered, until the pumpkin & apples are very soft (about 1 and 1/2 hours). Remove from heat, and puree soup in a blender or food processor. Return to pot and bring to boil. Season with salt & pepper, add nutmeg and serve.

**Occasionally, I’ll add a touch of cream when I puree the soup. You can serve it as I did, with some toasted pumpkin seeds, or with crumbled amaretti cookies, or simply with croutons and grated Parmesan.

The other night, I made a dish adapted from a recipe in Marlena De Blasi’s book, A Thousand Days in Venice. As soon as I read about “Whole Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Porcini and Truffles,” I was sold. De Blasi’s recipe calls for a pumpkin or Hubbard squash, but I used a Kabocha squash and it worked well. I think this is one of those dishes that’s pretty tough to screw up.

1 pumpkin or Hubbard squash, 2-3 lbs. (cut stalk end around to form a cap & remove seeds and strings from the cavity…keep stalk end for later!)
1 & 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled & minced
6 oz. fresh mushrooms (we used baby bellas)
1 & 1/2 oz. black truffle paste or 1 whole black diamond truffle (optional)
sea salt & white pepper
1 & 1/2 C mascarpone
6 oz. grated Emmenthaler cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 slices firm, day-old white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch squares

Melt the butter & saute the onion with the mushrooms until both soften. Add the thinly sliced truffle or truffle paste and combine well. Add salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine the mascarpone, Emmenthaler, Parmesan, eggs & nutmeg until well combined. Season with salt & pepper. Stir in the onions, mushrooms, & truffles.

Zucca al Forno Ripiena con Porcini e Tartufi

Melt butter in a saute pan and brown the bread until crisp. Place pumpkin on a baking sheet and spoon a third of the mushroom-cheese mixture into the pumpkin, add half the crisped bread, another third of the mushroom-cheese mixture, the remaining bread, then add the remaining mushroom-cheese mixture. Top with pumpkin cap and roast at 375 degrees for 1 & 1/2 hours or until pumpkin’s flesh is very soft. Serve with a dry white wine; we served a white Rhone and it was fabulous.

Happy eating, and Happy Autumn!