Happy Red Quinoa, Fennel, and Strawberry Salad

Early June is the apotheosis of the strawberry in this part of Europe – you can hardly turn around twice without spying them in the markets, peeking out behind garden fences, even growing wild in the forest. (Few things in this world taste better than wild strawberries plucked on a hike in the woods.) Inspired by this juicy bounty, (and feeling hungry for lunch,) I created this lovely lukewarm salad featuring the crunchiness of red quinoa, the crisp and soothing touch of fennel, and the aforementioned berry-infused glory. Besides providing a satisfying lunch before a long rehearsal in the opera pit  – next stop, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly – this would be a pretty addition to an early summer picnic spread.


3/4 cup red quinoa

1 1/2 cups water

1 medium fennel bulb, chopped

7-10 ripe strawberries, tops removed, quartered

1 little pot goat’s or soy yogurt, unflavored 

juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

1/8 cup sunflower oil

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 


Directions: Cook the quinoa in the rice cooker, then let cool. In the meantime, prepare strawberries and fennel. 


When the quinoa has reached room temperature, toss together remaining ingredients and season to taste. 


Use a few extra strawberries as garnish… 


This recipe, besides being delicious, is also gluten-free, appropriate for the later stages of the Candida diet, and vegan if you use soy yoghurt. 

In the meantime, my husband prepared his own lunch, his Käsespätzle 🙂 


Vegan Refried Black Beans in my Luxembourg Kitchen

image4Luxembourg, my adopted home, is a crossroads for many culinary traditions, but Mexican cuisine isn’t among them. My husband is a San Antonio native as well as a gifted Tex-Mex cook (you’ll also rarely find a better Käsespätzle or Züri geschnetzeltes than the ones he can put together.) So we often get a “hankering” for the bold, sensual tastes of the American Southwest. Without the proper ingredients, especially chiles, whipping up the perfect mole enchiladas can be a nightmarish task. For years, we’ve stuffed packages of dried ancho, guajillo, cascabel, morita, chipotle, adobo, and others into boots and rolled-up shirts in our luggage on the way back to Europe. Sometimes we forget until time to put that particular pair of shoes on again and feel the mysterious, disconcerting crunch of capsicums between our toes…

Nowadays, you can find tortillas in the shops, even a gluten-free version, as well as salsa (mediocre,) seasonings (worse than mediocre,) and even canned refried beans (ick.) A couple days ago, I tried my hand at creating a tasty, vegan incarnation of refried beans. I was very pleased with the results and am happy to share my recipe with you here. This should be especially helpful to my European readers, as I have kept the number of chiles involved to a minimum. As usual, I’ve done my best to find organic ingredients where possible. This recipe is lactose-, gluten-, sugar-, and yeast-free, and yes, it’s vegan unless you are dying for some butter to fry the beans.

You can also start out with a jar or can of black beans rather than dried, but where’s the fun in that?

Old World Refried Black Beans


400 grams (14 oz) black beans, dried

Yeast-free vegetable stock, or make your own from scratch

2 cloves rose garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

a pinch of fresh or dried sage (I dehydrate our sage from the garden)

12-15 piquin chiles or equivalent, dried (don’t be afraid to use the seeds as well)

chili flakes, to taste

a few shakes of ground chipotle peppers

a pinch of cinnamon

1 tsp. coriander seeds

salt to taste

olive oil

zest and juice of 1 lime


Pour boiling water over the dried black beans, enough to cover them plus a couple centimetres, and leave to soak overnight. The next morning, drain and rinse the beans, pour new boiling water over them, and leave for at least an hour (all morning is ideal.) Drain and rinse again since they are stubborn, then cook for about an hour in the vegetable stock on medium-low heat, covered.

In the meantime, grind up the cumin seeds, dried sage, all chiles, cinnamon, and salt together with a mortar and pestle.

When the beans are finished cooking, remove most of the liquid, holding in reserve. Dump the beans in your food processor, add a bit of the broth and a few glugs of olive oil, and whir until you get that telltale refried bean consistency. Add more liquid and olive oil as necessary.image1

In a large saucepan or wok, heat up more olive oil on medium heat (or butter, if you prefer) then sauté the garlic for a minute, then add the ground spice mixture and sauté another couple of minutes. Add the bean purée and mix thoroughly. Cook about 10 minutes more, stirring frequently to keep your mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add lime zest and juice to the beans, then adjust seasonings to taste. You now have a delicious, basic refried bean paste for whatever dish you are preparing.image5 Kerry’s portion turned into chalupas compuestas (grilled tortillas, beans, gouda with cumin, cilantro, salsa;)image6mine sat atop a bed of whole-grain rice with lambs-ear lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cilantro,and salsa. image7

¡Buen provecho! 

Vegan Almond Butter Hummus, or painting with a restricted palate

IMG_5227This afternoon, 10 (mostly) Americans gathered at our friend’s 300-year-old farmhouse in Lorraine to celebrate Easter the traditional way: consuming copious quantities of home-cooked food together. We had a couple vegetarians in our midst and based our feast on vegan delicacies, if you don’t count the marvellous braised lamb prepared by our host.

I’ve been on a restricted diet for the past nine weeks. The purpose is to restore the skewed balance in my intestinal flora, as well as to cure recurring, painful oral infections (a horn player’s nightmare!) My inspiration for taking this on was the well-researched, humorous, first-hand account penned by a favourite author of mine, Cash Peters. His book on tackling Candida albicans overgrowth was a revelation to me and explained many other health issues I’d dealt with over the years. His blog is at least as fun as mine and is worth perusing, while you’re at it! Several doctor’s and nutritionist’s appointments, tests, and treatments of various sorts later (note to self: don’t mention colonic irrigation in a blog with a recipe,) I’ve settled into a rhythm of different foods, supplements, and the inevitable emotional/spiritual changes and vulnerability that come from willingness to heal.

You’d think we all want to be healthy and whole all the time, and in theory, we do. The problem is, we get so used to our imbalances and pain that the work involved in transformation feels like an uncrossable chasm. Insane, no? I tend to treasure my convictions anyway (such as, I’m already a healthy eater – what could diet have to do with any of my problems?) so it takes some doing to change course. As it turned out, I’m missing an antibody that protects the mucous membranes along with having a yeast intolerance, combining to muck up the works. Stress definitely plays a role. Did I mention that I play horn for a living?

It has been a hard regimen, I won’t lie. Maddeningly frustrating, sometimes, since food is one of the main ways we commune with others in social situations. Nine weeks in, though, my symptoms have disappeared, I’ve lost 6 kilos without trying, and my energy is good and steady. I’m slowly re-introducing foods banned on the Candida diet (hello, Rioja and potatoes! Berries and bananas, you’re next, my old friends!) Cooking has proven a challenge. We often make parallel meals, or mine serves as a side dish for my husband. Despite the restrictions, I’ve come up with some gorgeous new additions to the repertoire. You’d be surprised how a narrowed list of allowed foods can spark your creativity. Here’s my vegan almond hummus that proved a massive hit at Easter lunch today.

Since recipes don’t usually read as “a glob of this and some bits of that,” I’ve done my best to provide proportions for you. Feel free to play around with them according to taste.


-250 g (about 8 oz.) cooked chickpeas, drained

-1/2 cup almond butter, either blanched or natural. I used blanched today.

-1/4 cup yoghurt (soy for vegan hummus, also excellent with Greek-style or goat’s milk yoghurt)

-2-3 cloves raw garlic

-a few healthy glugs of extra virgin olive oil

-juice of 1-1 1/2 lemons, to taste

-1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin

-Himalaya salt to taste

-sweet or smoked paprika for garnish

Add all ingredients except paprika to your food processor (mine is a sturdy Magimix that would break your foot if you dropped it!) and blend until smooth, adding additional olive oil if needed for consistency. Add salt to taste.

Pour into decorative dish and garnish with drizzled olive oil and paprika. Plop in a sprig of parsley if you’re feeling frisky. Enjoy with raw veggies, rice cakes, or whatever takes your fancy.

The secret to a healing or detoxifying diet is to focus on and be grateful for what you CAN eat, rather than bemoaning what you give up. Come to think of it, that’s true in pretty much any area of life, isn’t it?


Messing around with cherries

>> June is cherry time! Thanks to friends who brought loads of them to brunch on Sunday, I found myself wondering what to do with the ones I didn’t gobble up right away (an alarming amount, to be honest!) So this afternoon after pitting a kilo of Royal Annes, I invented a recipe using what I had at hand. They’re tasty, easy to make, and as most of the ingredients are organic, quite healthy. At least until you ice them!

Chocolate Cherry Spelt Muffins/Cupcakes

Makes about 12 muffins in larger tins


1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup honey
3 eggs, beaten
1/3-1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups spelt flour (you can use wheat if you prefer, but spelt makes them nice and chewy)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, and a dash or two black pepper
100 g (4 oz.) finely grated baking chocolate
1 1/3 cups cherries, pitted & halved

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit.) In a medium to large-sized mixing bowl, whip butter and honey together with a whisk until creamy. Mix in eggs, one at a time, then the milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together all the rest of the ingredients except cherries. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, just until blended (add a little more milk if it seems too dry.) Fold in the cherries. Put paper muffin cases in muffin tins and spoon in mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden on top and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before icing, if you want to ice them. I used royal icing, but feel free to make your own and even decorate them if you are so inclined…



Trip to the Cotswolds and Indian head massage course

I am a frequent traveller. It seems one or another of my suitcases is always in the bedroom, in the process of being filled or emptied (occasionally both simultaneously, resulting in mysterious piles of clothing and papers to be sorted upon return!) Most of this globetrotting has to do with performing, giving master classes, or the occasional getaway with Kerry to warmer climes or more vibrant cities than our own sleepy Luxembourg. This past weekend, however, provided a different and interesting scenario.

Several weeks ago, my close friend and chamber music partner, Heather Madeira Ni, called me up to see if I might be up for doing an all-day workshop on Indian Head Massage and foot reflexology at an estate in the Cotswolds. Ever since I had seen Kate Winslet’s cozy and cuter-than-life hamlet in The Holiday, I’d wanted to see the area for myself. And a course in massage? Wonderful. My only reservation was that Kerry was to leave for a long tour with the American Horn Quartet right after I would return from England, but booking a flight to Memphis during my free week in March to catch up with him there made me feel better about leaving during Carneval week.

Heather and I met on the train platform in Luxembourg at 5:15 in the morning (yawn!) and slept through much of the trip to Brussels. There we caught the Eurostar to the newly opened Ebbsfleet International Station in Kent, picked up our miniscule blue Fiat rental, and wound our way around the north of London towards our destination. Through avoiding many major roads, we saw some lovely small villages along the way, and even ended up bravely fording a stream, causing the engine to smoke for a while afterwards! On the other side of the ford was a sign stating, “Not suitable for motor vehicles.” Whoever decided to spend money by only placing a sign on one side of the stream may want to think twice next time. Anyway, Heather used to live in the UK and visits England regularly with her family, so she knew of a wonderful pub on the outskirts of Oxford where we might stop for a late lunch.

Pub food? For any of you who have not visited the UK recently, you may not be aware of the recent and utterly welcome trend of fantastic gourmet eats on pub menus. Both Heather and I are dedicated (if slightly obsessed) foodies who will go great lengths to try great cuisine. At this particular gastropub, The Trout, I had a beautifully presented and very yummy chicken avocado watercress curry salad while stealing bites of Heather’s baked goat cheese with figs, carmelized pickled onions, and rucola. We stopped off to visit the 800-year old chruch in Temple Guiting, once a hold of the Knights Templar, then made our way to our B&B. We stayed at the Wren House in Donnington, which I would recommend to anyone passing through the area.

Based on the recommendations of the proprietress of our B&B, I chose the Old Butcher’s restaurant in Stow-on-the-Wold for dinner. Though we were a little disappointed by the too-quiet atmosphere, the food was very good, especially my marinated venison. After a long day, we collapsed and slept deeply.

We started Friday with a massive cholesterolfest cooked breakfast and drove to Bourton-on-the-Water to start our long walk. Actually, we started walking a bit later than planned because I had discovered a bird center with a well-kept and extroverted group of King penguins. Penguins in the Cotswolds! Several came over to us to make friends and splashed us thoroughly in the process. Heather finally had to drag me away.

We “rambled” from Bourton through some lush countryside along the Windrush river to the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter, overrun by tourists in the summer months but practically deserted that day. The old town mill’s arts and crafts shop distracted us for a while, then we followed the river and climbed some hills to Upper Slaughter. The church there contained remnants of an earlier Norman structure, and we chatted with a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. All this time we marveled at our luck with the sunny, springtime weather. The next part of our walk took us through one field after another, traipsing past sheep and curious cows (how would I know how curious, really?), climbed over and around fences, and finally saw the village of Naunton through a grove of trees. The original plan was to stop for a quick lunch and continue walking, but the combination of having already walked 10 km (over 6 miles) and the malaise brought about by a delicious chicken, mushroom and tarragon pie washed down with half a pint of local cider did us in. A taxi brought us back to Bourton-on-the-water for some shopping and tea and scones. We spent a couple of hours resting back at our room while I practiced my horn with the Silent Brass mute.

I was especially excited about our dinner reservations at the award-winning Horse and Groom, run by two brothers whose parents own the famous Howard Arms in Ilmington. What a fantastic place! Lovely old stone fireplace, tasty local ale on tap, magnificent food and service – we only wished we hadn’t eaten those scones for afternoon tea. My grilled hake with horseradish sauce & new potatoes were done perfectly, and Heather’s deceptively simple hamburger (apparently from a cow raised across the field from the inn) ended up being the best thing on the table. We felt a bit bilious after all the food, which for better or for worse didn’t stop us!

Finally, it was time for the massage course at the Farncombe Estate given by Julia Baker, a professional aromatherapist. She taught us about different essential oils which are beneficial for addressing specific health concerns (I took special note of anything helpful for insomnia – lavender, frankincense, ylang ylang, lemon, benzoin…)

Then we learned the basic techniques of Indian head massage, also covering the back and arms, and took turns giving and receiving under the teacher’s guidance. I’ve found that I generally prefer giving massages to receiving them, but I did enjoy this one a lot. We broke for lunch, and during the break I went out to the Fiat and practiced my horn. Several people passed by, puzzled, wondering where the weird noise came from, but few actually saw me! Next week we have a heavy program in the OPL so I have to stay in shape however I can.

The afternoon session dealt primarily with the Swiss Reflex Foot treatment, involving a health analysis using varying pressure on different areas of the feet and noticing the recipient’s reactions. I volunteered to be the class guinea pig and hoped my feet weren’t too unsightly from the previous day’s long trek! She prodded and rubbed my soles then quickly discovered my weak spots – upper spine (occupational hazard for horn players), lymphatic water retention, something in the large intestine. We learned how to massage the corresponding areas on the feet with the appropriate essential oils blended into a thick lotion. My friends and family are looking forward to being test cases!

Ever gluttons for digestive punishment, Heather and I ended up at the Redesdale Arms restaurant hotel. A delicate roasted pepper soup, breaded haddock with steamed vegetables and hand-cut potatoes, and an unusual lemon meringue pie washed down with Hooky fruit ale (“It’s a Ladies’ beer!” proclaimed our perky waitress) made me very happy. When Heather and I eat together, many of our conversations revolve around analyzing the ingredients of our food and how we might recreate or adapt the dishes at home. It’s a never-tiring subject for us, though my stepson Andrew remarked last night that it sounded awful! Heather is also, by the way, a fantastic, easygoing, optimistic travel companion with whom I would happily undertake another such journey.

Though we suffered a bit of indigestion from overindulgence and had some stress catching our Eurostar on Sunday (the GPS led us to the wrong Ebbsfleet an hour from where we needed to be and the Fiat didn’t have much pickup on the roads!), we somehow managed to pull in just in time. As I write this, our train has just crossed the Luxembourg border, and Kerry is waiting to fetch us at the station. A lovely weekend! So, what’s for dinner?