Picture this: a clarion afternoon where the sun glimmers through the leaves of green, summer trees and a warm breeze whispers through the grass like a secret. There’s hardly a care and friends are supping during a picnic lunch, which wanes to a sleepy lull of harmless gossip.
Although this description may be too idealistic for a humdrum summer day, I feel it fitting for a dish such as Ina Garten’s idyllic Guacamole Salad. Below is the recipe…
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and ½ inch diced 1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained ½ cup small-diced red onion 2 Tbs. minced jalapeño peppers, seeded (2 peppers)* ½ tsp. lime zest ¼ cup lime juice ¼ cup good olive oil 1 tsp. salt ½ tsp. pepper ½ tsp. minced garlic ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper* 2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and ½ inch diced* 1-2 cups fresh or frozen corn (optional)
*This recipe can easily be altered to your individual tastes and preferences. When I made this salad for the Lise Davidsen/Jonas Kaufmann Walküre concert, it was to be served to ladies of elegant deportment, and so, I significantly cut down on the spicy ingredients. Depending on availability, substitutions can be made with the bell peppers (any color will do) as well as the avocados. Ina Garten is an advocate for Hass avocados, but the large, green Florida ones work just as well in this recipe. I also like to add corn kernels to this salad for yet another dimension in texture, color, and flavor. Use what you like and can readily find in your area.
Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeño peppers, (corn, if you are using), and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables and beans. Toss well.
Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.
Whether for a quiet lunch or a fiery fiesta, this salad is a hit ! It can be doubled and served to a crowd (the original recipe indicates that it serves 6) and can also be made ahead of time.
The singers, who were at the top of their game, gave a performance that was as riveting as it was raw. Never once did I espy a break from character and the visual display of the revved up orchestra was a treat on its own. While each participant was exceptional, the real sparkler was Lise Davidsen. By the end of the final duet, my friends and I erupted into living room applause with an uncontrollable flood of “Brava !” And who said opera was boring ?
A summer concert called for summer fare and I knew of the perfect dish: Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad ! Years ago, my mother would make this recipe and add corn kernels to increase the color, texture, and flavor. The salad’s fresh ingredients are the key: avocadoes, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onion, and black beans all tossed in a zingy lime marinade. “How bad can that be ?“
Chris added to the table a plate of select cheeses and fruit and we all dove in with chips and crackers to our summer repast.
Of course, we couldn’t do without our sip of champagne…
Thinking of a classical music concert brought to mind the solid black attire worn by the orchestra. It’s traditional and very sophisticated. As it so happened, I knew just what I would wear and didn’t have to go any farther than my mother’s closet.
While the dress is beautiful and classy on its own, there’s a greater story behind its black crepe and cutout detail. In 1986, my mother wore this same dress to a Christmas party at a Country Club and for as long as I can remember the photo from the occasion has graced our walls.
It’s clear that my mother’s Christmas dress from the 80’s has stood the test of time. So has Wagnerian opera… and Jonas Kaufmann ! And if the performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper was any indication of future success, Lise Davidsen should be joining the ranks, after a storied career, as one of the great Wagnerians in history.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Die Walküre (Act I) concert production Richard Wagner Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Germany Live broadcast date: May 13, 2021 (Date seen: June 14, 2021)
Asher Fisch ─ Conductor
Lise Davidsen ─ Sieglinde Jonas Kaufmann ─ Siegmund Georg Zeppenfeld ─ Hunding
I haven’t consumed white flour or white sugar since 2009 when a medical condition forced me to change my lifestyle. And while there have been moments of deprivation and longing for conventional flour and sugar-laden treats, my sweet tooth has been mostly satiated since my refined baked goods breakup. Over the years, I have fiddled with adapting regular recipes of breads and sweets with questionable results. However, this cookie was a winner !
9 Tbsp. cream ½ cup + 2½ Tbsp. maple syrup ½ cup + 2½ Tbsp. coconut sugar 7 Tbsp. butter 3¾ cups rye flour 1½ tsp. pepper* 1½ tsp. ginger* ½ tsp. anise* 1½ tsp. cinnamon* ¼ tsp. salt ¾ tsp. baking powder ¾ tsp. baking soda blanched almonds for decorating
*Note: I came to these measurements based on trial and taste. They are on the spicy side this way, but the spices can certainly be adjusted down if they are too “hot” for the palate. Also, I ground half of a pod of star anise instead of using jarred spice. The freshly ground half pod came to a scant ½ tsp.
1. Boil cream, maple syrup, and coconut sugar together. Stir in butter and let mixture cool until lukewarm.
2. Combine flour and dry ingredients and whisk together.
3. Sift in dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill overnight.
4. Roll dough out as thin as possible and cut diagonal lines to make diamond shapes (or use cookie cutters in various shapes).
5. Place cookies on greased baking sheet or parchment paper covered baking sheet. These cookies barely spread so you’re safe to crowd them rather tightly on the pan.
6. Place a blanched almond in the middle of each cookie. 7. Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes (or until crispy).
*An optional egg wash may be used if you desire a shiny appearance. This, I omitted.
These Christmas cookies were a delicious treat for our Norwegian food spread fêting Lise Davidsen’s Met concert from Oscarshall Palace in Norway. Isn’t the forest of trees a lovely sight next to spiky coconut macaroons ?
Because of the exceptional outcome of this recipe adaptation, I plan to bake these for years to come. File this one under ‘Success’ in the No White Flour/No White Sugar recipe box !
Similar in shape and style, the German dirndl and the Norwegian bunad could be long lost cousins ! Vests with front closures, long skirts with embellishments and embroidery, and bright national colors teem with patriotic esprit de corps. With a new, modern production of Wagner’s Die Fliegende Holländer scheduled for the 2019-2020 Live in HD season, I cast off the thought of trying to guess the heretofore unseen (and most likely abstruse) costumes for François Girard’s reimagining and veered toward the more traditional: a Norwegian bunad for the opera’s Scandinavian setting.
I started by using a German dirndl pattern, which was given to me by a friend several months prior. When Gisele offered me any of the patterns in her garage sale stash, I looked over the Burda pattern thinking it was fashionable, but not something I could use for the foreseeable future. How clueless I was…
Noticing how similar the bunad and dirndl were, I began plotting how I was going to alter the original pattern; namely, removing the front zipper and transforming the front into a corset of sorts. A mock-up was made.
After determining the new design of the front, the muslin markings were transferred onto the tissue paper pattern piece.
According to the mock-up, the rest of the pattern appeared to be in good shape and now it was time to cut the real fabric.
I knew I wanted a bright red vest with a deep blue skirt and white blouse like many of the photos I found online…
Finding the perfect fabric was simple: a sample ordered online proved to be a brilliant scarlet with a subtle tonal floral pattern. Even better, the cotton fabric was Scandinavian in its origin. I do love to match my materials with their geographical creative counterparts !
The pieces were pinned onto the twice folded fabric (for the face AND lining) and cut out.
Because adding decoration and details were important, I decided to pipe the seams of the bodice to set off the shaping of the vest. A regular zipper foot works just as well as any fancy piping foot…
Two rows of Rigilene boning were sewn onto the front vertical edges of the lining to support the lacing area. On the face side, the seams and piping allowances were pressed opened. All the corners were snipped to prevent bulk.
Now that both the face and the lining were complete, it was time to sew them together along the neckline edge. Bias binding was used to finish the armholes and the bottom of the vest.
Voilà ! The vest was almost finished. Holes were punched, grommets were installed, and then the garment was set aside.
The master Burda pattern came with a skirt design, but this, too, had to be adapted. There was a front zipper to be joined in connection with the bodice and this I removed by placing the pattern on the fold of the fabric. Speaking of, I bought the skirt fabric, a navy canvas-type material, from Walmart ! The pattern was laid out on the canvas…
…and a waistband was cut.
I sewed the skirt based on the instructions, which included front pleats and a gathered back. The single side pocket (why only one ?) was omitted. A regular zipper was installed. Folding the waistband in half, it was attached to the top edge of the skirt over the pleats and gathers. A buttonhole was made at the back and a bright blue button was sewn onto the other side of the back band.
Something that I found skewed about the pattern was the overall hem length. It was looooooooong ! Too long. Fortunately, the folded hem provided an excellent starting place for the decorative stitching I wanted to implement along the bottom edge. Did I ever think I was going to use more than 3 of the 100 stitches on my BabyLock sewing machine ? Heavens, no ! But I have ─ look how pretty the motifs look when sewn in bright scarlet !
That’s it ! The vest and skirt were finished and now it was time to put it all together. There was one thing missing and that was the classic white blouse that is worn beneath the vest.
Searching through my mother’s closet, I found a suitable blouse in sleeve length… but it had an expansive scalloped collar satin stitched in crimson. No need to worry─ I just turned the collar right side in and the blouse was just perfect !
Together with a gold brooch and lapis jewelry, the outfit was a close resemblance to the traditional Norwegian bunad.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
To read about my virtual escape to Norway wearing my bunad, check out my post on the concert for Lise Davidsen !
Relatively unknown to the world, dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen has been forging a meteoric rise to stardom with her powerful voice that has some critics calling her “the great Wagnerian promise of her generation.” With as much hype (and height ─ Lise is nearly 6’2″ !) surrounding the shy, Norwegian native, my interest in seeing this uncut gem perform was keener than usual.
Although lacking the total confidence that accompanies decades of professional stage experience, Lise’s humble, offhanded spirit brought a refreshing genuineness to her performance, which included a weighted set list of Wagnerian arias, Grieg, Verdi, and Strauss. There was a little bit of everything, so much so that the program felt like a potluck dinner party. Britten’s “Johnny” was playful with sultry low notes, Strauss’s Op. 27 was sublime, and “I Could Have Danced All Night” was a sugary charmer with James Baillieu’s scrumptious piano tip-tapping away. Adding to the ambiance was the stately Oscarshall Palace dining room, which easily recalled images of “Beauty and the Beast” to my fairy tale mind.
Known for its simplicity and seafood, catering our escape to Norway brought out new ideas and enticing recipes to attempt. Chris couldn’t resist trying her hand at gravlax and it was a smashing success ! Cured with salt, sugar, peppercorns, and dill, the sliced salmon was flavorful yet subtle.
Pairing marvelously with traditional mustard dill sauce, minced red onion, and a dribbling of capers, the feast was in running order. Please examine the filigreed handle on the spoon: coincidentally, it says ‘Oslo’ ─ how fitting !
Caraway crackers and rye bread were used as the foundation for the salmon and just look at how gorgeous Anne’s cheese tray was next to my platter of homemade cookies !
We do eat well at our little opera watch parties, that’s for certain ! The table was spread with delicacies from “The Land of the Midnight Sun” with a fanfare of ligonberry napkins serving as a makeshift flower arrangement.
Originally planning to bring a rye flour cardamon yeast bread with raisins, I scrapped that endeavour after the initial test run was a complete flop. I then switched my focus to traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies, like sirupsnippers and coconut macaroons…
Because of my dietary restrictions, I made the cookies with rye flour, coconut sugar, and maple syrup ─ no white flour, no white sugar ! The macaroons were especially artistic with their torched tips of flaked coconut.
When the concert location was announced, there was no hesitation as to what I would wear. Earlier in the year, I had sewn a Norwegian bunad costume for The Flying Dutchman that never was and so I’ve had a skirt and vest laying around the nether regions of my bedroom for months. Now with the perfect opportunity, I wore one of my mother’s blouses (swooping collar turned right side in for greater authenticity) under my sewn additions, which were based off a German dirndl pattern.
The palm trees in the background certainly don’t match the sub-arctic Norwegian landscape, but at least my outfit resembled the North Country. Mission accomplished !
Told by the cut caricatures of the sirupsnipper cookies, the fourth Met Stars Live In Concert event could be summed up as such:
“From the forests of Norway…
…rising star Lise Davidsen brought her talents to a concert…
…broadcast around the world…
…where she won our hearts !“
Hopefully, Lise Davidsen’s return to the Met will be soon; her voice (in addition to her country’s culinary specialties) were delectable !
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits
Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen Oscarshall Palace Oslo, Norway Live broadcast date: August 29, 2020 (Date seen: September 2, 2020)