Torta Elaborata


When I first saw a picture of this elegant pastry I knew I had to make it. It is a starburst of flavorful beauty that elevates any party! The problem is, after one attempt I realized that I didn’t like the filling (only four ingredients) or the dough (too dry), and the baking temperature /time was all wrong. But the description of the construction (with photos) was so good I mostly followed the instructions for future tortas, but definitely not the ingredients. Instead I used ingredients similar to a Greek spanakopeta for the filling, adjusting them to match the packaging, and a boiled dough I like that is easy to shape.


1 – 10 oz pkg frozen spinach – thawed and squeezed dry

1 – 15 oz container of Ricotta cheese

1 – small onion – chopped and sauteed in oil until translucent, not browned

2 – cloves of garlic – chopped and sauteed in oil until translucent, not browned

½ cup Parmesan cheese

½ cup feta cheese

½ tsp dried thyme

1/3 cup Italian parsley – chopped

Salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper (optional), to taste

Mix all above ingredients together, taste and adjust seasonings if needed

Mix in one beaten egg

Use immediately or refrigerate while you make the dough.


For the pastry I used the “boiled dough” recipe I use for empanadas:

1 ¼ cups water

½ cup olive oil

½ tsp salt

Bring just to a boil and off-stove quickly stir in

4 cups flour until combined

Set aside 1/3 cup breadcrumbs for use in construction

CONSTRUCTION: Turn crumbly dough out on flat surface and knead until it comes together (I wear kitchen gloves for this because the dough is still quite hot) separate into thirds and cover two with plastic.  Roll out remaining dough on a floured surface until about 13 inches round. Place on parchment paper for ease of moving once constructed. Sprinkle dough with bread crumbs (basically in the ring and mound areas) to absorb any excess moisture from the filling.

Disregard the instructions on the photos – these are for illustration only


In the center of the dough mound some of the filling. Then make a ring of the remaining filling around it leaving space to crimp the dough down between them. The center will become the sunflower seed part and the ring will become the leaves – see photos.

Roll out another portion of dough slightly larger than the first, and drape it over the filling roughly shaping the mound and ring with your hands. Next, a small bowl is essential – one with a rounded edge won’t cut the dough when you press it down to seal it. Cut off excess dough ¼ inch outside of ring, then using a fork, crimp the outside edge of the pastry to seal it.

Disregard the instructions on the photos – these are for illustration only


Leaving the bowl in place, make cuts 1 inch apart all the way around the bowl to make the “leaves” bite sized. Then gently lift each “leaf” up and give it a quarter twist to the right so that the filling is pointing up. Repeat until all are turned.

Lightly oil the center mound and sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.  Then slide onto a baking sheet.

NOTE: I measured my largest baking sheet and made my pastry round small enough to fit in it. You have some flexibility here to go larger or smaller to fit your pan.

Disregard the instructions on the photos – these are for illustration only


Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes on the center rack of your oven until lightly browned, turning once after 20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes. Slide onto a serving plate. Serve room temperature.

ADDENDUM: The pictures are the key to your success. However, if your top crust tears or breaks during the construction, remember – you have another piece of dough as insurance – so you can remove the damaged piece and make a new one. Depending upon your ability, after some practice you can use the excess dough for a one or two crust pie. (It makes a lovely quiche.) Or make two smaller tortas. Now that would be a spectacular presentation!

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and please share your photos there too!

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Alumbrados Navideños or El Alumbrado Christmas in Medellín, Colombia

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Medellín is a warm friendly city, really a bustling business center, and the Colombian people are gracious hosts. It is a city of eternal spring with moderate temperatures year-round. But for five weeks every year Medellín is the center of all things Christmas.

The largest municipal power corporation in Latin America, EMP, sponsors an extravagant Christmas Festival every year called Alumbrados Navideños or El Alumbrado, in and around its headquarters. There is a city-wide theme for all the decorations.

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The year I visited, my excellent guide, Carlos Carmona, showed me around the city to experience his hometown’s celebrations. The theme was the Nativity, and there were all shapes and sizes of Nativity scenes throughout the city, ranging from miniatures to 20 feet tall. These often colorful religious symbols were in stark contrast to the secular tree and Santa displays we are used to being publicly displayed in the US. Colombians do not hesitate to celebrate their religious holidays.

This year is the 52nd anniversary of Medellín’s Christmas display. The theme is an Old Fashioned Christmas, primarily set up along Parque Norte with huge displays and colorful booths. Medellín’s Christmas celebration is second only to the scale and scope of Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans. It is a huge event!

For the greatest infusion of Christmas Spirit, plan a trip to Medellín, Colombia in December. The light show runs from the end of November through the first week in January. Have other Christmas plans? Medellin is fun all year round. There’s great nightlife, many cultural events, fantastic food, and amazing architecture to enjoy. Check out their version of Mardi Gras, the Tango Festival, or the Flower Festival, just three of the many reasons to visit Medellín, Colombia.

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A lethal but local favorite drink pleasantly served


American Airlines has connecting flights from everywhere in the US through Miami.


Intercontinental Hotel Medellin – with over 150 hotels in 65 countries, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts are the premier place to stay. It was my choice of where to lay my head.

Hotel Poblado Plaza – Located in the heart of the most exclusive area of Medellín, the Golden Mile of El Poblado neighborhood. This is where the main business and financial corporations of the city meet the shopping malls and restaurants. Or their sister resort: Hotel Poblado Alejandria

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guandu & pork at Restaurant Bijao


Unfortunately, my favorite restaurant in Medellín (Restaurant Bijao) closed since my visit. But I can tell you that the excellence of the place sparked a lively conversation between myself and the Food Editor of the largest local newspaper. We bonded over our admiration for their food. Their guandu & pork  riff on a Cartagena seafood dish was amazing!

En Casa de Oliva  an equally excellent restaurant with fresh food and a kindly waitstaff

Image may contain: 2 people, including Carlos Carmona, people smiling

Both of us in Colombia

Carlos on the right with me in Colombia


Carlos Carmona is a freelance tour guide in Medellín, Colombia. He embodies the culture and customs of Medellín and its citizens, while sharing a decade of professionally honed skills to show you the real Medellín.

More Information:

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World Paella Day Is September 20th

paellabehindtheline Chef Rafael Vidal from behind the line

What better way to celebrate World Paella Day than to taste the original paella from Valencia, Spain, cooked by the world famous paella chef Rafael Vidal?

Let me back up a bit. I cook “American” paella, meaning I mix seafood and meat, and add broth, peppers, and onions – a blasphemy within the rarefied paella circle in which I found myself last Tuesday. That day I was invited to Mercado Little Spain (30th St & 10th Ave, NYC) for a lunch where Chef Rafael would cook me the perfect paella.

Video of Chef Vidal cooking paella

If you were there that day in line ordering ordinary paella, you saw the open kitchen with wood-fired stations, and me in it, in an apron, videotaping Chef Vidal as he cooked his signature dish while you waited to be served.

It was an amazing “behind the line” experience capped with delicious food!

paellaingredients Clockwise from top right: bone-in chicken legs and rabbit,  fava beans, artichoke, rosemary, tomato, saffron  & salt, green beans, rice, olive oil. (not shown – water) Serves 12

The ingredient list is simple as paella. There’s no broth or soffrito, the meat is browned in olive oil with green beans stirred in, then artichokes. Tomato sauce is added, water, then a local to Valencia type of fava bean, before rice is sprinkled evenly into the bubbling mix. Saffron and salt add flavors until there is nothing to be done but bring the liquid to a boil and cook. There are no peppers – hot or sweet – and there is only a final sweeping of the paella with a rosemary branch to complete the flavor.

paellaessentialsdisplay of paella ingredients for sale at Mercado Little Spain

As the liquid cooks down, the rice, which is a local to Valencia rice that keeps its shape and an “al dente” core, “marries” the pan to create a rich toasty crust called “socarrat” that is the prized portion of the meal.

paellafinishedfinished paella

To see the perfect paella created – not once, but twice by the expert – was a fantastic experience. Then Chef Vidal plated the paella with care to have each element included, and even refilled my plate after I inhaled my first portion. It was so delicious that I slowly ate my second helping to savor each mouthful.

A word about the ingredients: use the finest you can. If you don’t want rabbit use more chicken. Bone-in is ideal, but American tastes being what they are – boneless is OK – you’ll just lose some flavor. The saffron is crushed and soaked in a small amount of hot water for 15 minutes or so to release the flavor. If the fava beans are not fresh they must be pre-boiled.

paellachefsChef Vidal & Chef Andres

There you have it! You can watch the video for ingredients and technique, but you had to be there to feel the heat and have the aromatic smoke (traditionally from orange wood) tickle your nose and burn your eyes, as beads of sweat dripped off you, all the while watching the intensity of Chef Vidal – and his smile when perfection was achieved.

Buen Provecho!

Tourism in Spain

Mercado Little Spain

paellaheaderfinished paella

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Saugerties Pro Musica 4-Hand Piano Concert Sunday 4/28 @ 3 p.m.

Saugerties Pro Musica welcomes back pianist Yalin Chi, who is joined on our stage by Steven Bech on his first visit, for a very unusual four-hand piano concert  on April 28, 2019 – Sunday  – at 3 p.m. They will be playing Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major, K358, Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques, Hindemith’s Sonata for Piano Four-hands, and Jeux d’enfants by Bizet.


Yalin Chi & Steven Bech

The concert is at the United Methodist Church, on the corners of Washington Avenue (#67) and Post Street in Saugerties. Tickets are $15 and $12 with all students admitted free. For more information please visit our website: or call 845-679-5733

Bios and more

Originally from Beijing, China, Yalin Chi made her début with the Central Opera Orchestra before moving to the United States to study at Interlochen Arts Academy. Yalin has performed at venues including Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Kumho Art Hall in Seoul, Korea, and ZhongShan Music Hall in Beijing China. As an orchestral musician, she regularly performs with Albany Symphony, New Jersey Festival Orchestra, and has held the principal keyboard position at the Hudson Valley Philharmonic since 2014.

American pianist Steven Beck continues to garner impressive acclaim for his performances and recordings worldwide. Recent highlights include premieres of new piano works by Charles Wuorinen and John Zorn, and performances of Beethoven’s variations and bagatelles at Bargemusic, where he first performed the Beethoven sonata cycle.

Full Program:

Sonata in B-flat major, K358 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (3 movements)

Six épigraphes antiques Claude Debussy

Sonata for Piano Four-hands Paul Hindemith (3 movements)

Jeux d’enfants Georges Bizet (12 movements)


Our 23rd Season finale is May 12, 2019 – Drummer Dennis Mackrel’s Jazz Trio plus One.

After a summer hiatus during which we hope you will be entertained by the Maverick Concert Series, Saugerties Pro Musica will return on Sunday, September 15th, at 3 p.m. for our 24th Season featuring our first harpist ever in Ensemble Aubade (Peter H. Bloom, flute; Francis Grimes, viola; Mary Jane Rupert, harp). This flute, viola and harp trio is sure to surprise and delight you.

Saugerties Pro Musica concerts are quality musical performances by world-class musicians in a comfortable, intimate setting, and at very affordable prices. Concert times are 3 p.m. Sunday afternoons at the United Methodist Church, on the corners of Washington Avenue (#67) and Post Street in Saugerties. Adults $15 and Seniors $12. Students are always free. Call 845-679-5733 for more information, email or visit our website for the most up to date programming schedule:

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Shout Out Saugerties is hosting a Food & Art Walkabout


The perfect event for a Fall Foliage Weekend is a celebration of the season’s bounty. That’s why Shout Out Saugerties is hosting a Food & Art Walkabout Saturday, October 20th, as part of its annual festival. Join international culinary travel writer and chef Richard Frisbie in a tour of the best eats in his home town of Saugerties.edgefarmIMG_4029

CSAfarmIMG_0688The tour will begin at the Farmers Market with an introduction to some of the farmers by the market founder (and NYC’s Greenmarket founder) Barry Benepe. You’ll have a chance to hear from some of the hardest workers on the planet before tasting the fruits of their toil. Their fresh, just-picked-at-the-peak-of-its-flavor produce and tastes from market vendors will give you an insight into why the Hudson Valley is one of the Nation’s finest food baskets.


Then, the tour will stroll through Saugerties Village’s Historic District, noting the art shows in the windows between stops at some of our finest eateries. You’ll sample the region’s bounty in every form as the skilled chefs and bakers share cooking tips, recipes, and their tastiest creations.  On today’s menu you can expect to savor: house-made kielbasa, artisanal beer, local artist-decorated cookies at the Best Bakery in the Hudson Valley, house-smoked brisket sliders, locally made ice cream (Finalist New York State’s Best Ice Cream) and gelato, pizza from one of the TopTen USA Today New York State Pizzerias, local cheeses and a surprise from one of the area’s top chefs. This is the ultimate foodie tour of Saugerties Village.slices

Participation is very limited. Only 20 people will receive the best introduction to the growers, the cooks, the art – and especially – to the wonderful foods of the Village of Saugerties.  $40 each gets you all that, plus discount coupons, great memories and a swag bag of local goodies.  Dress appropriately – we’re committed to rain or shine – so wear walking shoes and, if necessary, bring an umbrella . . . and an appetite!

Posted in cheese, Culinary, culinary travel articles, dessert, dessert, Farm to Table, Festivals and Fairs, food, Food Fads, Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, journalism, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It smells like death in here.”

NiagaraParks11That’s the first thing I said when I entered Niagara Parks’ Floral Showhouse,  a pyramidal tropical greenhouse and formal gardens just a hop, skip and jump from Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Park, Canada. Not the best greeting, I know, but the stench was unbelievably vile. The room was lush and humid, a verdant tangle of plants and blooms that should have smelled like – well, flowers – not death. The lady behind the counter smiled broadly and said “right this way” gesturing around the central planting. “Just follow your nose.”


Suddenly it dawned on me. I was about to see a very rare sight, one seldom seen outside of the jungles of Sumatra. It was the Amorphophallus Titanum, a.k.a. Titan Arum, commonly referred to as “corpse plant”. And it was as big as it smelled! At approximately six feet tall and four across, it was actually small for the Floral Showhouse, whose first bloom in 2012 was eight feet tall. Nevertheless, it was a most impressive bloom, the first I’d seen in real life.


Gardeners research these things, so naturally I’d read a National Geographic account of finding one in the Sumatra Jungle and seen a time-lapse video of the 24 hour bloom taken in a laboratory by horticulturists studying the plant’s life cycle. And, while I could appreciate the size, there was no distracting smell either time. Still, I’d never heard mention of the Floral Showhouse in connection with Titan Arum. I stepped back a bit to appreciate the naturalistic setting this one was blooming in and saw that there were more plants in various stages of development. I’d stumbled into the largest collection of blooming size Titan Arum in the world. What a coup!

How rare was this bloom? Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari first discovered the Titan Arum in the Sumatra jungle in 1878. He sent seeds to the Royal Botanical Gardens in London where it first bloomed outside of its natural habitat in 1889. Over the next century only 21 blooms were recorded. Since 1990 that number has jumped to more than 150.  Only 40 blooming-size plants are known to exist outside of Sumatra, where the plants numbers dwindle in a declining and degraded habitat. It is in danger of becoming extinct in the wild. The Floral Showhouse has approximately 60 plants including many seedlings.


Niagara Parks’ Floral Showhouse manager, Joan Cornelious, said “We have two plants coming into bloom this summer, the first in June and the second about 3 weeks later. We don’t know how big they’ll get, but the world’s record height is 10 feet 2 inches.” There was one bloom last year as well. Altogether the Floral Showhouse has recorded seven blooms since their first in 2012.

Another unusual aspect of the Titan Arum, aside from the smell and its short 24 hour bloom, is the growth after the bloom. The Floral Showhouse’s first plant, whose flower was approximately 8 ft tall, sent up a shoot 15 ft tall and 11 inches wide. Its canopy spread was 17 feet – it looked like a small tree but was (to be scientifically correct) just one leaf. Typically, that growth absorbs nutrition for the corm underground during its 1-2 year life span, then dies back and the plant lies dormant for awhile before blooming again. In this case, it has bloomed every other year since the first, with its flower growing progressively shorter by about a foot each time.

While the Floral Showhouse has another Titan Arum expected to bloom later this year (check their website for timing) it is so much more than just a corpse plant showcase. There are 8 floral shows a year, a large rose garden, display greenhouses and working greenhouses, a water garden and lovely display gardens with some specimen trees. They were setting up a geranium show inside when I was there, while outside was their annual and very popular miniature village, with tiny ornate buildings appearing in the most unlikely places around the grounds.


Niagara Parks is a 35 mile linear park along the Canadian side of the Niagara River with landscaped cliff-top walks, white water trails, an extensive Botanical Garden with an amazing butterfly house, the Floral Showhouse plus boats and trams and tunnels under the falls – enough activities to keep every member of your family happy to be there and wanting to come back.  With five restaurants and plenty of accommodations, including the reasonably priced and stylishly understated Double Tree Fallsview Resort and Spa by Hilton you could park your car and walk or take the WEGO bus to everything. Discount attraction ticket packages called Adventure Passes are available.

Posted in Adventure/Sports, Canada, environment, free lance writer, gardening, horticulture, Niagara Falls, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unpublished Culinary Travel Articles Looking for Placement


Editors please take note: I have five finished culinary and/or travel articles unsold. They range from a street festival near Barcelona, to a rare Mediterranean Island liquor; from the sites and museums of Curacao, to the unique food there: and finally, an extravagant dinner in one of the top restaurants in Spain. All will put you in the street, or in the seat experiencing remarkable travel and food in top locations around the world. Each one begins with its opening paragraph followed by a description of the content. All are available for your consideration. Please email to request a copy for review.


Tarragona, Spain, Santa Tecla Festival

The noisy, colorful, seemingly endless processions of dance troupes and Big Head puppets, separated by the “fantastic and popular bestiary” spewing sparks and fire, snaked through the narrow streets of Tarragona’s old town day and night. There was no end to the theatrical entertainment, or the excited crowds, or the general roar punctuated by applause. The Santa Tecla Festival was amazing!

It goes on to chronicle the ten day festival and the foods specific to it – 740  descriptive words with photos and a link to my YouTube video of the human pyramids building in the city square.


A Taste of Ibiza

One thing fueling Ibiza’s reputation as the party capital of the world is their outrageously delicious and very potent island drink – Hierbas Ibicencas. Produced only on the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, this alcohol-laden bomb, at anywhere from 48 to 76 proof, is Ibiza’s beverage of choice. Hierbas Ibicencas is sometimes referred to as “a forest in a bottle” because it is infused only with the various herbs and plants that grow wild on the island to produce a true “taste of Ibiza”.

It goes on to list the plants and medicinal benefits of this unique anise-flavored drink – 545 words with photos.


Heritage and History in Curacao

Landing at the Curacao airport brought the realization that I wasn’t in a tropical paradise.  The landscape looked like the American Southwest, covered in cactus. That wasn’t the last time my assumptions proved wrong. Curacao had many more surprises in store for me – all of them good.

Curacao has the best restaurant in the Caribbean, great beaches, best underwater visibility, and was named one of the top 10 economical destinations of 2018. The capital, Willemsted, is a colorful and architectural UNESCO site, and the local food is great! – 1122 words with photos.


Curacao’s Cuisine Shows Its Roots

The soup looked most unappetizing. I had to rotate my spoon in circles on the viscous surface, slowly raising it to break the bonds of the slimy, clingy liquid. Still, strings like melted mozzarella on a pizza slice stretched with the spoon to my mouth in a sticky web bursting with flavor. If the okra soup wasn’t so good I wouldn’t have worked so messily hard to finish it. What is it about Curacao and its unusually tasty cuisine?

It goes on to describe the African (slavery) roots to the very tasty and unusual foods of Curacao and can include a recipe for vegan Peanut Soup – 593 words without recipe, with photos.


Atrio Restaurant in Cáceres, Extremadura, Spain

Seated before the gorgeous flowers and sparkling crystal of Atrio’s table, I take a photo of the unusual first course and look for a place to set my big camera down. With a quiet swoosh and a whispered “Here’s a small stool for your camera”, an efficient and gracious waitperson ratchets up the already high level of service. This is not just two Michelin star service, this is Relais Chateaux service – and I’m thrilled to be here!

A top Spanish chef, 2 Michelin Stars, a Relais Chateaux boutique hotel and the world’s best wine cellar, all in a UNESCO walled city, combine for an incredible meal in Cáceres, in the Extremadura Region of Spain – 1000 words with photos.


That’s all I have for now.

Posted in Cruise, Culinary, culinary travel articles, Curacao, dessert, dessert, destinations, diversity, Entertainment, ethnicity, Extremadura, Farm to Table, Festivals and Fairs, food, Food Fads, free lance writer, gay, LGBT, recipe, Rightnowincuracao, soup, recipe, smoked food, stew, Spain, stew, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized, vegan, vegeterian soup, wine | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ludwig Piano/Cello Duo at Saugerties Pro Musica Sunday 11/19 @3 p.m.

Each November the Bard College Conservatory of Music sends Saugerties Pro Musica some of their most talented musicians to perform.


This year, the Ludwig Duo, made up of Pianist Erica Allen and Cellist Chang Pan, will be our featured performers. One is a second-year student in the Advanced Performance Studies program of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, the other teaches in the music program. Both have performed extensively on the world stage to favorable reviews. Please join us on Sunday, November 19th, 2017, at 3 p.m. in the Saugerties United Methodist Church. A”meet the artists” reception with refreshments will follow the performance.

Pianist Erika Allen a native of Blue Hill, Maine, received her master’s degree in collaborative piano at Juilliard. In 2008, she completed a master’s degree in solo piano performance at New England Conservatory, under the tutelage of Vivian Weilerstein. She received her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory where she won the school’s 2006 Mozart Piano Concerto Competition. An avid chamber musician and collaborator, Allen has performed with numerous artists including violinist Ray Chen, violist Peter Barsony, and members of the Cassatt Quartet. She has served as an accompanist for the Bowdoin Music Festival, Juilliard, New England Conservatory, and Boston Conservatory choirs. In past summers, she has attended Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival, Banff, Eastern Music Festival, and Bowdoin International Music Festival. Allen was a Collaborative Piano Fellow at the Bard Conservatory of Music from 2011-13, and now teaches in the Music Program at Bard.

Cellist Chang Pan, a second-year student in the Advanced Performance Studies program of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, has appeared as a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician throughout Asia, Europe and U.S. Of his Carnegie Hall concert in 2016 the New York Concert Review said, “The principal virtue of Chang Pan’s playing is his extreme absorption in the music; he has a rapt, intense look, as one who is communing directly with the mysterious source ‘out there’ that sustains and inspires true artists—and he possesses the technical ease to bring that inspiration into his instrument and project it to the listener. His bow arm, intonation, and the variety of colors he obtains from the cello are all sublime.”

Their program includes Beethoven’s 7 Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ plus Schubert’s Sonata for Cello & Piano in A minor (the “Arpeggione Sonata”) and Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro Op.70 in A Flat Major

There is no concert in December. Our season resumes in 2018 when the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers return to start the New Year with a blast on January 21st, Saugerties’ own, tenor Thomas Leighton, comes home on February 18th,  Yalin Chi returns on March 18th, Iva Bittova & Tony Fajt make a rare appearance on April 15th, and we close our 22nd season with the cello ensemble of Ani Kalayjian and Friends on May 20th .

Saugerties Pro Musica concerts are quality musical performances by world-class musicians in a comfortable, intimate setting, and at very affordable prices. Concert times are 3 p.m. Sunday afternoons at the United Methodist Church, on the corners of Washington Avenue (#67) and Post Street in Saugerties. Adults $15 and Seniors $12. Students are always free. Call 845-679-5733, email for more information, or visit our website for the most up to date programming schedule:

Posted in Bard College, concert, Entertainment, Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, music, Saugerties Pro Musica, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speech – A Catskills Cantico

Alf’s benchmark regional history and a collection of essays

Last Saturday evening I spoke at an event – 100 Years of Art in Woodstock – about the life of Alf Evers. This is a transcript of my speech:

Good evening. My name is Richard Frisbie. Thank you for coming to what I’m calling a Catskills Cantico – Cantico is an Algonquin word meaning a ceremonial dance. And – No – I’m not going to dance. I’m here to tell you about my friend, noted historian and author, Alf Evers, and I’ve been given 5 minutes to cover nearly a century of his accomplishments.

My presence here is not without precedent. I spoke at Alf’s 90th birthday party, and again in 2001 for what was called a “Celebration in Recognition of Alf Evers’ Contributions to the Furthering of New York History”. That’s the rather grand title for what was actually a very impressive ceremony on the grounds of the Senate House in Kingston. Alf was surrounded by County, State and Federal dignitaries – everyone from a Pulitzer Prize winner to a Congressman. After 14 people spoke, and Jay Unger and Molly Mason performed, Alf spoke for an hour! His speech was engaging and captivating and covered the important influences in his writing carrier. It was great! I’m sorry if you missed it.

I can’t match the speech he gave, but I can promise to be brief.

For those of you who don’t know – Alf Evers was the preeminent historian of the Catskills. He is renowned for his definitive 800-page histories, “The Catskills: From Wilderness to   Woodstock”, “Woodstock: History of an American Town” and his final book, “Kingston, City on the Hudson”. His other books include “In Catskill Country: Collected Essays on Mountain History, Life and Lore”, as well as more than 50 children’s titles written in collaboration with his wife, Helen. In total, he wrote almost 10,000 pages of Catskill Mountain history!

Alf was born in the Bronx, and came upstate with his family when he was nine. They moved to a farm in Tillson where he first became aware of the Catskill Mountains and where his love of the Catskills began. As an adult, he moved into the Catskills, settling finally in Shady, where he raised a family of his own. His strong bond with the region remained his passion until his death in 2004 when he was 99 years old.

In his lifetime, besides the aforementioned books, he was the associate editor of the New York Folklore Quarterly. He wrote articles for the New York Conservationist. He also wrote many newspaper articles on regional history. In addition, he served as Vice-President of the New York State Folklore Society, President of both the Woodstock Historical Society and the Woodstock Library, and he was the town historian of Woodstock for many years. Through all this, he actively encouraged the preservation of the landscape and character of Woodstock and its environs.

My signed, numbered commemorative copy “In Catskill Country”

Personally, I always knew Alf to be generous with his  vast knowledge. One day while I was President of the Board of Management of the Woodstock Tree Trust, (and yes, there was such a title) Alf asked me: “Did you ever see a chestnut tree? You know we have one growing here in Town.” Since the American Chestnut had been virtually extinct since the beginning of the 1900s, he had my attention. He said come on – I’ll show it to you. We jumped into my car and he said turn onto Plockmann Lane. I immediately thought – all right, we’ll go through and on up Lewis Hollow Road to find an isolated stand of trees up near the State Land. That made sense.


Just a little way in he pointed to a short skinny tree and said there it is. Right there on the side of Plochmann Lane – the rarest of rare trees – an American Chestnut. He explained that every few years the highway department cuts back the roadside so cars can pass – Plochmann Lane is narrow. Since the virus attacks mature trees, and a cut chestnut grows from sprouts on the stump, this one was cut and it grew, and cut and grew, and cut and grew for nearly a century, but it was never old enough to get the virus. It survived.

Who knew? Alf Evers Knew!

In 1995, Overlook Press had a book signing / birthday party on the occasion of Alf Evers’ 90th birthday and the publication of his book “In Catskill Country“. It was a benefit for the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. The event was called A Catskills Cantico, meaning a dancing, singing, fiddle-playing party, like the old-timers used to have in the Catskills – and much like what we’re having here. It was called that as a concession to Alf, who actually wanted that to be the title of his book.

And that is how I knew Alf to be, a person with the depth of knowledge so great about the Catskill Mountains that he knew the answer to every question. He knew where the last American Chestnut was in the Town and what a cantico was –and why it would be an appropriate title for his collection of essays. And still, as a respected historian and bestselling author who was revered in his community, he was modest and unassuming enough to bow to the wishes of his publisher. So, to honor him tonight, I referred to this event as he would have: A Catskills Cantico – A Song of the Catskills. I hope you’re enjoying it.

Thank you

Posted in Alf Evers, book review, free lance writer, historic preservation, Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, journalism, New York History Books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Halloween Ghost Story From Curacao


Curacao is an island in the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. Blessed with temperatures in the 80s, sunny skies and beaches to rival the best in the world, this Dutch island has all that plus enough colonial heritage and history – including the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere – to please every tourist. My recent visit there also revealed some unanswered questions about its past.

First off, Halloween isn’t celebrated on Curacao. Santa Claus statues already tower over public squares and roundabouts, and the lamp post decorations were being put up while I was there, a full two months before Christmas. And yet, I think of this as a Halloween story . . .


The UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa in Curacao, conveniently located in the center of Willemstad, is a hotel made up of the original houses and streets of an 18th century village. It includes the Village Square and other small squares and parks, some now with pools and sculpture, connected by ancient cobblestone lanes that are lined with the beautiful facades of colonial architecture. It is quaint and very pretty. Walking around you actually feel as if you’re in the old village. Hidden behind the charming exteriors which once were homes to slave owners and slaves alike, are the slightly faded remains of luxurious hotel suites and duplexes, some of which harbor more than a memory of their past. Some of the 82 rooms are inhabited by ghosts!


Whether they are the original occupants, their slaves, or any one of the inhabitants over the centuries is unknown, but sightings and eerie sounds have convinced some that a few of the rooms are haunted – perhaps as many as four rooms are scenes of late-night disturbances. Tales are told of strange sounds, doors mysteriously opening and closing, guests in their loft bedrooms being awakened in the middle of the night by the sounds of people downstairs. Some even tell of seeing shadowy people walking around their hotel room. When the lights come on – no one is ever there – and there have never been reports of violence or poltergeist activity, just noisy sightings.

My room there, room 107, I’m assured is not haunted. Yet, while showering one evening, the closed bathroom door opened and no one was there. So – it’s an old building, winds came in the louvered windows, a step on a floorboard – probably something normal caused it, not ghosts. But that’s how  found out about the other hauntings.

History reveals that over the course of centuries, generations of folks were born, lived and died in these converted homes – perhaps violently. Some would say that it is not unlikely for some vestigial remains of their beings to persist; some element, uneasy in death, left to wander in an unknown netherworld with an overlapping border to our own. Occasionally they may cross that border to be seen and heard.


So, the next time you are disturbed by the strange sounds of ghosts in the dead of night at Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa, content yourself that they are just lost souls for whom you can only wish a peaceful transition to the next plane, then roll over and go back to sleep. In the morning they will be gone, and you’ll still be in sunny, beautiful Curacao!

Happy Halloween!

Posted in Adventure/Sports, Curacao, free lance writer, ghost story, Halloween, historic preservation, Pop Culture, Rightnowincuracao, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments