Monthly Archives: January 2019

French Madeleines

By Mary

As everyone in America is well aware, we’ve been experiencing some extreme, record breaking cold weather in Wisconsin. It’s difficult, it’s gloomy, and yes it has been very cold. For the last week, we’ve been perpetually hunkered down and focused on staying warm, keeping the wood fire going, keeping the baby happy, and the animals well fed, warm, and safe in the barn as we head into lambing season.

What a surprise it was to me on Monday morning when I heard a loud pounding on my door. Now, I’m the last home on a dead end road, so unannounced visitors are few. I opened the door to find a poor postal service employee with a package in his hand. He asked me how I was. I replied “Much better than you!” He agreed, as he informed me he’d already been stuck in the ditch once that morning. I signed for the package as hurriedly as I could so he could scurry back to his warm vehicle. Coming back into the house, I wondered who could possibly be sending me a box.

The box was from my dear friend Havilah who grew up homeschooling with me here in Wisconsin and is now the co-owner of the wildly successful Blue Fox tour company in Paris, France. This box made my day, or quite truthfully, my week. In the depths of this 20 below cold snap, I was given warmth and cheer. If any of you recall the famous Christmas barrel (and turkey!) that came in May to the Wilder family during The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you can imagine how I felt. This package was just as delightful to receive.

Upon opening the box I discovered it was full of French chocolates and a recipe to make madeleines, as well as a madeleine baking tray. This week there has been so much chocolate consumption in my home, and I’ve been churning out madeleines for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 


Many thanks to Havilah for her delightful and timely gift. As this season of cold continues, I encourage all of you to lighten your spirits. May we all find joy in the simplicity of friendship and food.


French Madeleines

You will need:

1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 ½ tsp lemon zest, finely grated

1 cup all purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

3 large eggs, at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted


To begin:

  1. Cut the butter into tablespoons and place in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, reduce heat to low and continue cooking, until the solids sink to the bottom of the pan and turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour the browned butter into a small cup.
  2. Stir the vanilla and lemon zest into the butter, then set aside to cool
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside till needed.
  4. In a different bowl, beat the eggs at medium speed while gradually adding the sugar. Once all of the sugar has been added, increase the speed to medium high and continue whipping the mixture until it’s very thick and pale in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the mixture off and, using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture in 3 additions, stirring just until combined. Fold in the butter mixture.
  5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to 2 days.
  6. 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously brush the molds of your madeleine pan with butter, then lightly dust with flour.
  7. Spoon level scoops of the batter into the center of each mold. You don’t need to spread the batter.
  8. Bake for 12 minutes, or until their little “bellies” have risen and they’re golden brown.
  9. Cool madeleines in the pan placed on the cooling rack for a minute or two, then gently remove them from molds.
  10. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with coffee or tea.


Music in Ordinary Time

By Kate

We are headed into the depths of winter. I will not say the heart, because the glowing heart of winter, the warmth and the beauty and the wonder of it, all are wrapped up in the Christmas season which has recently come to an end, stranding us in Ordinary Time.

This past week has brought us long soaking dreary rains topped with a dusting of slippery snow and a bone chilling arctic blast of cold. This season stretches on, veiled with the dust of dried road salt, a thin harsh grime that covers streets and cars with a corrosive film that eats away at metal and hope. There is ice upon mud. There is mud upon my kitchen floor.

This is the perfect time of year for a house concert.

A house concert brings beauty, conviviality, and magic back into the cold and lonesome stretch of late winter. Hosting a house concert is a fantastic reason to hang the Christmas lights back up, mop the floors clean, bring in some fresh flowers, and pull all the furniture against the walls to open up your home, eat good cheese and drink fine wine and listen to beautiful music in fancy clothing, OR in farm boots and a cut off t shirt if you’d like.

One of the best things about house concerts is that you can make your own rules. For example, babes in arms and/or lap dogs welcome.


We hosted a house concert a week ago to celebrate a visit from my youngest sister, Clare and to work on the avant-garde Wild West material we will soon be recording and performing at several upcoming house concerts, on a tour to the Blue Ridge mountains.

With Clare’s help, we swept and scrubbed the house, pulled apart the couch, closed the pocket doors, and set up the living room for a house concert. We cut boughs of evergreen from the bushes in the garden and put them on the mantle and the kitchen windowsill. We pulled out the antique candlesticks and hung up twinkling Christmas lights.


We invited over a dozen friends, asked them to bring a bottle of wine. I baked several loaves of crusty bread, set out cheese and olives and dip.


In a fortuitous twist, Clare arrived bearing inherited treasures from a past and fantastically stylish generation- fringed sweaters and earrings which we decided were the perfect wardrobe for a house concert on a wintry night.


A house concert in late winter is a wonderful experience. As a musician, host, and guest of many of these occasions, I can’t recommend them enough. Although the details may change (lemonade and cookies or a potluck instead of wine and cheese, afternoon or evening setting, formal or informal attire) the heart of the experience is a joyful celebration.

So much of life takes place in Ordinary Time. Why not make it more musical? A house concert is a wonderful way to create beauty, to cultivate wonder, to nourish the soul with art, and to gather together joyfully in the dreary depths of winter.



Why We are Homeschooling

I am gazing up at a falcon perched in the boughs of a maple tree as I write this, and light is pouring in. My daughter is playing our old upright piano. This sounds idyllic, and it is, especially to me, because in the past all of the writing I did at the computer took place in a dark corner of my home, where a blank brick wall loomed above my dusty desk piled high with discarded papers of dubious importance. We have been contemplating important things, lately, and moving things around to let the light in.

We began homeschooling this week. Our oldest child has been attending a local parish school for three and a half years now, and our second started kindergarten this year. This has worked for us in many ways, carving out space in the day where I could teach a few hours a week, rehearse and write and spend time with the littlest ones and hang laundry on the line and attempt to sort it once I took it down. To be honest, my favorite part of sending the kids to school was the mile long walk up a steep hill pulling a wagon, with a baby strapped to me, and back home through the vibrant streets of an Italian neighborhood. That is, my favorite part of school was engaging in the outside world of nature and society with my children, learning along the way.

My husband is a teacher. Educating children is a topic we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about. Over the years we have been drawn more and more to the idea of home schooling, but we planned to wait till the children were older, till the house was cleaner, till I was more organized and could actually be counted upon to sort the laundry gathered from the line. I couldn’t imagine creating a life orderly enough to educate my children. Granted, many of my conceptions of home schooling are drawn from my own life, when my mother (also a teacher) decided to begin homeschooling four school aged children simultaneously and somewhat abruptly, with a baby and a toddler running about beneath our pounding feet. I was 13, and spent that year secluded in the attic, above the chaos, nose buried in a book. I read most of Shakespeare but that was about as far as my formal education got that year, but I still can’t do long division.

In the past year, I slowly began to realize that home schooling has changed a great deal since I was a student. We have been travelling as musicians, and one of the greatest gifts of doing this has been spending time with other families who generously offer to host us in their home and often host house concerts as well. Every single one of these families has been a home schooling family. Every single one of these families have been an inspiration to me. At the last place we stayed, our host asked us “Why in the world DON’T you home school?”

The question stayed with me. I began to look around. There are amazing curriculum options, structures, and communities created to support parents as teachers. A new hybrid home school project began here in Pittsburgh this year, complete with a classical curriculum, simple uniforms, and two days a week in school with talented teachers and an incredibly spirited gym class. We visited, and my children fell in love with the place.

In the meantime, a kind and gracious friend of mine, a homeschooling mother who could give Marie Kondo a run for her money, offered to come by and help re-order my home. I gladly accepted. She arrived, and sweetly, softly suggested that we move the antique upright piano- which weighs 800 lbs.

It wasn’t easy, to say the least, but it was exciting. My sister was here, so we had two farm girls and one diminutive graceful woman with an unbelievable amount of vision and determination. At one point there was an brief and necessary prayer session. In the end the piano shifted, the bookshelves came together, and the light poured in.


In the past few years we have been striving to live the life that we are called to live, in this present moment, to form the future. We are making music. We are striving for harmony. We are building a library from the discarded books of a school system and culture that is being dismantled. We cannot change the fate of the whole world though our daily life, but we can change the lives of our children, who will go out into that great world. We can let the light pour into our home and let it illuminate their lives, and that is why we are homeschooling.