National Music Festival in Chestertown, MD

The National Music Festival at Washington College at Chestertown, MD is clearly one of the best kept secrets on the eastern coast. Thanks to a gracious invitation from our friends, the Reynolds of Maiden Lot Farm, Sheila and I were able to attend this delightful cultural adventure and rub elbows with people who make melodious sounds.

Talented musicians from around the world gather in this bucolic setting for two weeks to train and THEN entertain an appreciate audience with music that ranges from small duets playing music from 18th century composers to Japanese folk songs “reinterpreted” by a classical guitarist to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with 3 choral groups.

Some 120 young classically trained artists are competitively selected to attend a two-week bootcamp with roughly 70 hand-picked mentors and then pushed hard to perform in a series of public small ensembles and a full orchestra. Learning Beethoven’s 9th in a week is no easy feat, but we were treated to a nearly perfect and riveting performance. The musicians looked exhausted, but enthusiastically embraced the challenge.

Kurt Weill

While nearly everything comes off without a hitch, I was drafted into the orchestra at the last moment (see image above) to replace a sick guitarist in Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  Fortunately, it was a small part, but I had an opportunity after the performance to “jam” with my new found banjo buddy Don Vappie, who was playing beside me.

I was a little rusty on the guitar, but after a few drinks I was able to keep up with Don and the rest of his Creole crew.

Actually, it was the talented Brazilian guitarist Camilo Carrara who performed in Kurt Weill’s symphony – NOT ME!

As far as “jamming” with Don Vappie is concerned, Sheila and I attended a lovely evening of music which featured a selection of Creole jazz with several young musicians who have never played this genre of music before. Nevertheless, they seemed to grow in confidence during the performance. I was particularly impressed by a shy clarinet player.

Mr. Vappie is a charming and helpful mentor to these young artists and kindly talked the audience through the history of Creole music and its influence on Jazz and improvisation. It was an evening that I will not soon forget.

While every performance has its own special elements, my favorite was a concert performed at the Mainstay in Rock Hall by Camilo Carrara and Friends. For those unfamiliar with the Mainstay, it was a favorite venue of acclaimed jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd who first introduced Bossa Nova into the U.S. in the 1950s.

Camilo, seen in the video above, kicked off an eclectic mix of music that ranged from Japanese lullabies adapted for the guitar, to a quintet playing Boccherini and even Bluegrass music where Camilo starred with the Lions of Bluegrass.

My favorite piece was a lovely duet with talented flutist, Jennifer Parker-Harley. Jennifer is a mentor from the University of South Carolina. She accompanied Camilo in a moving piece, Sicilienne by Maria Theresa von Paradis. Maria Theresa was blind at the age of 5, but that didn’t prevent her from becoming an accomplished composer in 18th century Vienna. Jennifer informed me that that Jacqueline du Pré often performed the Sicilienne as an encore.

If you want to get involved to support this wonderful event, CLICK HERE so we can continue to encourage these fine young musicians.  Let’s keep the music alive.

Cherry Snowball Cookies for Santa

Snow Ball Cookie

Image from Food.com

I have been told by a precocious elf that Santa likes a whiskey (single malt please!) and a plate of “Cherry Snowball Cookies” after travelling all night downwind behind a team of reindeer. While a malt whiskey has always been served to Santa at our house, the Cherry Snowball Cookie is a relatively new addition.

The photo to the left from Food.com hardly does the snowball cookie justice since it features that overly-sugary commercial grade maraschino cherry typically used to adorn Manhattan cocktails served in Chestertown, Maryland.   While there is much to be said for the cuisine of Chestertown – particularly if you like the Canada Goose in a slow cooker – the bar scene has succumbed to commercialized  food for patrons that need a buzz while watching the Republican Presidential debates.   Mind you, I feel their pain.

Luxardo CherriesIn snobby Greenwich, educated chefs tend to opt for Luxardo cherries, which are actually the “original” Italian maraschino cherry before some mad scientist decided to add more sugar and artificial coloring.   Sadly, Luxardo cherries are often difficult to find in most supermarkets so we now buy ours on Amazon.

In any event, the recipe below uses Luxardo cherries and we strongly recommend that you incorporate them into your Snowball Cookie so Santa won’t be disappointed.  Without further ado, the recipe for Cherry Snowball Cookies from Elizabeth Morris (Toronto) that was published in a recent Penzey’s Catalogue

Cherry Snowball Cookies

Ingredients (Makes 2 1/2 dozen)

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond paste
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (about 30) pitted Luxardo cherries, drained
  • 2 cups coarse decorating sugar (also purchased on Amazon)

Preparation

Heat the oven to 350º.  Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

Using a hand mixer, beat butter and confectioners sugar in another bowl until fluffy. Mix in almond paste, vanilla and egg.  Slowly add dry ingredients until dough forms.

Roll dough into thirty 1-oz balls.  Working with 1 ball at a time, press thumb into dough and place a cherry in the center.  Roll dough into a ball encasing the cherry.

Roll cookies in decorating sugar and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.  Let cookies cool completely.

Santa will thank you as he loosens another button in his red outfit.

Wild Turkey Day in Chestertown

Wild Turkey SeasonIf I had known that we would be celebrating “Turkey Day” in Chestertown, MD, I would have invited Taleggio Langston to join us.  On April 20, they kick off the opening of the wild turkey season for hunters in Maryland.  Brave camouflaged “bwanas” from all over the country descend on tranquil towns and villages on the banks of the Chester river to hunt these beautiful birds.  I have been told that wild turkey (if properly cooked) tastes like  . . . chicken, but I have no way of knowing for sure.  In Chestertown, most wild game is thrown into a slow-cooker with three cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and cooked for 12 hours.

Mind you, most vegetarians think hunters are sadistic killers with unresolved childhood problems. Actually, hunters are quite smart at “gaming” the system.  It seems that the ultimate tax dodge is to buy a piece of property greater than 20 acres to create your own private hunting preserve.  State governments subsidize this counter-intuitive behavior by creating a tax-break for “farmers” who plant a “money crop” on the farmland:  hay is a great cover for pheasant, although pesticides from Monsanto have killed most of them off.

Actually, it was simply a coincidence that we happened to be in Chestertown for the start of wild turkey season.  Sheila and I travelled south to visit our friends Lord Cheseline and Lady Mary Anne of Maiden Lot Farm.    Despite being a rather quaint farm town, Chestertown has got more culture than our hometown of Greenwich.  Furthermore, it has one of the oldest colleges in the United States:  Washington College.

Chestertown has a lot going on for even the most jaded bon vivant, but we appreciate the “small town” feel of a local market, bakery, cheese store and used bookstore.  Found below are just a few samples of food items that we found last weekend.   Please note that the beautiful mushrooms are grown by a college student trying to pay for tuition and boarding.

Chestertown mushooms

Chestertown Flowers

Chestertown Spices

Thanks to our lovely hosts for a delightful weekend and a less than memorable golf outing.