Thursday, August 22, 2013


The first fruit this season from my Pluot tree

My pluot tree is now in its fourth season and is just now producing fruit. About thirty this year. A cross between a plum and an apricot, this pluot boasts a beautiful purple mottled skin, and is very sweet, the apricot softening the sour/sharp edges of the plum. After all the fruit has ripened, I'll trim the tree for the first time. It sits next to a pear tree and I will do the same to the pear after the fruit is gone. Hopefully next year, I'll have an even bigger harvest. 

Cherry and grape tomatoes from my garden

Then there are the cherry and grape tomatoes that are now ripening in profusion, producing about a pound a day.  Last night I made a roasted tomato salsa which was enriched with roasted jalapeno peppers pounded in a mortar with salt and garlic. This was mixed with the roasted tomatoes which I separated from their skins. A big handful chopped cilantro and a glug of extra virgin olive oil and more pepper made this a great appetizer with rose and corn chips. Last year I made tomato chutney, but this year, I think I'll make a batch of tomato jam. I've got freezer sauce for pasta this winter. 

A tired old magazine rack gets a nice face-lift

I bought this old magazine rack at a garage sale for $10 about three years ago. It went into the garage, along with a plan to paint it. Three years later, I finally dragged it out and cleaned it thoroughly. I sanded the shelves and sides, and painted it this with this latex copper paint. It looks great in the guest bathroom. 

Dame Janet Baker, on the occasion of her 80th birthday

I don't write too much about my passion for classical singers, but Dame Janet Baker, one of my very favorite singers, is celebrating her 80th birthday right now, and I recently saw her interviewed. She is considered the finest classical singer from England in the last half of the 20th century. A mezzo-soprano, Dame Janet specialized in lieder concerts and I had the pleasure of attending her annual Carnegie Hall vocal recitals for fifteen consecutive years in New York. These concerts provided with me two opinions about her. Her unique voice with it's special sound coupled with her great artistry moved me very much. She was a versatile singer, who was a master of various styles. Her English songs came straight from the heart. Her French chansons were elegantly phrased with that distinctive Baker French accent that wasn't quite French, but was, nevertheless, very stylishly French. She sang Handel and Mozart with charm and virtuosity. Schubert and Mahler were unique creations which she delivered to her audiences in definitively. The voice was of good size--not a dramatic mezzo, but certainly not a lyric either. She could file her voice down to a whisper and open it opulently filling the hall either way. Her way with the texts of her songs was absolutely riveting. Whether molding the intense classical line of Beethoven's "Ah, perfido!" or lofting a long spun pianissimo in Berlioz's languorous "Les Nuits d'Ete," Dame Janet communicated without ever getting in the way of the music. She kept it all very simple and very direct. 

The other opinion, is that Dame Janet often arrived on stage at Carnegie Hall in concert gowns that might be worn by Elizabeth II. They could be an orange or a chartreuse that was blinding. We often took bets on what color she might select for her concert that season. They were invariably dowdy, unsophisticated and utilitarian. Somehow they never interfered with her unique delivery in performance.  

Dame Janet didn't sing opera in America, other than in concerts, though she was much in demand at the various British opera companies. She came to the U.S. every year from 1966 until the middle '80s to sing with orchestras and to give lieder recitals.  Very few classical singers have made successful careers off the opera stage, but in the U.S. Dame Janet has no peers and her recitals were always packed with her admirers. The music critics adored her as much as her many fans. 

I have often had crushes on great singers, whose great artistry sent me scrambling to acquire their latest recordings, but Dame Janet remains the singer I admire most. She also the very greatest singer I ever heard live and I'm grateful she was performing during her peak years when I lived in New York. Happy Birthday, Dame Janet. 

Dame Janet Baker, circa the 1960s

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