Day 8 – Looking for a lock – and Ciao!

Ken and I were among those with the latest flight back to US, so we didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn.  In fact, there was a little time to wander Asolo in search of lock for my bike case (with the bicycle carefully disassembled and packed by Vernon).  It turns out–as the concierge informed me when I asked for directions before setting off–that you can’t buy a lock in Asolo.  You’ve got to drive (or bike) to a larger town.  There are worse ways to spend a final morning in Italy than wandering the streets of Asolo on a fruitless quest.  So much of this blog has been about where we went, what we cooked and ate, that I haven’t had time to include as many pictures of where we  stayed, what our surroundings were like.  The Villa Cipriani is a luxury hotel in a converted 15th c. villa.  Its  lovely rear garden and tables overlook one of the spectacular views of the Veneto plain that seem to be around every turn in Asolo.  My only complaint is that the grave, dignified waiter on duty late in the evening insisted on recommending “grappa for women” (prompting Kathy to remark, “Oh, I get it — the sucky one!).  Still, a “feminine” grappa late in the evening in the Villa Cipriani is still a grappa late in the evening in the Villa Cipriani.

Villa Cipriani garden

It's humbling to watch bikers ripping from the base of Monte Rocca up through the village.

I guess Eleonora Duse must really have loved pasta with tomatoes, evoo and cheese. Me? I'd go for the roast porchetta with polenta.

Asolo itself is a stunning medieval/Renaissance village on the side of Mount Rocca.  Its charms have captured a host of luminaries  (in addition to John Malkovich)–Robert Browning and Elenora Duse, for example,  memorialized in the Via Robert Browning, the Hotel Duse, and even “Pasta alla Duse,” which includes tomatoes, local olive oil and “formaggion di malga,” an Italian alpine cow’s milk cheese made not far away.   And there is of course the famous Catarina Cornaro (late 15th c.), whose rather paranoid portrait hangs between the Cipriani concierge’s desk and the foot of the main stairwell and whose castle dominates the village skyline.  Venice acquired the kingdom of Cyprus by marrying Catarina, a member of a highly-regarded Venetian family, to the king of Cyprus – and then poisoned him.  Catarina was forced into exile  in Asolo, where she coined the term “asolare”  to describe her life of idleness and isolation.

Queen Caterina's castle

View from near the terrace of the restaurant Due Mori

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had this past week–octopus, Venice, rivers and canals, ristros, prosecco, sopressa, and learning to remember that my feet are fastened to my pedals, unless I unclip them–and all without gaining any weight!  Vernon and Kathy were the ideal guides and everyone pitched in to make it a great group.

You can't escape them!

Side view of Queen Caterina's towers

If our adventures through the Veneto countryside sound appealing, you  can find details about future trips, along with more pictures, at the ItaliaOutdoors link below.  Biking, cooking, eating–what’s not to like?

Arrivederci!  Ciao-ciao!

For more pictures of our trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 7 – Asolo to Bassano del Grappa, Farewell Dinner

Our last ride of the trip was a tired cyclist’s fantasy–17 km.,  almost all of it downhill.  Only one hill in the entire ride.

I was  sorry when it ended.   I am definitely going to miss Palladian villas, canals, signless intersections, prosecco breaks and cruising past bucolic scenes like the one above.

Ken and I took a wrong turn so we were the last to arrive in Bassono del Grappa.  Everyone except Vernon and Kathy had gone on ahead to explore the town.  While we were stashing our gear Ken noticed an unusual memorial across the street – Viale dei Martiri – where we had parked.  It looked like a WWII era photograph above a graphic of a hangman’s noose, with a fresh flower.   A little research revealed that a the town held an annual September commemoration to honor the 31 partisans hung by the Waffen SS from the trees on the street where we were standing.  It was moving to see each of the trees with its little flowerpot and at the same time difficult to reconcile the summer afternoon of our visit with the events some 65 years ago.  Things were not always as they appear today.

Memorial for Italian partisan

Viale dei Martiri today

Although Bassano del Grappa is not named after  grappa, you’d never know it given the distillate’s influence on the town–the Jacobo Poli Grappa Museum and the Nardini  grapperia come immediately to mind, along with the hundreds of bottles displayed in storefronts.   Bassano does have a second culinary claim to fame: locals assert that white asparagus was invented here.  After a hailstorm destroyed the crops, farmers dug into the asparagus beds to discover if anything might be salvaged and – Miraculo! – found that the buried pale asparagus was delicious.

Notice all of the grappa bottles cunningly disguised as pork products.

Broadening the cultural context beyond food, strollers through the town will also see signs of the local ceramics, and Bassano del Grappa’s own link to Palladio – the Ponte Vecchio – a wooden bridge designed by the architect with an unusual degree of flexibility in order not to be carried away by current of the Brenta River when it flooded.

I don’t have a picture of the Ponte Vecchio, mainly because to take it we’d have had to move a considerable distance downstream.  Ken did take a picture from the bridge. 

The most entertaining event of the day was our visit to the Jacabo Poli Grappa Museum.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Abandon all hope. . .

I’m not here to drink. See, I’m holding pastries.

The museum is filled with wild copper and glass distilling apparatus.

99 bottles of grappa on the wall, 99 bottles of grappa. . .

One of Poli’s wonderful innovations is a sniffing room, with a variety of grappas that can be transformed into a aerosol mist with the push of button, giving you a chance to “taste” them.

So, how do you make these work?

Like this. . .

. . . and this.

Ron, I found one I liked.

I know what aroma it makes ME feel.

Sure beats riding around in the sun all day.

We'll take them all.

After the grappa museum (AND store), Ken and I wandered through the town with no obvious purpose other than to perhaps grab some lunch.  At the shop where I’d bought some pastries earlier we asked for a recommendation and were directed to Amadeus, a small ristorante tipica a couple of streets over.  To our chagrin the owner told us he had no openings for at least an hour and we watched enviously as construction workers in shorts and boots hurried past us to their seats.  The restaurant chalkboard outside said the day’s special was rabbit.  Malcontenti, we left, settling for pizza, but dreaming of rabbit.

Even knowing what lay ahead of us, I opted to ride back to Asolo on my bike, as did Ron.  I don’t think either of us were quite ready to call it quits.

That night we had a farewell dinner at the restaurant of the Villa Cipriani.  Everyone gathered in the sunroom adjacent to the terrace for a prosecco – our last ristro together.  Rosemarie’s husband Steve , their daughter Tessa and their good friend and expert  climber Rollo finished their hiking trip in the Dolomites in time to join us for dinner al fresco.  Kathy handed out awards for “Most Intrepid Tour Leader” (Rosemarie), “Most Likely to Replace Jody Adams in the Kitchen” (Emma), “Most Likely ot Reach the Top of the Hill First” (Ron), “Most Likely to Become a Butcher” (Robbie) and “Best Dressed” (Lena).  I got a signed Italia bike shirt to commemorate the trip.

On the LAST trip I made everyone ride up a hill like this!

For more pictures of our trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 6 – Vincenza, Teatro Olimpico, and the ride to Asolo.

View from car window descending from Hotel Villa Margherita

Thursday morning we loaded our bikes into the van and hit the road for Vicenzo, where we’d spend a couple of hours before biking partway to next stop on our tour, Asolo.  Vernon warned us that Asolo sat on the side of mountain and that the approach would be quite demanding.   Any brave souls were welcome to give it a try–the rest of us could ride up in a van.

Riding down the hillside from the Villa Michelangelo was much more terrifying than taking the same route up on a bike.  Switchback turns, steep drops; I was sitting next to an outside passenger window, with a stomach-churning view over the cliff.   It didn’t help to see the occasional memento mori, often accompanied by flowers, marking the spot where a previous traveller suffered a fatal lapse of attention.

Evidence of a little excess speed?

Hold on!

We left the van with the bikes outside of Vicenza to make our departing ride easier in a few hours, then drove into the city from the southern heights, passing by the green-domed Basilica di Monte Berico, then descending into the town and finding a spot within walking distance of the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio’s last great project, the Teatro Olimpico.

The city of Vicenza, the Teatro Olimpico and the villas of the Veneto, all of which bear the stamp of Palladio, were given protected status as a single Unesco World Heritage Site in the mid-’90′s.

One of the courtyard statues donated by the Olimpic Academy, the society that built the theater

The Teatro Olimpico, built between 1580 and 1585, is Palladio’s recreations of  a wood and plaster Roman theater– squeezed inside a medieval stone fortress.   As I was sitting in the steep audience gallery a guide addressing a nearby tour group in English explained that the heads of the plaster statues  decorating the theater interior were not the originals.  They had been replaced by those of donors, an inducement to wealthy Vicenzi to support the theater in the financially straightened times following Palladio’s death early in the theater’s construction.  The theater is still in active use today with a wide variety of productions.   Visitors to the Teatro Olimpico website can get see a few seconds of Stomp! performed on a stage set designed to replicate ancient Thebes.

Maybe NPR could give the statue thing a try during their next fundraiser. . .

After visiting the theater the group split up for an hour of wandering through Vicenza.  At an open air market I found dance shorts for my daughter Roxanne and packets of local vegetable seed.  When I get back I’ll give them to farmers who supply Rialto and see what happens.

We arrived back at the Teatro entrance at the Piazza Matteoti for our eleven-thirty rendezvous a few minutes early.   While waiting I couldn’t help but notice the locals whizzing by on their bikes.

After retrieving our own bikes we set off on the 30 km. ride to Bassano del Grappa.  It was a relief to spend some time back out in the country again.

Rural beehives

Farmhouse and circular hay bales

We enjoyed a couple of solid hours of farmland before our surroundings became increasingly urban–apartment buildings, cafes, gas stations.  We stopped for lunch on the outskirts of Bassano del Grappa, and everyone voted to load the bikes into the van for the ascent up to Asolo.  That night we were on our own for dinner.  Just up the street from the Villa Cipriani, our hotel, Kathy, Ken and I found a great restaurant , Hosteria Ca’ Derton.   Ron, Lena, Emma and Rosemarie opted for another nearby restaurant, Ristorante Due Mori.   Everyone praised both both restaurants and Due Mori diners enjoyed the extra treat of eating on a terrace with a spectacular view of the countryside below and if you looked closely at the walls inside, photographs of John Malkovich, who ate there frequently during a nearby film shoot.  At Ca’ Derton we didn’t have a view or pictures of John Malkovich, but we did have some fabulous food, including a handful of items that might have been lifted right out of our class menu.  These included Roasted Game Hen with Peverada Sauce, Crudo, and Octopus with Potatoes.  Of course we had to try all of them and while they were excellent, nothing tastes as good as great food you’ve made yourself.

For more pictures of our trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 5 – Colli Berici Ride and Dinner at Vernon’s

No guest of the Hotel Villa Michelangelo in Arcugnano could ever mistake his surroundings for flatland.   Standing at the edge of the hotel lawn is like being in a hot-air balloon, suspended among hills carpeted with the vineyards and forest and dotted with villas.    The view offers a visual lesson in the up-and-down-ness of the local terrain.

Wednesday morning we had two choices f0r rides, the first, a loop that included traversing the Dorsi di Berici–the “backbone” of the Berici Hills; the second,  lowland tour around Lake Fimon.  The first was about 60 km.; the second, about half that.  The first, as  Vernon explained in modest understatement, included “rolling hills;  the second was more or less a ride downhill followed by a long flat circle.  Whichever one we chose, there would be no backup vans.   Today Vernon and Kathy  were riding along with us on their own bicylces.

Everyone bravely opted for the Dorsi di Berici loop.  We headed down the hotel drive, turned left, and then shifted gears as the road began to climp up.

We soon encountered a road sign with a wave-like icon and a km. number indicating a stretch of  up-and-down terrain ahead.  What the sign didn’t tell us was the relative relationship of the rises to the falls; whether, for example, we were in for a couple of steep climbs alternating with steep drops or, say, a long gradual climb followed by a two or three sharper descents.   Barely had we passed the sign when Rosemarie’s chain jumped its sprocket and jammed so firmly that Vernon couldn’t fix it without tools–he’d have to walk the bike back to the hotel.  Concern over the possibility of future jams and not wanting to slow the rest of us down convinced Emma, Robbie and Rosemarie herself to switch to the Lake Fimon route.   So half of us returned to the hotel, the chain was repaired, and the three women set off on successful loop around Lake Fimon.  Lena, Ron, Ken and I followed Kathy ahead onto the Dorsi, with Vernon rejoining us the rest were safely away.

"You're not pushing hard enough!"

This doesn't look good. . .

Berici fixer-upper

The eleven-kilometer slog to the top of the Dorsi was more demanding than the term “rolling hills” suggested, but we made it, just as Vernon predicted.   The high point was in San Gottardo,  and I had to wonder if the fact that it shared a name with a pass in the Swiss Alps was just a coincidence.    We were rewarded with  a screamingly fast  zoom downhill to Barbarano–Ken’s pedometer  clocked him at 53 km/hr–pretty zippy for a bike.   At Barbarano we stopped  for a well-deserved prosecco and bruschetta ristro.

We then passed a wonderful half-hour in Barbarano tasting olive oil and trying out a variety of olive-oil based cosmetics.

"Oh, man, does that feel good!"

Barbarano was surrounded by rolling farmland, a little like Vermont, if Vermont had prosecco and a lot of vineyards.  Ken kept wanting to stop and take photographs, but Vernon, Kathy and I had to get back to the hotel ASAP in order to prep for the final cooking class and dinner at Vernon’s house that night.  Ken assured us he’d be able to find his way back.  He missed a turn of course, got lost, had some adventures, but managed to find his way back with the map a few hours behind the rest of us.   He did get some good pictures of a few places we never saw.

For the last cooking class I thought we’d mix things up a little–two kinds of of risotto for Emma, a  local delicacy called sauce peverada often served with fowl or game birds, spatchc0cked (split and flattened) chickens grilled over coals (bring on the peverada), some deep-fried eggs Lena had tasted in Venice and wanted to see if she could duplicate, brandade (a potato and bacala mixture with cream and shallots), beet salad and for a sweet finale, a tiramisu.

Vernon’s wife Nadia was incredibly generous in allowing us to operate in her kitchen.  She took all the activity in stride and wanted to participate.  I don’t think she’d ever seen so many people rubbing shoulders over her stove or chopping at her island at once–and she’d certainly never been confronted with a mess like the one we made (and cleaned up).   Luca, Vernon’s fourteen-year-old son, also lent a hand.  Outdoor competence seems to run in the family – he made us a moka pot of espresso coffee atop a propane camp burner.  Vernon’s and Nadia’s daughter Lisa stayed out of sight during much of the activity, but was coaxed into joining us when everyone sat down to eat.

Vernon's wife Nadia and their son Luca

Some of these chicken still have feathers attached!

Appetizers - hard-boiled eggs, evoo and--what else?--prosecco. . .

Emma stirring zucchini risotto

Wait a minute--you agreed to do the beet salad, the brandade and the eggs???!!!

We need more people in the kitchen.

Chicken grilling under bricks

Peverada sauce

Beet salad

Brandade of salt cod

Lena's eggs

Grilled chicken

Rosemarie's polenta

Tiramisu, before the last layer goes on

Vernon, in his usual role

After the main courses, grappa and tiramisu

For more pictures of our trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 4 – Mira to Arcugnano

Ron, raring to go. . .

So our bikes have been fitted and tweaked for us.  We’ve taken a practice run and had our fill of urban tourism.  It was time to hit the road and explore the agricultural plain that extended north, south and west  from Venice.  The plan was to cover about 50 km.–about 30 miles–in an arc running roughly southwest beginning Mira, skirting south of Padova, and finishing in Arcugnano, where we’ll be staying at the Hotel Villa Michelangelo.

By nine-thirty everyone had their luggage downstairs, tagged and ready for transport; laptops and redundant camera gear went into one of the two vans driven by Kathy and Vernon, who had also replaced maps from our ride of two days ago with fresh maps and new routes in the clear plastic envelopes velcro-ed to our handlebars.  The plan for the day was fairly simple.  Vernon explained the route for the day–or at least as much of it as we needed until our first rendezvous point an hour or two down the road, listing important landmarks, things to watch for, important sites, etc., then we–me, Lena, Ron, Robbie, Rosemarie, Emma and Ken–set out on our own.

At various junctures along the route we’d encounter Vernon and the van  pulled off the road, giving everyone an opportunity to refill with water (especially critical in the afternoon, when we were drinking a liter or more an hour).   All of us had cellphones (okay, Ken didn’t bring one because I told him he wouldn’t need it–ha!) so if someone became separated from the group and got lost or had a breakdown, help was only a call away.

We were on the road by ten-thirty and the day was warm.  The terrain southeast of Mira is relatively flat.  It makes for fairly easy biking through small towns separated by lots of farms, many of which advertise “Agroturismo” at the head of their drives.  Out in the country both sides of the road often plunge into ditches.  Sometimes the ditch is a scary pitch down an embankment, at others it’s little more than a shallow depression, and once in awhile it’s invisible because of the heavy growth coming out of either side and you don’t even realize there’s a ditch at all until you step off your bike to take a picture or perhaps plunder a ripe apricot and then suddenly go toppling forward into the hidden ravine you didn’t even know was there.

Just out of reach. . . but not for a picture.

Roadside ditches are Venetian history writ small.  Much of the Veneto plain is drained marshland.  Inhabitants of the region have been draining and channeling local water since the Middle Ages.  The sight of a high-powered sprinkler arcing a steam of water in the distance notwithstanding, the ditches are an important component of local irrigation.  Ditches run alongside fields (often bordered by roads);  when certain gates are opened and others closed the field floods.  The ditches feed from from local canals that get their own water from bigger canals which are often  transformed sections of original riverbed.  The Brenta Canal, whose course we followed for our first ride, was actually a length of the Brenta River, transformed into a canal in the 16th century.  The inland head was at Stra, site of the Villa Pisani.  As Veneto marshes were drained more land became arable–and valuable.  The canalized sections of river helped control flooding and provided a reliable means of transportation through a heretofore often impassable region.

Brenta Canal at Mira

As I said, the terrain was mostly flat, but that didn’t mean there were no hills (Vernon’s Law of Biking Elevation: The rise up and over an autostrada does not count as a hill). And hills mean you need to shift out the gear range you’ve been using while tooling along the flatland.   About an hour out of Mira we had our first mishap.  Rosemarie “Chain-Jammin’” Johnson managed to inadvertently shift her chain off the smallest rear gear, wedging it between the frame and the gear.  Vernon to the rescue.

The problem. . .

. . . and the solution

Ken happened to mention to me that it felt a bit odd to be riding along and every forty-five minutes or so see a white van with Kathy or Vernon keeping tabs on us.  Whatever happened to the romance of the open road, blah blah blah? Actually I’ll trade the romance of the open road to having a bike mechanic and caterer on instant call any day of the week.  In any event Vernon quickly set Chain Jammin’s bike aright and we were soon back on the road.

We took our first ristro (Venetian dialect term, meaning “to take a break from cycling in order to drink prosecco”) in the shade next to a church in Legnaro, one of the small towns we were traversing.  We paused long enough to rehydrate, grab an espresso across the street, and learn the name of the church – San Biagio.   If you’re determined  to learn the the story of the Armenian martyr San Biagio (Saint Blaise to the English-speaking world), and why he’s so inspirational for the Italians, offer to buy Ken an espresso coretto the next time you see him and I’m sure he’ll be happy to tell you.

San Biagio

"You're getting burned."

Early into the afternoon we began to see the first of our Venetian colli – hills.   Abano Terme, our destination for lunch, sits in the middle of what was once a volcanic plane.  The colli are independent and solitary,  like Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, as opposed to the ridgelike upthrusts that mark tectonic fault lines.  The colli are actually the dormant volcanic cones.   Volcanic activity hasn’t vanished from the region altogether.  Abano Termes and it’s neighbor Montegrotto  Terme are famous for the therapeutic quality of their water, geothermal springs (188 degrees F) and curative mud baths.  Italians can actually receive a prescription from their doctor for a restorative stay in one of Abano’s many hospital or hotel treatment facilities.   (In an odd coincidence, we learned that the  woman standing in line ahead of us for the Air France baggage check-in at Marco Polo Airport had just spent the last week at Abano Terme getting the spa treatment for arthritis.)

The great advantage to having an antipasti class the night before a long bike ride is the guarantee of an incredible lunch.  Many antipasti taste even better the day after their preparation, and with an appetite worked up by a couple of hours of biking we were definitely ready for second helpings of Ron’s octopus and Emma’s salad.

The afternoon seemed to grow hotter as the day wore on and Vernon no longer had to keep quizzing us: “Are using your water bottles?  Are you drinking?”  The sight of the van was greeted with more and more relief.  Water was at hand.

The highlight of the afternoon was a brief respite at the Benedictine Praglia Abbey,  visible across a plain where it sits at  the foot of the Euganean Hills.  The abbey dates from the 1th century, with most of the currently visible Renaissance architecture reflecting the height of the abbey’s political and spiritual power.  Political upheaval from the 1700′s through the beginning of the 20th century forced the monastic community into a series of exiles, but the current Benedictine order has been in place for the last one hundred years.   Access to much of the abbey is restricted because of  monks living and working there.  The abbey does  feature a center for restoring ancient books but the only thing that was open during our visit was the gift shop selling honey and various other agricultural produced by the monks.   One excellent feature of the site is a natural spring  just inside the gates.  I took the opportunity to rinse the dregs of Gatorade our of my bottle then refilling it with fresh springwater  before setting off once more.

Paglia Abbey in the background

"You go poke around the monastery. We'll just wait here."

You can just see the gate into the monastery between the two cedars. It's locked--I know, I tried.

By three-thirty we had reached Longare, a couple of towns short of our final destination in Arcugnano.  Vernon explained that the Hotel Villa Michelangelo was reached via a 1.5 km access road and–to give everyone a heads-up–the road was a “steep climb.”  A steep climb? Who do you think you’re talkin’ to?  I eat steep climbs for breakfast! Yeah, right.  Those who didn’t want to give the access road a try dismounted for a ride up in the van.   Ron, Ken and I decided to do the rest of the route on our bikes.

Vernon turned out not to be exaggerating.  The road was murderously steep, and while I never had to drop down to my lowest gear, I was tempted more than once to get off my bike.  Ron made it to the top first, then me,  where Kathy and Vernon were waiting for us.  We stood chatting, waiting for Ken.  And waiting. . .  and waiting. . .  My husband learned a hard lesson that day – he thought he was in the lowest gear and after huffing and puffing two-thirds of the way up he was finally forced off his bike.  When he came into view ten minutes later his nose was bleeding.  Vernon congratulated him on getting as far as he did, then remarked, “The ironic thing is you had plenty of gear to spare.”

“What do you mean?”

“Take a look,” Vernon said, pointing to the front gear wheel, where Ken’s chain rested on the middle sprocket,  “You had another three or four lower gears to go.”

Ken shook his head in disbelief.  There was time for a brief dip in the pool of the Hotel Villa Michelangelo, then a cocktail on the terrace to savor the view of the surrounding countryside and speculate on just who could actually live in which fabulous villa perched on the various hillsides visible below us.  Dinner in the hotel restaurant.  No one stayed up late–given the ride ahead of us the next day, a wise decision.

For more pictures from our  trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 3 – Venice and antipasti

Is there anyone who could not immediately identify this city?

Venice.  La Serenissima. Another labyrinth -  this time of narrow cul-de-sacs, of streets and canals whose layout seems to have more in common with a fun house than an actual city.  Vernon and Kathy dropped us off at the Piazzale  Roma and we made our way on foot into the city of bridges and canals.  Visiting Venice at the height of the summer tourist season with the thermometer heading toward 90 requires a certain amount of craziness, but we were determined to round up ingredients for that night’s antipasti class and, speaking for myself, pay a visit to the original Rialto.

Do you really want to go inside?

Ken and I made the obligatory stop at the Piazza San Marco, where we threw financial caution to the winds and spent 40 euros for the privilege of enjoying two cappuccini and a bottle of mineral water at the Cafe Florian while  the elegantly turned out house band played Pamplona. We gazed across the piazza to a line of brutally determined visitors sweating it out in the block-long line to get into the Ducal Palace.  Not for us.

The open-air market

The Erbaria, the fruit and vegetable market in Venice is not as impressive as, say, the one in Campo dei Fiori in Rome, but still substantial, even if you arrive, as we did, toward the tail end of things.  Vendors tend to close by lunchtime or when they run out of goods, whichever comes first.  We didn’t arrive until almost eleven so some of the vendors were already packing up.  Still, we had no problem locating beans, artichokes, tomatoes and squash blossoms.  Although there were displays of fresh seafood outside some of the nearby restaurants, the Pescheria, the famous seafood market on the San Polo side of the Rialto, is closed on Mondays, so we had to rely on Dal Corso family to get us the octopus, sole and tubot we needed for the antpasti class later that day.

After the erbaria no one was particularly interested in tromping off to see the the usual sites -  too hot, too many tourists and everyone except Ken and I had arrived several days earlier and had plenty of time to sate their museum-and-church bug.  But we couldn’t skip the Rialto.   Getting a good group shot out of both shade and direct sunlight and still showing a bit of  bridge in the background was a challenge.    Judge for yourself.

There is one thing that you can do in Venice, even when it’s jammed with tourists, if you know where to go.  Eat and drink.  And we had just the right spot in mind – the Cantina do Mori. Visitors may come to Venice for the art and history, but  long after impressions of frescoed ceilings have faded patrons of the Cantina do Mori will recall that refreshing first gulp of prosecco on a hot afternoon.  And then, thirst at bay, remember the difficulty of choosing between the octopus and the squid, between the baccala or the sopressa sitting atop the trim squares of polenta behind the glass-in-shelves. One final cool thing about the cantina that anchors it somewhere in the indeterminate past is that they serve prosecco in those wide-mouth champagne glasses – you know, the kind that appear in New Yorker cartoons.

Need I explain?

Sopressa and pickled onions

Note the glasses in everyone's hands. . .

Back at the hotel later later that afternoon we worked on preparing our own Venetian antipasti banquet:

Artichoke, Fennel, Orange, Zucchini, Asiago and Walnut salad

Crudo of Turbot with Lemon, Celery, Rosemary and Capers

Sweet and Sour Venetian Fish

Grilled Citrus Octopus

Warm Mustard Potatoes

Grilled Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Asiago

Grilled Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Herb Ricotta

Marinated Radicchio

Venetian Squid

During our cooking lesson a couple of days earlier with the Dal Corso family the group showed an admirable absence of squeamishness (hurray!).   People gutted fish and cleaned scallops like they’d been raised on the water and I was happy to see everyone bring the same spirit to the antipasti class.   It was almost scary to watch Robbie efficiently peeling the skin off a raw turbot; Emma prepared a delicious artichoke salad; Ron took a hands-on attitude with the squid; and Rosemarie, who’d never dealt with squash blossoms before, patiently filled and grilled them.  Judging by the sounds of appreciation everyone made once we began eating, the class was a great success.   Even Rosemarie, who’s mostly vegetarian, had to take an occasional taste of seafood, purely for informational purposes, I’m sure.  It was a great time.

For more pictures of our trip go to Italioutdoors.

Ron, in his new role as king of octopus

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Day 2 – The final results

So after a couple of hours in the kitchen we dined afresco, waited on by brothers Alessandro and Dario Dal Corso , who served us the results of our efforts in the kitchen (okay, they did the heavy lifting). First the gnocchi.

Gnocchi with Adriatic sea scallops. The bright orange bits are the roe sacs.

Then the fish baked in salt.

Then the wonderful apples in pastry.

The top is a little fish...

For more picture of our trip go to  Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 2 – Our first ride and a cooking lesson

Today we hit the road for a test ride, a (relatively) short ride west from our base in Mira at the Hotel Villa Margherita.

"Here's where we start - here's where we end up."

Ruined villas, pasture, farms and villages, all in all a fairly flat run.  After about an hour and a half we reach the far point of our loop, the spectacular Palladian Villa Pisani.  Built by the noble Venetian Pisani family in the early 18th century, the villa overlooks the Brenta canal some 30 kilometers west of Venice.

Reflecting pool and interior courtyard of Villa Pisani

Purportedly based on the design of Versailles the palace stands empty now.  Its most interesting feature (to us) was the incredible maze.

"I think we go left--no, right!"

After a pleasant trip retracing our route–broken by a stop at a charming Enoteca Dolo, a former mill and now a cafe in the town of Dolo where Jody’s Seven bicycle provoked the first of many comments this trip–”Great bike–why’d they cut it in half?”–we made it back to the hotel in time for the cooking class at the hotel.

"If you can hold it close to your nose for ten seconds then it is fresh."

The generous DalCorso family gave us a personal lesson in the how-to’s of gnocchi with a fresh scallop sauce, sea bass baked in salt and baked apples in pastry.

For more pictures of our trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Day 1 – Three Weddings and a Flat Tire

Garden Apollo at the Villa Margherita

Garden Apollo at the Villa Margherita

After an uneventful flight  out of Boston we had one of those sweaty-palmed stopovers in Paris while we inched our way through Charles de Gaulle  security, wondering whether we were going to make our connection to Venice.  We collapsed into our seats   just as they were announcing last call for boarding.   Ninety minutes later  we touched down  at Marco Polo Airport, relieved to be welcomed by a familiar Kathy Bechtel.  Aching for real coffee after twelve hours of Nescafe we convinced Kathy to pull into an autogrill off the highway en route to Mira for a quick infusion of caffeine before arriving at the hotel.

Two cappuccinos later Kathy delivered us up a long elegant drive to the  Hotel Villa Margherita where we settled into our rooms for a hot shower and 2-minute rest before heading to the hotel’s restaurant for a perfect simple lunch of arugula and parmesan salad, vegetable risotto and fresh fruit with vanilla ice cream.

Vila Margherita, first evening

After my bicycle fitting with Vernon, I set off on my virgin ride with my brand new snap-on shoes (the opposite of a snap-on tie).

How do you unhook these damn things?

I wanted to get the hang of getting in and out of the pedals before our serious ride the next day.   So as not to get lost, I made my way along the canal and passed not one, not two, but three weddings at three different churches.

Nuptial transport, Italian style

It gave a feeling of celebration that seemed fitting for my first day.  I was feeling great, reveling in the Italianess of it all, taking in the amazing aroma of the giant magnolias and fantasizing about a life in a crumbling Palladio villa when a huge pop brought me back to the moment.  My rear tire was flat.  Fortunately, that was the sum of the drama.  I managed to get my feet out of the pedals without embarrassing myself  and contemplated what to do.  I was supposed to be back at the hotel in 10 minutes and by foot, I was 20 minutes away.  I did have a cute tire fixing kit on the back of my bike, but I hadn’t a clue how to change the tire.  It was way too fancy a bike to just ignore the flat and ride on the rim so I opted for the on-foot alternative.

I arrived back just in time for the introductory wine, cheese and speck tasting but did not escape the label of top trouble maker so far.

"There'll be frequent stops for prosecco along our route."

For more pictures of our trip go to Italiaoutdoors.

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Jody and her bike return to Italy!

Jody and Vernon in Umbria

Jody and Vernon in Umbria

To all of you readers who have followed my bike trips to Italy through this blog – there is more to come! I have two more trips planned for 2010, both created just for me by our terrific guide Vernon. So come to the Veneto with me for cooking, biking and sipping Prosecco.  We cook together, ride a bit and laugh a lot.

It’s a ton of fun, and if you don’t want to ride, that’s okay… there’s a van ride for you.  I know it will be great.  The first trip will be June 26 – July 3, 2010, and the second in the fall, September 25 – October 2, 2010. For more information please check out:

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Umbria… Assisi and Spello

The theme of the day is bikes, nuns and churches.  We see many of each.



Young nun with a bag of flour


The sun is shining as we pedal onward toward Assisi.  A few kilometers before we reach the town we stop by the sky-blue domed Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli.   The basilica was built around the Porziuncola, the original church where Saint Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor in 1209.  Lots of churches are built on the foundations of older buildings, or they incorporate the old building into the new structure.  This is different.  The entire original chapel is intact, distinct, sitting in the middle of the open interior of the basilica.  Think ship-in-a-bottle, except with Franciscans.  Stunning frescoes inside the Porziuncola illustrate events from the life of Saint Francis.  I want to include a picture, but cameras are forbidden.  You can take a peek at the mystery here:


Santa Maria degli Angeli


Bike Riders at Santa Maria degli Angeli…Dan, Kay, Jim, Vernon, Jackie, Ron and Kathy


Up, up, up we climb to Assisi, but it is absolutely worth the effort.


Resting troops… Susan, Jackie, Dan, Ron… just can’t kick the technology habit

Resting troops… Susan, Jackie, Dan, Ron… just can’t kick the technology habit

We visit the Basilica di San Francesco, home of the tomb of Saint Francis of Assisi, and the center of the Franciscan order.  Giuseppe, the best tour guide ever, whispers wonderful stories about St. Francis and the Basilica through our earphones.   The basilica is contains two churches, upper and lower.  Their locations mirror their presentation.  The lower one sits beneath an awe-inspiring series of frescoed arches (remember all those 8th-grade illustrations of groined vaults?).  The upper church is a grander, more formal affair, with sunlight streaming through gorgeous stained-glass windows.



Giuseppe points out that the lower frescoes look faded because visitors over the centuries have scraped off the precious minerals that were used to create the vivid blues and golds.  He shows us the first examples of perspective drawing on the frescoed walls.  And he tells us that although Saint Francis is known as the patron saint of animals, he is really the patron saint of the environment and lived a life devoted to serving the poor.  Even after only a short lesson about Saint Francis, it’s impossible not to be awed by his work, and by the brown-robed Franciscan friars and nuns we see who continue his work today.

Giuseppe tells us about the hiding space between the upper and lower churches, used to secret Jewish refugees during the Second World War.  Although there is no record of any Jews ever living in Assisi before the war, 200 Jews were hidden in the town’s various convents and monasteries, sometimes dressed as monks and nuns.



Saint Francis of Assisi



Franciscan nuns

At the end of the tour we feast on typical Assisi sweets.



Spello, another amazingly beautiful stone-walled city.

In Spello we disperse to wander the town, but Chip and Keith discover the winner for lunch, Enoteca Properzio a wine store and Umbrian specialty shop with a cafe.  Spello is so small that within 30 minutes, everyone touring the town on foot manages to pass by their table—and decide this is where we ought to be, join them, sharing wine and bruschette.  Roberto Angelini, the manager, wears blue jeans.  He never stops talking or moving.  “Come! Come!  You must see my tasting rooms complete with kitchens.”  According to Roberto we have arrived at the source for the best wine, the best olive oil, the best beans and meats in Italy.  We taste and buy everything in sight.  Roberto is happy.


Spello street

Spello street


Hanging at the Enoteca… Collen, Jody, Kathy, BA and Lena

Hanging at the Enoteca… Collen, Jody, Kathy, BA and Lena



Dinner at our hotel, Tre Vaselle, is elegant, truly delicious and afterwards I have a chance to thank the chef personally.


The menu reflects a modern interpretation of traditional Umbrian cooking.  Squash blossoms stuffed with a mixture of lake shrimp and ricotta, the whole thing on a zucchini emulsion; black celery soup, a specialty of Umbria; truffled ravioli; roast squab.  We end with pears poached in Sagrantino wine.

IMG_2323Squash blossoms





Message from Saint Francis

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Umbria…Todi to Torgiano

Olive trees

Olive trees




We ride through the Tiber River Valley.  Groves of trees peppered with tiny green olives.  Clusters of purple grapes dangle from vines.  Fields and fields and fields of sunflowers.  We stop to gather walnuts from the ground, marvel at the sunny yellow crocuses growing under an olive tree in September (!?) and admire the bursting figs a man is collecting in a leaf-lined basket.  He calls out from the top of his ladder, “Mangia, mangia,” and climbs down to peel them for us.  We eat them with juice running down our chins.


Our new friend with figs


Juicy figs


Susan eats a fig

We stop for lunch and we buy sausage, cheese and capers for our antipasti cooking class.  I asked Antonio if he would put fennel in the sausage and he gives me the unlike-in-Tuscany-in-Umbria-we-know-better-than-to-do-that look.  When I point out that there was fennel in the salami we have just eaten for lunch, he just shrugs.  This must be a fluke.  He doesn’t know how this can be.

Sausage maker and cook

Sausage maker and cook

Everyone wants to know about Umbrian sunflowers.  Why are they grown?  Why are black?  Have the seeds been collected yet?  What do Umbrians do with the seeds?  We get our answers from Lorenzo who joins us for lunch.  Sunflowers are grown for their seeds and the oil produced from them.  The plants are left to dry naturally in the sun until they’re black, then they’re harvested, leaving only the stalks in the ground. The ones we have been seeing have not yet been harvested.

Drying sunflowers

Drying sunflowers

Chef teaches Chef

Chef teaches Chef

Our evening includes a class before dinner on how to make torta al testo—a griddle bread.  I love watching the Bike Rider excitement at the uniquely satisfying feel of kneading dough.  We learn to make a simple yeasted dough with flour, salt, water, a drop of olive oil and a one-hour rise that they use to make all their breads—free-form loaves, schiacciata in a sheet pan with tomato and onion toppings, and the torta al testo they split, fill with cheeses, meats and vegetables, and heat.  It’s an Umbrian quesadilla.


Mis en place

Ron, Dan Gary and Chip…I know how to knead

Ron, Dan Gary and Chip…I know how to knead

Collen, Kathy, Susan, Jim, Kay and Lena…how much flour?

Collen, Kathy, Susan, Jim, Kay and Lena…how much flour?







By this time we’re all old friends and spend hours laughing around the table at the family-style Umbrian feast the restaurant cooks for us.

Our biggest adventure of the day is the ride home.  The restaurant is down a remote road and our poor sweating driver, who happens to be a police officer, is unable to find his way out.  After a false start, we turn around and start over.  Then we do it again.  And again.  We see a sign for forest fires.  We joke that we may have to camp out overnight.  Haha.  Then an Umbrian wild boar dart across the road.  Hahaha.  Maybe we’ll pass on the camping.  We arrive back at the hotel 45 minutes after the others.  The driver is the happiest to see it.


Grape vines

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Dear friends,

I fully intended to update this blog each day while on the Bike Rider trip in Umbria, but technology got the better of me.  On our first day of riding my Blackberry made a suicidal leap out of my bike bag and expired.  In addition, each hotel offered a new wireless challenge.  Today access is only available in the bathroom of my hotel.  If you followed my Sicilian trip last May you may remember that Catherine and I faced a similar problem in Catania. The only thing to do is laugh.


en route to Todi

Day 1–Todi

You never know what will happen when 17 people come together for a week of biking, cooking and eating.  It might be a fun, easy-going group, up for anything.  Or not.   But I’m not worried.  Everyone introduced him or herself in Rialto at least once and I traveled with our guides, Dawn and Vernon,  a year and a half ago in Sicily.  It’s going to be a great trip. I am a little concerned about the weather.  Dawn and Vernon assure me all will be fine, even if it does rain.  Nothing fazes them. They’re veterans.


Dawn, Jody and Vernon

Susan, Kathy and I arrive ahead of schedule at the train station in Perugia. How novel!    Being late is my perpetual failing, but I want to be on hand to greet the riders with Vernon and Dawn.  We sip coffee at the tiny bar that straddles the street and the train station.  Train fuel, cigarette smoke, the clanking and tooting of train arrivals, the old Italian man behind the counter in his uniform blue jacket handling money and barking orders to his wife—all of it gives me a Proustian jolt back to my Eurail days.  Grubby students burdened with enormous backpacks call out to me.  I could join them in a heartbeat and hop a train to anywhere.  Instead I finish my coffee, allow my daydreams to fade and set off in search of the Bike Riders.


BA, Colleen, Susan, Kathy and Jackie

We all find each other, the vans are packed, and we head for the hotel, Relais Todini, which sits on a hill about 8 kilometers outside of Todi.



We take in the spectacular view of Todi, muted by a light fog, as we gather around the pool.  Lunch is a typical Umbrian antipasti: Umbrian prosciutto, capocollo and salami; bruschette topped with liver pate, mushrooms and tomatoes; pecorino cheeses with honey; salads of fennel, tomatoes and greens;  and finally a bowl with flavorful peaches and “stupid grapes.”


Our first typical Umbrian antipasti


Stupid grapes

After chatting with everyone, I know that with Dawn and Vernon as our guides and the fabulous food, wine and countryside Umbria offered, it’s going to be a fabulous trip.

At a short orientation meeting Dawn and Vernon talk us through the next week of our lives.  Rain, if it happens, will be brief.  Remember to tuck your shoelaces into your shoes.  Gorp will be plentiful.  We then jump on our bikes for an introductory ride and head to Todi.


Orientation with Dawn and Vernon

As we race down the long steep cypress lined road from the hotel, I can’t help but hoot and holler.  How lucky we are.


A street in Todi… a typical Umbrian view


Something to see

Something to hear

Something to hear


Something to taste

Bike Rider days are scheduled with such interesting tours and tastes, that I never want to skip out and write it all down.

When not biking, we eat and drink.  Endlessly.  Yet something magical happens in Italy.  Sleep erases each day’s indulgences.  We waken each morning without noticeable damage to head or stomach.  However, I AM taken aback by how tight my jeans are around my thighs.  Dawn assures me it’s just the amazing muscle development I am experiencing.


En route with Kathy

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Guerilla Grilling Part 13: The Food Project


The Food Project's Mission Statement

Although The Food Project is a sustainable farm with a mission to help create a just food system, it’s really all about the kids, community and the development of work and life skills.


Rialto Guerilla Grillers and The Food Project staff and youth

We came to the farm after the close of the Summer Youth Program and so did not have the opportunity to see all sixty of them working on the farm, but we did get to work beside the handful who had chosen to remain on for a few more weeks and were our generous and patient guides for the day.


Necklace of flags

We pulled into the parking lot of the farm in Lexington and made our way to the large white tent housing a cluster of picnic tables and embellished with a necklace of signs with inspiring words like courage, community, commitment, hope, service, initiative alternating with personalized statements from the summer farmers with hand prints and drawings.


The Food Project youth waiting for their daily assignment

A few of the kids were splayed out on the benches, escaping the hammering heat and waiting for their daily assignments.  Their supervisors were jollying them along towards the fields—fields equal work and work is hot and hard.  They slowly piled into the back of a pick-up truck with a quiet rumble of lighthearted complaining, and were off.  “You’re doing peas again.” I heard one of the supervisors say.


Michael giving us the low down

The Rialto GG team replaced them on the benches and turned their attention to Michael Iceland, the outreach coordinator.   Dressed in khakis, a green Food Project t-shirt and broad straw hat, Michael looked like one of the farmers, but it became clear after listening to him for just a few minutes that his experience and expertise lay in media and public relations.  He is energetic and articulate about The Food Project and passionate about the role it plays in the lives of these kids and the contribution it makes to the community.

In 1991, The Food Project’s founder, Ward Cheney, had a vision of young people from the city and the suburbs working side by side on the land producing food for the hungry and learning together.

“You should have seen the teenagers carrying boxes of compost through the Boston Medical Center lobby and up the elevator to the roof top garden they are tending,” he beamed.

“And we brought fresh vegetables to folks in a Roxbury neighborhood by building a farmer’s market at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.”


Tomato Blight

He was clearly troubled by the tomato blight and talked about how farmers all over the region had lost entire crops.  25,000 pounds in total were lost.  At The Food Project they tore up all the slicing tomato crops, but had hoped the heirlooms would survive.  They didn’t, however some of the cherry tomatoes did.


Cabbage field

But the rest of the crop was healthy.  As we toured the fields, we knew we were near cabbage from the smells that wafted our way.  We learned that cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are planted side by side to ease in their care since they are treated in similar ways.


Onions and Garlic curing in the greenhouse

We visited the sauna-like green house and saw mounds of onions and garlic curing for storage.  The curing allows the skins to dry which serves as a protective layer so they will last up to six months before being sold.  We saw beautiful stalks of corn which we learned was popcorn.  Sweet corn is very land intensive as it is temperamental so it is more cost effective to grow heartier popcorn.



And then we saw the blight.  Rows of seemingly healthy colorful heirloom tomatoes hanging off their plants, but what we discovered when we turned them over it was shocking—a black diseased crater on the underside of each fruit.  It was heartbreaking to see and gave us an up close appreciation of the delicate the balance the relationship is between a farmer and nature.  One unstoppable bug, one unseasonable freeze, one flooded field can change a years worth of work for a farmer.  I was reminded of what Eero at Nesenkeag had told us in June of 2008 about how excessive rains had washed out his lower fields and caused him to lose his crops one month and yet when we visited him, he was unable to use some of  his fields due to lack of rain.

“And now we’re at the night shades, eggplant, bell and hot peppers.”


We stopped here and half the GG joined the kids at worked, bending down and picking only perfect sized purple eggplants off the vines.  We needed instruction so as to twist the vegetable off the plant just right–with the stem.  If the stem is left on the plant, the vegetable is exposed and will deteriorate quickly.  They were gathered gently into plastic tubs and loaded onto a pickup truck.


The other half of the team worked in a lower field digging carrots—first “forking”with a pitch fork to loosen up the soil, taking care not to jab the vegetables, and then bending down to pull the carrots out of the ground.  We picked buckets of them.


Although GG has taken us to many farms, this was the first time we actually had a chance to dig in the dirt and it was a treat to work side by side with the farming kids.


Getting our hands dirty...

There is something about putting your hands into the soil and pulling out something that later on you will put into your mouth that is so basic and infinitely satisfying.

Of course, we didn’t wait to rinse off the carrots, but rubbed them on our shirts and snapped off a bite in our mouths.


Our guides for the day showing us how to harvest veggies

The kids were there from all parts of the Boston area and for as many different reasons and most had never worked in a garden or on a farm.  Since The Food Project pays the farmers, it is a good summer job.  Some had heard about The Project at school, others from their parents or friends, and one we spoke to, from a lawyer.   They told us it was “fun,” “sometimes hard work,” and they had learned “awareness of what is going on around us.  How the food system works and why some people don’t get enough to eat.”  “I learned what kohlrabi is…I’d never seen it before.”  One young woman from Tanzania who clearly knew what she was doing told us she had in fact worked in a garden before, “’cause my dad had one.”  Another told us her experience with The Food Project had inspired her dad to start a garden this year.  “ I love it.  My dad used to have a garden in Trinidad.  I think it’s in my blood.”


We made our way back to the tent toward the toasty smell of grilling onions where I had a chance to chat with Bharat, the site supervisor.  This was his seventh summer at The Food Project.  He started there in the summer of 2002 when he was sixteen as a crew worker in the youth program, just like the kids we had been digging with, and he became hooked.  Over the years he’d held many positions, including an intern, crew leader, and assistant site supervisor.  In his current role, he is responsible for the safety, both physical and emotional, of the kids.  “These are kids from all backgrounds, and we are committed to providing an environment where everyone can be safe.”


I asked Bharat how they measured success at The Food Project.  He was thoughtful and then said, “I know we can’t force these kids to change how they think, but we can give them a sense of what we are doing, to show them that it is fun, and to give them the experience of working with people who are different and with people who are the same in a safe place.  We are successful if we instill a good work ethic, an understanding of what hard work means, a sense that being part of a community is something special, and finally, that each of them can make a difference in the world.”


Eggplant Caponata - Slaw - Salad - Melon

The eggplant, onions, garlic and peppers were turned into a grilled caponata, the cabbage and carrots into a sesame slaw, the greens and flowers were a gorgeous salad and the melon refreshed us at the end. We had brought sausages, chicken and cheese which rounded out vegetable rich menu.  As we gathered around the tables and dove into the scrumptious food Nuno and Jared had graciously grilled for us in the shade of the trees, we were once again reminded of the power of food and the table as common ground.  I’m not sure what everyone talked about, but everyone was talking.


Bhakta says "peace"

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Guerilla Grilling Part 12: Seafood Specialties



[The Shiners!]

Working in the seafood business, whether it’s hauling fish onto the deck of a cod boat on the sixth day at sea, meeting customs on the runway at 5 AM, digging clams with the tide throughout the year, or cutting fish eight hours a day, is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard physical work with no glamour and risks galore, but somehow it captures people and doesn’t let them go.

Christopher Edelman, owner of Seafood Specialties and our host for June’s Guerilla Grilling adventure, was seduced by fish about 7 years ago, but has the energy and passion of someone who just started. He’s a compact youthful man with a shaved head, goatee and intense eyes who never stops moving or talking and is a bit of a showman, which makes for an informative and entertaining time. He was born in New York City, grew up in Southern Connecticut and did a short stint in college before heading to Vermont to be a ski bum…which of course goes hand in hand with being a dish washer.


[The animated Chris Edelman]

He found a spot in an exciting kitchen, caught the cooking bug and enrolled at NECI in the culinary program. With a degree in hand, he entered the restaurant scene back in New York City as a cook in 1994. Then back up north to Maine where he built and ran a small, intense, busy restaurant. But this wasn’t quite right either so he sold the restaurant and met with a career counselor. “The counselor picked up on my three major interests: fish, trucks and forklifts. It made perfect sense. So I got a job driving a delivery truck and scrubbing fish totes for two feuding brothers who’d owned Seafood Specialties since 1987 and were ready to sell,” Chris told us. “It was a trial period to see if I would make it. I did. I worked around the clock for a year, transformed from chef to fish guy and then bought the business.”


[The Seafood Specialties big wheels]

When Chris generously invited the Rialto GG team to get a taste of his crazy world and spend a day by his side, we jumped. The plan was to visit a number of other shops, tour a cod boat and then cook up a storm in the driveway of his loading dock. We would gather under the single tree in the neighborhood at the side of his building for a picnic. I had fantasized for several years that we would all go out on a boat and Chris had jollied me along, but when it came down to planning a fishing expedition, he put the kibosh on my idea.

“Here’s how it’s going to go down”, he explained on the phone several days earlier.

“Your people have to know this is a crazy dangerous business and there are rules to follow. There are big pieces of moving machinery, things are fast and unpredictable, it’s wet and slippery so someone could get hurt. These fish guys are protective of their businesses and not everyone would allow you in. Don’t touch anything; no pictures unless we get the okay from an owner; and don’t get in the way. To be invited into this world is a rare experience, I made it happen and am happy to do it, but appreciate it…don’t screw it up.”


[Sensible shoes]

We were prepared to follow the rules and all wore sensible shoes. We had great fun in the rented van and at the helm, I felt like a soccer mom with a cheery, but sleepy team. We exited the Pike at the Haul Road, and promptly got lost. Ultimately we saw Nuno’s white pick-up and spotted the “nice” tree that Chris had mentioned we could picnic under. We parked across the street and Chris came to meet us dressed in his official fish guy uniform, khaki pants tucked into high rubber boots, a green worker shirt with rolled sleeves complete with a name patch and an American flag, sunglasses and a baseball hat. He stopped the traffic like a veteran crossing guard and guided us into his shop where we met most of his team: Desiree, director of operations, Marvin, a driver, Mr. Le and Victor, expert cutters, Alex, lead packer and Conroy, the shop foreman and Chris’s second in command.  They have worked together since 2004.


[Our crew gets the run-down]

First things first…our initiation into the fish guy world was a stop at the mobile coffee truck that came by his shop at 8:10 each morning. Everyone stopped to take a break and have a snack. There was everything from doughy pizza to scary looking chicken. We stuck close to the coffee.


[Peter, Katie, and Jody at the snack truck]

Chris seems to know just about everything there is to know about the seafood industry…both in Boston around the world. From the beginning he chose to do 80% of his business outside of Boston. It makes sense. The fish business is competitive and complicated and not stepping on the toes of established fish guys was an incentive to look for customers around the country.

The shop at Seafood Specialties reminded me of Clear Flour… compact, efficient, and low tech. A total of one thousand cold square feet housing refrigerators, sinks, cutting tables, scales, knives and lots of stacking plastic totes. There was a line of totes along one wall labeled with the names of restaurants waiting for orders to be filled. All of the processing work…scaling, cleaning, cutting, weighing and packing…takes place under this roof, but in the course of the day, Chris and his team cover miles of territory. They start early and work late and treat each day as a game. They have won if they never had to say, “Not available” to a customer, and they net out with zero product at the end of the day…an unusual goal. Most companies buy large orders and then find customers, holding onto the fish as long as it takes to sell it out. Chris fills the orders that come in by phone and email every day with fresh product from sustainable and organic fisheries. It means racing around, to the airport and back, from one fish shop to the next, and to the collection of Boston restaurants he services in the course of the day. Most fish guys don’t work this way, but then again, most people don’t have the energy of Chris Edelman.


[Victor and Mr. Le hard at work!]

Just as integral to their daily lives as the movement of fish through the shop, is the documentation of it each step of the way. Temperatures are taken; yield charts are maintained and species with the risk of toxin development are tracked.


[Charts, licenses, and other important documents posted around the facility] 

When asked if they receive a USDA visit each day like meat companies, Chris responded with one of his graphic metaphors, “The FDA regulates Seafood. They are like our personal rectal thermometer…it keeps us regulated…but they don’t visit daily. Seafood is different than meat.  We go so fast and we move so many different species that we have to regulate ourselves and monitor potential hazards like the sanitary condition of our knives and equipment, temperatures and exactly what is next to what, when and how.”


Our first stop was next door at Boston Lobster Company to meet with Lee Smith, sales manager for the past ten years. “His company is big and sells nine out of ten lobsters in the ocean!” Chris tells us. Mr. Smith appears on the loading dock in a bright lobster red hat. He laughs with a big broad smile and says, “I am a very rich man, please come in!”  Mr. Smith was in the clothing and jewelry business for many years before entering the lobster business. When asked how he got into it, he dodged the question, but he did say, “It’s a good business, I’m lucky to be here.” It’s clear he and Chris have an affinity. “Chris is the smartest kid in the business. My mother loves to talk to him. He knows everything about food.” Chris winks at Lee, laughs and tells us they are, “the only Jews in the fish business.”


[Chris Edelman and Lee Smith - two local fish tycoons and "the only Jews in the fish business"]

We see tanks and tanks of lobsters. Lee loves to talk and we don’t stop him. “We move ten thousand pounds of lobster in a day. We haggle back and forth all the time to get the best price. In this business, a nickel, a dime is important. Six months out of the year the lobsters come from Canada. We buy and hold for the winter months. We catch them in the spring, and put them in tidal pools in Nova Scotia that can hold one hundred thousand pounds. It takes six years for a lobster to grow a pound. It takes a five pound lobster to make one pound of meat.”  He shows us a ten pound lobster and tells us, “The Asians are some of our best customers for these lobsters. The steak houses like them too and serve them as appetizers.”


[Mr. Smith shows us some lobstahs!]

We load into the van and head to Freshwater Fish Company where we meet with Tony, “My expertise is species identification” he tells us. “One fish has many names…red mullet-rouget-triglia-goat fish…it’s all the same.” He started fifty years ago buying and selling fresh water fish for recently settled Eastern European Jews who were looking for the fish they had eaten at home. Over the years he’s become something of an anthropologist. He identifies a population and then figures out what they are yearning for and sources it. He knows what Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Asian, and African communities are looking for. He sells sardines, mullet, gar, shark, anchovies, Canadian Croaker or Sheep’s Head, Fluke…“My best customer is an Italian guy with two stores in Detroit.


[Look at these beauties...]

He wants the fish whole. He would want to know what was wrong with the fish if I gutted and headed it before I sent it to him.” It’s clear Tony likes this kind of customer. As he says, the ones who say, “what else you got?, as opposed to the ones who ask about the hottest thing “how much you got.”


We stop in at Pangea Shellfish and see Ben’s very cool wet storage system. It’s a series of stacked flow-through bins that allow for purging of sand and bacteria from steamers and other mollusks. It makes for sand-free steamers, something I don’t think I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately, the system was empty because the recent rain had brought red tide and closed the shellfish beds.


[Seen around Pangea Shellfish]

Next stop was the Bramante Fish Company for a tour of a fishing boat with Sal. The company was started in 1906 when Sal’s grandfather came to Boston from Sicily. He told stories of then, 1985 when the boat was purchased, and now.


[Just a few of the amazing textures, shapes, and colors we snapped during this month's Guerilla Grilling trip...]

Thirty years ago twelve men were needed to run a fishing boat, now only four because the boats are more automated than they used to be, but it doesn’t mean the work is any easier. It is cold, wet and dangerous. Boats are out for five to seven days and work when the fish is there so it usually means very little sleep. It is a high risk business. Eight to ten men are lost each year in the New England waters. “I got out for three years,” Sal told us. “I had to come back. It’s crazy but I can’t stay away. I was in the restaurant business for those three years. It was too risky.” It’s all in the eye of the beholder.


[Sal giving us a tour of his fishing boat]

John Mantia and Sons, Co. Inc. has been in business since 1895 when John the great grandfather used to sell to people in New York. To collect the bills, he would ride the train from Boston to New York City once a month. Uncle Anthony and brothers Jack, Bill and Bobby- kept us entertained throughout the day. “You can tell us apart” Anthony told us, “whatever goes right, I did. Whatever goes wrong, Jack did.” Their plant is right down on the water and has been there since 1914. “Back fifty years ago, it was a working man’s waterfront. Now everyone wants this realestate. We’ll hold on to it as long as we can,” one brother told us. Laid out on the floor for viewing are boxes of beauties; snappers in various colors and sizes, big tuna, little tuna, bass and the funny square shaped shiners (seen above!)


[Bob Mantia and Chris Edelman goofing off]

When we regrouped back at Chris’s place Jamaican Hip Hop was blasting, Mrs. Mei was delivering Chinese dim sum to Chris, charcoal smoke was billowing from the grill and platters of food were waiting. Conroy had made Jamaican chicken and Nuno was on. As we all tucked into plates of gingered snapper ceviche, steamed mussels with chorizo and garlic and grilled bluefish under Chris’s nice tree, the talk was all about fish.


[Even MORE cool fish to look at!]

There were comments like, “Wow, I am more confused than when I started.” “So is local fish really local?” “I didn’t know most of the lobsters came from Canada.” But mostly it was about how delicious everything was, how interesting it was to see all the different kinds of fish, how generous all the fish folks were, how unbelievably hard a life it must be and how compelling it was.

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Guerrilla Grilling: Part 11- Clear Flour Bread

Clear Flour Bread is easier to find by bike than by car, located in a neighborhood of twisting one-way streets between Harvard Street and Commonwealth Avenue that leave you wondering whether you’re in Brookline or Boston (Answer: Brookline). Still, judging by the line that forms by 8:30 on Saturday mornings you’d think there was a trail of breadcrumbs to their door or, better yet, that they’d arrived like the characters in a cartoon wafted aloft by the sweet scent of something wonderful. Clear Flour broadcasts a comforting smell of sugar, butter and yeast for at least a block in any direction, an aroma that only intensifies after you enter the shop.

It was not always so.

27 years has made 178 Thorndike a true food destination

27 years has made 178 Thorndike a true food destination

In 1982, Christy Timon, a slight spunky force of a woman, rented 178 Thorndike Street in Brookline and started Café Small Caterers. The space had one convection oven, a few burners and cold running water. She worked around the clock and often got behind on sending out bills, but she was successful and busy. She was also, she discovered, a somewhat reluctant caterer. “Food wasn’t really my thing. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I really wanted to bake.”

A friend who raised orchids gave her a sourdough starter, and that was all the impetus she needed. She used her catering customers as guinea pigs, slipping her bread into their dinner parties. Soon orders for bread started competing with catering jobs. Sometime in 1983, she bought an enormous eighty-quart mixer from Binky’s donuts and Café Small Caterers metamorphosed into Clear Flour Bakery. There was only one problem: she was working 16-17 hours a day and needed some help.

Christy the creative force and Abe the odd job guy

Christy the creative force and Abe the odd job guy

Enter Abe Faber. Abe and Christy first met in art school; he was a studio artist and she studied dance. They reconnected in 1983 when he was working as a carpenter and as a friendly gesture he offered to fix her screen door. He recalls an old carpenter warning him, “You never want to do that for a girl–you’ll end up marrying her.” Too late. “I started as the odd job guy. Then she asked me to be a driver, and then a bookkeeper. My role slowly grew over twenty-six years and we did marry.” Although Abe is a good baker, Christy is still the creative force behind the bread; Abe’s responsible for making sure the trains run on time (and does most of the talking).

In 1990, and then again in 1992, Christy and Abe travelled through France for a month, stopping at small artisan bakeries where they could hang out for a few days, observe and learn. Despite their own weak French and hosts who couldn’t speak English, they encountered a community of patient bakers willing to share their secrets. After each trip they returned to Thorndike Street determined to apply their experience to an American reality. “It wasn’t about coming back and doing what they did,” Abe says. “It was about reverse engineering, figuring out how to get the end product with the ingredients and conditions we have here.”

Pain de mie is rolled, twisted and left to sit a few minutes to de-gas before baking

Pain de mie is rolled, twisted and left to sit a few minutes to de-gas before baking

For that they needed an oven, so in 1994 they spent seventy-thousand dollars on an enormous bread oven, and then another fifty-thousand for the concrete cube the city of Brookline required them to build to house it. All the while they remained at 178 Thorndike Street. It’s a tight space for a repertoire as broad as Clear Flour’s, but they’re smart and flexible and move tables and racks around to accommodate the various stages of production in a baker’s day. It occurred to me that these folks were way ahead of their time. Many people would have pushed to grow their business by opening more shops or increasing their volume, but not Christy and Abe. They remained small and focused, extending their reach by increasing their bread repertoire and developing a strong pastry line.

A star from the extended pastry line

A star from the extended pastry line

another pastry highlight

another pastry highlight

The extent of their range makes itself known as soon as visitors pass through the door of the shop. Floor space is cramped, with hardly enough room for five or six customers at a time, a good thing, because visitors can’t help but feel they’re surrounded by wonderful things to eat. Wheeled racks of bakers’ sheets display fruit tarts, tea cakes, morning buns, dried cherry and blueberry scones, brioche, oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. Depending on the day of the week there may also be once-in-awhile specialties like gibassiers, the citrus-flavored yeast pastry from Provence. Treats like petite tricorned hamentaschen with a poppyseed filling, pumpkin tea cakes and individual hand-decorated holiday sugar cookies in ribboned cellophane make seasonal appearances. Atop the small counter where the Clear Flour staff assembles your purchases, nestled protectively beneath a clear dome, is a plate of my all-time favorite sweet snack, cannalés, grooved confections of yeasted dough each about the size of half a wine cork, with an intense flavor of deeply caramelized sugar.

Cannalés fresh out of the oven

Cannalés fresh out of the oven

And then there is the bread, eight-foot tall racks of bread, always filled with at least a dozen different loaves in all shapes, textures, flavors and sizes (my daughter’s favorite is a smiling sun fashioned from traditional baguette dough).

Roxanne's fave

Roxanne's fave

Baguettes, batards, boules, ficelles, pan and sandwich loaves, and rolls, made from whole wheat, rye and buckwheat flours. A variety of whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruit and olives figures into some of the bread. Fantastical bread sculptures of dragons and other animals fill one window. Although freshly brewed coffee is available, this is a shop, not a café. You are expected to buy (perhaps sniffing for a moment), then depart. Clear Flour Bread embodies an increasingly rare tradition, an artisanal neighborhood shop.



As Christy and Abe have honed their bakers’ knowledge over the years their breads have changed. “We used think that flour was stable, like sugar and salt,” Abe tells us. “It’s not–it’s an agricultural product and each batch is different.” A multitude of factors influences the quality and character of any given grain and the flour it becomes. A good baker knows how to identify those factors and work with them. Bread is made from a simple list of ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. But making great bread involves a subtle knowledge that is part science and part craft. All bakers know that the flavor of any loaf varies tremendously according to ingredients and how a baker chooses to manipulate time and temperature during the process of fermenting and forming the dough. About half of Clear Flour bread is leavened with a sourdough culture, the other half with a variety of “pre-ferments,” that is, mixtures of flour and water that are allowed to rest for a certain time (say, overnight) before the remaining ingredients are added to make the final dough. Slowing down the fermentation process, which is what causes bread to rise, is part of what makes a naturally fermented loaf taste so much better than a quicker bread made with commercial yeast.

A sampling of Clear Flour's doughs

A sampling of Clear Flour's doughs

“You do things over and over a million times and pay attention and I like to think you get better at it,” Abe says. “Our bread has changed. When we first opened it was hard for people to get real baguettes made in the French fashion so we concentrated on that. Now you can get decent—not as good as ours, but decent—baguettes all over the place. So we’ve tried to shift our repertoire a little. We do a lot with rye now and German-style breads (still made with sourdoughs and pre-ferments). I like to think that we changed in the way that winemakers change. When you’re young you’re always going, Wow, boy did I make a big wine! Lots of fruit! Lots of alcohol! But eventually you get tired of that style and begin looking closely at more nuanced aspects of wine, like structure and minerality. Our bread is the same. At first, it was us going Hey, taste how sour the sourdough is! Now we’re trying to do something a little more subtle than just hit you over the head with a sour tang.”

Baguettes a la Brookline

Baguettes a la Brookline

Christy and Abe’s passion for bread has involved them in the larger world both of bakers and ingredients. “We like being of our neighborhood community,” Christy says, “but we’re also part of a professional community with big players—the big flour guys and big equipment guys.” They have relationships with flour producers and millers, working directly with them both to increase their flour knowledge and to influence the product they receive. “If you know who’s making your flour and your equipment you know who to call in case something needs to be changed for the future,” Abe says. Abe is the Vice Chairman of the Bread Bakers Guild of America and Director of Camp Bread, the once-every-few-years gathering of bakers both amateur and professional for education and cross pollination regarding all things bread.

An American expression of rustic Italian

An American expression of rustic Italian

Of the half-dozen exceptional artisan bakeries in the Boston area, Clear Flour Bread is at the top of my list. Their sourdough white breads taste more of France to me than California, with a mild tang that doesn’t overwhelm the bread’s essential wheatiness, and their rye breads, especially the dark rye and the pumpernickel, are a revelation in their interplay of sweet and sour notes, with complex, satisfying flavor that bear no relation to the taste of supermarket breads of the same name. Moreover, Christy’s own culinary orientation is one with which I sympathize: she’s not trying to duplicate the exact loaf of bread you might find in France or Italy as much as say, Okay, I know how it works over their, with French or Italian ingredients. How would the same techniques express themselves with American ingredients? Would a German recognize Clear Flour’s Leinsamenbrot (a rye loaf flavored with flaxseed)? I don’t know. But I do know that I don’t particularly care. It’s good enough to stand on its own merits.

Christy showing Jody how to roll a baguette

Christy showing Jody how to roll a baguette

My staff has never been on a Guerilla Grilling outing they didn’t enjoy, but in the days following our visit people kept taking me aside in the kitchen to explain what a great time they’d had, how generous the Clear Flour staff had been with information, how patient everyone had been with our (mostly) clumsy efforts to follow their instructions in how to transform a raw lump of dough into an expertly turned baguette. While we were there, we were all encouraged to dress up in big white baker aprons and baker caps and, as usual, we all laughed at each other. We decided we looked like brain surgeons, or like people who had just had brain surgery.

Surgeons or bakers???

Surgeons or bakers???

Christy set us up at a table with baguette dough and everyone had a chance to try their hand at shaping a loaf. The loaves baked while we ate various grilled sandwiches on Clear Flour foccaccia. I did note later that our loaves didn’t make it onto the wire racks out front with the loaves intended for customers. Ours were like us, a little funny looking.

Our Guerilla Grilling Spread

Our Guerilla Grilling Spread

Duck sandwich, yum!

Duck sandwich, yum!

For real bread that’s not funny looking, check out Clear Flour Bread’s location on Google Maps and make your way to Thorndike Street. Ride a bike if you can. It will help you rationalize all the bread and pastries I guarantee you’ll want to buy.

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Guerilla Grilling: Part 10 – River Rock Farm

Ahh, back on the farm! We grilled spring veggies to compliment the beef.

Six years ago my husband Ken returned from a trip to the Davis Square farmer’s market with an armload of frozen meat—skirt, sirloin and flank steaks, hamburger patties, and one-pound packages of stir-fry beef. His explanation? “I met this really cool guy who’s selling naturally raised beef.” Really? In my husband’s vocabulary the word “met” often translates into “encountered for the first time and had a detailed conversation about an obscure topic of mutual interest.”

River Rock offers all cuts of beef – the only one they have trouble selling is liver.

The man was Jon Konove of River Rock Farm. Ken and Jon had a mutual dislike for the feedlot system that is the predominant model for raising cattle in the United States. They talked about how River Rock Farm was raising pastured cattle on a mixture of grass and grain, about the effect of recently enacted legislation regulating the use of the term “organic” in food labeling, and finally, why Jon and his family had made the decision not to pursue organic certification for their beef. Whether they discussed all of this during that first encounter I can’t say. But I do know that for years Ken was given to introducing some speck of agricultural arcana with the phrase “John Konove and I were talking…” Tragically, Jon was killed in an automobile accident in 2006.

We have remained devoted fans of River Rock Farm beef. We like knowing the people who produce what we eat. If we can see the animals that will eventually become our food, even better. The business is too small to supply Rialto with meat except as specials, but when it comes to my family shopping dollars, the portion I spend on beef goes to River Rock. If we want to splurge, stocking up before an annual trip to the Cape for example, nothing beats a River Rock Farm dry-aged, three-inch Porterhouse steak for grilling. We order it ahead of time and then pick it up at our farmer’s market.

Angus-Simmental steers greated us upon arrival at River Rock.

I chose River Rock as a destination for our Guerrilla Grilling team a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to see for myself how the farm was doing since Jon’s death, and to give my staff a close up look at how some of the animals we choose to eat are treated on a representative family farm in Massachusetts.



Seth and Joanna McDonough and Joanne Johnson took over as farm managers in January of this year. The young couple previously managed a vegetable farm together and wanted to get experience with cattle so River Rock seemed a natural fit for them. Joanne also teaches art in the local school system and at one point during our tour she stopped to bottle feed a calf whose mother is having problems producing milk. “Seth does most of the work,” she says, a claim that he denies. With his pony tail, beard, and cammo baseball cap, their shared muddy boots and the nursing calf they look like a farming couple straight out of central casting. The desire to own their own farm someday is a big part of their motivation. “It’s great work, and it’s outdoors. I like working hard,” Seth says. He laughs. “You have to like working hard, and not making money.”

A classic New England family farm.

Making money was the last thing on Ron and Kay Konove’s minds when they purchased the 100-year-old working farm in Brimfield in 1993 as a weekend retreat and as a home for Kay’s horses. Most family farms in Massachusetts are less than fifty acres—River Rock has twenty-eight. As you pull into the driveway, you’re nestled between a small farm house above and a red barn below. Your eye travels down a dirt road past the barn down into a valley outlined with fences that contain a few horses, clusters of steers in muddy pastures and a mother cow with her baby. Chickens roam freely.

Roo-pops and his hens.

The Konove’s wanted to keep their farm active, but they didn’t set out to establish a beef business. Initially they only wanted to raise a few Angus beef steer for their freezer. In 2002 their son Jon postponed his entry into veterinary school to help them with their cattle, which had expanded from those early steers into a “beef program” with a herd of twenty. He moved onto the farm several months later, veterinary school disappeared from the radar screen and he spent the next four years overseeing the treatment of the cattle, as well as marketing, delivering and selling River Rock beef all over the Boston area. He became a fixture at farmers’ markets, well-known and well-liked (especially when cooking samples on the portable grill at farmers’ markets).

Joanne coulnd’t help but naming this little guy Shamus.

Jon was invested in River Rock Farm as both a farmer and a family member, with a motivation to work around the clock. His death required some rejiggering of how things got done to make the job of farm manager doable for an outsider. The man who delivers hay to the farm was hired to make the weekly trip to the slaughterhouse with steers. On occasion, the farm even gets a little volunteer labor. Louise (in the blue vest below), whose high school son Nathan (with the red headband) works part-time on the farm during the school year, comes around once a week just to pitch in, simply because she enjoys it. She’s been doing it for years. “She’s the farm super star,” Seth says, “She can do anything.” Anything can encompass caring for the farm horses to her current undertaking—repairing pasture fence lines.

The whole team – It’s amazing what these four can get done.

Do Seth’s and Joanne’s friends ever come to help out? The idea of their friends working on the farm strikes them as laughable. “They like to visit,” Seth says. “I think they like the farm atmosphere,” Joanne adds. They share a look. “But they don’t come to work.”

Early signs of spring at River Rock.

The work at River Rock revolves around the care of the farm’s steers. Most of the beef in the United States comes from steers, that is, castrated male cattle. The farm buys young steers from “cow-calf operations,” farms that concentrate on breeding heifers and then selling the calves. When they arrive at the farm they’re roughly a year old and range in size from 600 to 1000 pounds; at slaughter, eight or ninth months later, the steers weigh between 1300 and 1350 pounds. The variability in age and size is accounted for by the fact that River Rock buys steers year round, just as they send steers to slaughter year round. Cow-calf operations tend to focus on specific breeds or crosses, so for example while one farmer may only sell Black Angus, another’s calves may be an Angus-Simmental cross, and yet another may offer Herefords.

Angus-Simmental steers, Simmental and Heiffer-cross.

From Seth’s perspective all of these produce flavorful beef so the particular composition of the River Rock herd is always changing. One of the things that distinguish River Rock Farm beef from the typical supermarket product is the healthy and humane way the former raise their steers. “We have two things going for us,” Seth says, “how our beef tastes, and how we treat our animals.” Part of that humane treatment (and part of what contributes to the beef’s flavor) is the fact that for most of their lives the steers that end up at River Rock Farm roam freely in pastures, eating grass. Most supermarket beef comes from cattle raised on feedlots, fattening on a diet of corn, soy and molasses fortified with antibiotics and hormones to promote rapid weight gain (thus lowering production cost).

A well-marbled dry-aged River Rock steak.

River Rock cattle’s grass diet is supplemented with grain for three months before slaughter to encourage marbling in the meat. But their diet contains no added hormones or antibiotics. If a cow becomes sick, Seth isn’t averse to treating it with antibiotics, but only as a curative measure. River Rock describes its beef as “natural;” if they were to pursue a certification as organic any steer treated with antibiotics would have to permanently culled from the herd, which they don’t want to do.

Joanne and Seth keep a couple of breeding cows and their calves to remind themselves of the life cycle that supports them, but as a practical matter River Rock does not raise steers from calves to maturity. “Cow-calf operations tend to be pretty pasture-intensive, at least the ones that offer grass-fed steers in the numbers that we need them,” Seth says. Forty steers, give or take a few, is about what River Rock Farm’s twenty-five acres of pasture can handle. River Rock boards another couple of dozen steers on a farm in Connecticut where they can be pastured.

The River Rock story is still evolving. It started with two steers and grew to around eighty under Jon Konove. Counting the steers sent out for boarding, the farm has about three-quarters of that now. What happens next? The Konove family and Seth are trying to figure out how to dovetail the future with Jon’s vision. What do the customers want? What does the farm want? Seth says, “River Rock customers are people who prioritize food in their lives and are able to pay premium prices for River Rock beef.” Is that customer base changing in the economic downturn? Is there a way to make the meat less expensive? “Grain is the most expensive ingredient in the process, aside from purchasing the animals.” The grain Seth is describing is corn. “If we could grow our own grain, we would save money.” It’s something to consider, just as Jon’s unrealized ambition to bring lambs onto the farm is worth thinking about.

These beautiful sirloin rump steaks are worth their premium price.

The company is vertically integrated, meaning they raise the steers, arrange for slaughter, dry-age the beef and market the product. While this gives River Rock control over all aspects of the business, it may not be the most efficient way for them to grow. If they were to grow, how would expansion affect the character of the business? All of these are questions for the future. Seth and Joanne are still settling in. ”Basically, what we’re focusing on is a better product.” He only has two things to sell, he repeats, ”How we’re raising the animals and the quality of the product.”

Jody breaking bread.

This season, River Rock Farm will have a stand at farmers markets including Lexington, Davis Square in Somerville, Brookline, North Hampton and Harvard (the town, not the university). They also sell to a few restaurants, co-ops and specialty food markets. Check out their website for an up-to-date list of where to find them: River Rock Farm also encourages people to visit them in Brimfield, get a tour of the property, meet the farmers and buy some of that yummy beef. It’s an easy trip down the Pike.


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Guerrilla Grilling: Part Nine – Cambridge Brewing Company

Cambridge Brewing Co. classics on tap

The ragtag Rialto GG team blew into Cambridge Brewing Company on a raw sleeting Monday morning in March. It was early, but were up to the challenge of a beer tasting so early in the day. After all, beer is food.


Our visit proved this plaque true, fresh beer is best!

The Cambridge Brewing Company, the oldest brew pub in the Boston area, is housed in the old Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company factory at One Kendall Square. Although it’s a restaurant and brewery (all is one), it still feels like a factory with high ceilings, exposed wooden beams, and brick walls. The interior is simple, with oak tables and chairs, paintings by local artists, stained glass window depictions of beer scenes and a bunch of awards and medals. My guess is not much has changed since Phil Bannatyne built the place in 1989. But then the décor is not what’s central to this business. What’s central is the beer.


CBC Murals and Stained Glass

Smack dab in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by tables, are two gianormous stainless steel mashing tuns with a warren of pipes like octopus arms leading into other tanks where the beer is fermented and stored.


Every morning at CBC starts with mashing in creating a giant porridge of malts

That’s where we gathered and met master brewer Will Meyers, our host, tour guide and instructor for the day. In contrast to an archetypal jolly portly German brewer, Will looks like a veteran triathlon athlete—wiry, intense, and fit.


Will Meyer's CBC Master Brewer

He confessed that he had studied music theory and composition and had wanted to be an opera singer. “But the available jobs were in musical theater, not my favorite. “After one too many productions of The Pirates of Penzance I turned my attention to a back burner passion–home brewing–and decided to get serious.” He beefed up his amateur’s knowledge with organic chemistry and microbiology and did coursework at UC Davis in Brewing Science. In 1993 he landed a position at Cambridge Brewing Company and has been there ever since.


From barley to beer

Listening to Will, I rapidly concluded that I knew next to nothing about how beer is made—or used to be made–and was way out of the loop when it came to current trends in American beer brewing. I knew I liked a good IPA, appreciated and supported microbreweries and that the last time I drank a Budweiser Jimmy Carter had been president. Like most American diners I take for granted a shopping list of custom-made beers and ales from artisan brewers, but only a couple of decades ago the dominant model in American brewing was one of mass production, national distribution, and bland flavor.


There's nothing like grilling in the snow on a Monday morning

Phil and Will were part of a movement to take beer back to its roots, with an emphasis on smaller batches of beer and a greater reliance on local, seasonal ingredients—and customers. Even today, two decades after its founding, CBC’s client list has less than fifty business names on it, all of them in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston, and eighty-five percent of the beer it makes is sold in the restaurant. You can’t get much closer to home than that.


Owner Phil Bannatyne and Jody enjoying a GG lunch

During Will’s tenure, Cambridge Brewing’s repertoire of offerings and their approach to beer making has evolved and changed. When Phil Bannatyne first opened the brewery, it was a learn-as-you-go enterprise, concentrating on a handful of traditional beers. Will brought all the passion and creativity he previously devoted to music, channeled it into making beer, and moved CBC into woollier, wilder terrain. He still makes the CBC classics… Regatta Golden, Tall Tale Pale Ale, Cambridge Amber, and Charles River Porter but pushes the envelope by experimenting with whimsical additions–known as adjuncts in the business–like heather, spices, honey, orange peel, cocoa nibs and fruits. Ten years ago he started playing around with blending and aging wild yeast beers. CBC was the first American brewery to make Hefferweitzen, a traditional wheat beer, with a yeast film.


Will bestowing his knowledge as we soak it in

The basement of CBC, or “Hall of Solitude” as Will refers to it, is where the brewmaster most likes to hang out. The space is cramped, with low ceilings and rows of barrels packed tightly together. It’s a place only a brewmaster or a stowaway could love. This is where Will blends the concoctions that altered the way I think about beer. The beers downstairs are primarily Belgium-style brews, inoculated in open air and allowed to spontaneously ferment in oak barrels. Wild yeast strains contribute their own specific flavor notes and are therefore carefully manipulated by Will. The barrels, which once lived in far away distilleries and wineries where they aged sherry, chardonnay, pinot noir and Madeira, add another layer to the beers’ distinctive richness. No wonder these basement brews have inspiring names like Resolution, Reckoning and Om.


The CBC Beer Cellar

One of Will’s basement beers completely bowled me over. Benevolance, as the award-winning brew is called, begins life in a barrel placed out on the CBC patio, where it is allowed to age in the sun, another of the techniques in Will’s magic brewer’s kit bag. Benevolence is the brewer’s defense against the accusation that beer makers are short-term thinkers in comparison to their compatriots who work with grapes. Benevolence is a complex product that easily tries the patience of a brewer as much as wine does a vintner. The bulk of artisan beer is served shortly after brewing. Benevolence, however, is aged, doled out in abstemious tastes as it matures over five or ten years, a long time for any beer lover to wait. My first sip of Benevolence forever blurred my notions of beer’s taste terrain, sending it over the line into territory occupied partially by wine and partially by something else—single-malt Scotch, maybe? The flavor was both tart and complex, with the kind of long finish I’d previously only associated with upper-end distillates or good wine. Visit to learn more about the wine cellar.


Smokehouse sausage, grilled veggies and some beer to wash it down

This was the end of our tour and after our usual Guerilla Grilled lunch, Will loaded us up with growlers of Charles River Porter and sent us on our way with a warm buzz and our heads spinning with beer science and inspiration.


Trying to keep up with Will

To be honest, I got lost in some of Will’s technical vocabulary. My pen was scribbling doubletime across my notebook page–crystallized malt, wort, diastatic powder, acrospire. Somewhere along the line I confused how a gruit is made with the details for brewing a lambic. What I did take away is that for Will it starts and ends with flavor. He brews what he likes and he likes to experiment. His favorite beer is the next one, even if he took his inspiration for it from music, art, or a daily experience. “We’re not trying to be all things to all people, but we figure…if you think you don’t like beer, you just haven’t found a beer that you like.” Not a problem.

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Guerrilla Grilling: Part Eight – Fiore di Nonno and Taza Chocolate

Guerilla Grilling’s mission is to learn first hand about local food. Folks teach us about chocolate, oysters, cheese, turkeys, vegetables—food still at its source, or if processed, done so in a fashion that emphasizes a manual or artisan tradition. In exchange, we take their wares and turn them into a meal. Gathering around the table at the end of our visit solidifies the people-to-people connections we make on these adventures. A lot of culinary crosstalk gets exchanged. Both cooks and producers share a stake in primary ingredients and are eager to learn from each other, and by the time everybody sits down to lunch the meal feels like a big family gathering. Food is the great connector.


Our Motley Crew

It just wouldn’t be the same if we visited a widget factory.

Which is what leads us to Somerville for a Guerilla Grilling double-header, back-to-back tours of Fiore di Nonno Cheese and Taza Chocolate.

Not that finding them is easy. We drive down Cambridge Street, take a left on Windsor. . . and wander deep into a neighborhood of rutted byways, anonymous warehouses and scrap metal yards wrapped in chain-link fencing topped with razor wire. Where is the chocolate? Where is the cheese? In search of directions we pull into a parking area, by a nameless loading dock, then watch, dumbfounded, as a crane hoists a red Chevrolet into the air and drops it into the maw of a metal compactor, where with a grinding screech of metal it is crushed to a pancake. This isn’t a Guerilla Grilling adventure—it’s the movie Brazil.

Eventually we find ourselves at the right building, it seems the loading dock is the main entrance. The building has recently been renovated and houses a circus of enterprises. We glimpse an old fashioned printing press, signs for dance and yoga studios, a pointer to a woodworking shop, various offices, and then a sign for one of our destinations—Taza Chocolate. No listing for Fiore di Nonno. A second Taza sign at the base of a stairwell pointed up, for three flights. . . to a puzzle of empty white corridors. We tried a couple of doors. Knock-knock. Hi, we’re looking for chocolate or mozzarella. No luck. Everything is new, white, without windows, and empty. Spooky. We run into a man in a white turban and ask directions. He hasn’t heard of either company. A second man also pleads ignorance. We get kind of goofy and begin making Twilight Zone noises that echo back at us from the empty corridor. Time to return to the ground floor and reconnoiter.


We're lost...


...until Aaron finds us!

Aaron Foster, the marketing guy for Taza chocolate and our host for the day, is waiting as we descend the stairs. He smiles knowingly and says, “Oh… that sign,” pointing to the one we had followed. “That’s a red herring—we moved.” We moved, I think, but we left the old sign in place, ha-ha! Interesting marketing strategy.

We are scheduled to visit Fiore di Nonno first, so after a very brief stop at Taza’s new offices so we’ll know how to find our way back, we follow Aaron back upstairs to a hallway we missed and there, behind a door, waits Fiore di Nonno.

The business operates in a large open space, uncluttered, immaculately clean, with light from big windows streaming down on stainless steel tables, a refrigerator, a sink, a hot water dispenser, a computer and a boom box. Lourdes Fiore Smith, the founder and owner of Fiore, and her assistant Natasha Boltukhova, are expecting us. But we’re late, and cheese can’t wait, so Lourdes and Natasha have already gotten started making mozzarella and burrata.


Lourdes always starts on time at 9 am to make her same day deliveries

On first impression making mozzarella seems like the simplest, most uncomplicated, low tech business you can imagine. A short list of ingredients, a little cutting and soaking, a little hand-shaping, a little sitting, and presto—melt in the mouth magic.


Curd...the backbone of one of life's perfect foods

Life should be so simple. Lourdes begins with curds. Curds, in case that cheese-making experiment you did back in the fourth grade has slipped your mind, are semi-solid lumps of curdled milk; the leftover liquid is whey. Little Miss Muffet, of tuffet fame, was probably enjoying something not far off from fresh cheese when arachniphobia ended her meal. You can make your own curds, if you like, from milk, vinegar, rennin or enzymes, but on even a modest commercial scale D.I.Y. curds involve a level of quality control and environmental management that can be finessed by simply purchasing fresh curds, as Lourdes does. Her curds come from New York, not surprising since she learned to make cheese in the Hoboken shop founded by her great-grandfather and still owned by one of her grandfather’s apprentices.


Natasha breaking up and tempering the curd

By the time we arrive Lourdes has already cut that days batch of New York State curds into manageable sizes and is soaking them in a vat of warm Somerville water. The water temperature is important in making it possible for Natasha, a petite woman wielding a paddle almost as large as she is, kneads and stretches the curds for a few minutes. In Lourdes’s view Somerville water also imparts a special flavor to her mozzarella that makes it a true product of terroir. Different curds, different water, different cheese.


And Natasha moments later, stretching the cheese

While Natasha paddles, kneading and stretching, Lourdes tells us her story. After more than two decades in the food business–line cook, pastry chef and then corporate chef—she needed a change. “I wanted a way of working that was true to my heart, spirit and passion.” She went way back to her roots and learned the cheese making technique that her great-grandfather brought from Italy to America in 1908.


The orignial Fiore cheese shop in Hoboken, NJ

After the kneading and stretching comes the real handwork, forming the warm, stretchy curds into balls, a skill that directly translates into the quality of the finished mozzarella’s texture. The pleasure of fresh mozzarella lies in the marriage of buttery flavor to a delicate texture, neither too firm nor too soft. That texture is the result of practice on thousands of mozzarella balls and Lourdes’s arms and hands are unmistakably strong. As she works she seems rooted to the floor, only her hands and arms moving, manipulating each piece of curd until it emerges as a perfectly smooth ball of cheese. She drops each smooth sphere into a brine of Somerville water and pretzel salt, where the mozzarella will sit for a few hours at room temperature before being sold and—ideally—consumed that day.


Lourdes shapping the mozzarella

As Lourdes works she tears small pieces of cheese from a curd, dips them in brine and passes them to us to taste. All of us utter a simultaneous uuummm as the buttery flavor flooded our mouths. In addition to fresh mozzarella Fiore also produces scamorza, a low moisture mozzarella with a sweet mild flavor that is a winter specialty, and braided string cheese of fresh mozzarella seasoned with coarse sea salt and nigella seeds.


Fiore di Nonno's "other" cheeses

We watch as Natasha flattens a second bath of cheese into discs for burrata, balls of fresh mozzarella molded around a core of different fillings. The traditional filling for this Apulian specialty is a mixture of fresh curd with sweet cream, but it is in the filling that Lourdes adds her own wrinkle. A half-dozen fillings are laid out on the table—plain mascarpone, fig, zatar, orange and thyme and garlic and onion. “Which ones do you want to try for lunch?” Lourdes asks. We want everything.


Sinful burratta filling

We find our way back to Taza’s offices, our stomachs growling, and follow Aaron to the roasting and winnowing room on the ground floor. Nuno and Peter peel off to set up the guerilla kitchen and start the grills outside. The rest of us meet Alex Whitmore, co-founder of Taza with Larry Slotnick, Mike Schechter production manager and Sara Ossi sales assistant. Taza Chocolate, we soon learn, is devoted, in their words, to “keeping the bean in the bar.”


Taza, Alex explained, is a “bean-to-bar” company. That is, they begin with whole cacao beans and control the entire process through the manufacture of chocolate bars. There are only a handful of bean-to-bar chocolate companies in the US and Taza claims to be the only one make 100% stone ground chocolate (more later). Most chocolatiers simply buy pre-made blocks, which they then melt and use to mold their own bars or truffles.


Ligthly toasted cocao beans

The farmers remove the beans from ripe pods, then allow them to ferment for six days, so they develop a complex “chocolate” flavor. The fermented beans then spend another six days drying in the sun, before they’re packed in big burlap bags and shipped to Somerville.

Chocolate production at Taza relies on a variety of machinery, but the type of machines and how they’re put to use distinguish Taza from large scale producers as much as the company’s insistence on sourcing ingredients in a way that promotes environmentalism and social responsibility.


Jody ponders the wonders of the winnower

Taza’s machines aren’t digitally driven stainless steel automatons. They remind me of illustrations from children’s books, big bold affairs with lots of exposed gears and colorful paintjobs. I tell myself not to make any references to Willy Wonka. We’re introduced to an enormous red German roasting machine, dating back to the 1950’s. Next we see the Italian winnowing machine from the 1960’s, a behemoth whose legs had to be temporarily removed so Alex and Larry could get it out of the candy store in the Dominican Republic where they found it. A gorgeous copper machine coats almonds with chocolate. A sea green wrapping machine that they bought with the winnower and are still working on how to use best completes the collection.


The beans are roasted by convection and tumbled with hot air

Taza beans benefit from a light roast, a technique that brings out complex flavor notes that aren’t yet detectable in unroasted beans, and would be overwhelmed by a darker roast (if this sounds a lot like the thinking behind lighter roasts of coffee, it is). We taste beans before and after roasting. Un-roasted beans have a light, almost coffee flavor while the roasted beans have a complex fruity flavor reminiscent of raisins and a deep chocolate taste. Dark roasting chocolate, like dark roasting coffee, masks both defects and distinctive flavors. This may be good for a giant company that wants to emphasize consistency in its product. But as Alex noted, Taza wants to emphasize a broader spectrum of flavors, not bury them. As I tasted the roasted beans my mind went to ways to use unsweetened chocolate and I wondered if I could get used to eating/drinking this chocolate without sugar, as I have with coffee.


A whole lot of nibs

Once the beans have cooled they are winnowed to separate the beans from the papery chaff. After beans are roasted and winnowed they naturally fragment into pieces called nibs. The nibs are transported upstairs to the cheery Taza Factory with yellow and orange walls. Here the grinding, molding and packaging take place. Unfortunately for us it’s a quiet day, there is no production, but two women sit quietly wrapping chocolate by hand—the younger one has the pinkest hair I have ever seen.


An example of Alex's craftmanship

Alex stands next to the molinos, the grinders, while explaining what I think is the coolest part of this story. Taza emphasizes the fact that their chocolate is stone ground. It’s one more piece in the bigger, more complex flavor story. Commercial steel milling, whether of grain or cocoa nibs, results in particles of uniform size and shape—and a sameness in the ultimate taste experience. Grinding chocolate with stones results in a certain inconsistency in the shape and size of the particles in the ground chocolate. The result is a certain coarseness in the mouth feel of the chocolate—and much larger spectrum of flavor.

Alex actually dresses the stones for the molinos himself, with a hammer and chisel. He learned how to do it in Oaxaca, cutting shallow spiral wedges at very specific angles into the heavy round stones. If the stones are cut poorly or worn and need to be redressed, they won’t grind properly. Although Alex claims that he’s still an amateur stone mason, his grindstones have been producing chocolate since 2007. In the molinos the chiseled surfaces of the opposing stones churn within centimeters of each other, grinding the nibs and any flavoring–cinnamon, vanilla, chilis, almonds–to a thick liquid.

Taza makes two styles of chocolate, “Mexican” and “bar,” and what happens next depends on the style of the batch under production.


Discs of Mexican Chocolate

Mexican chocolate is made by simply adding organic cane sugar to the chocolate liquid, tempering then mixture, and finally pouring it into round molds. The molds are disk-shaped, with spiral cuts in them, producing little chocolate replicas of the grindstones in the molinos.

Bar chocolate is ground once again to break down the sugar crystals, then tempered and molded. Taza has 60%, 70% and 80% bars which means that the 40%, 30% and 20% is made up in sugar and a little cocoa butter to fatten up the bar. As you might imagine, the bar chocolate is more refined both in flavor and texture.


Taza's Chocolate Bars

Without a doubt Taza chocolate has–and there’s no other way to describe this–a certain grittiness. For someone accustomed to the blandishments of Swiss or Belgian chocolate Tasa’s texture can take some getting used to. Or not. “People who love us are fanatic about our chocolate,” Alex says. “And the people who don’t love us hate us. No, they don’t just hate us—they think we shouldn’t be on this planet.” In Alex’s view, the coarser texture of Taza chocolate is intimately connected to its broader, more complex flavor.

It’s an interesting question: What makes great chocolate?

There’s something so undeniably appealing in Alex and Larry’s story. Smart college educated entrepreneurs. They think they want to open a chocolate shop. They go to Oaxaca, Mexico to see how they make chocolate. They fall in love with the chocolate culture and hang out with some chocolate makers to see how it’s done. They learn about chocolate, then they find the farmers and get to know them. Then the chocolate guys teach them about roasting, winnowing, grinding and sweetening. They realize that it makes more sense to make chocolate bars than open a chocolate shop. One of them becomes a stonemason, for God’s sake.


Alex wear's his heart on his shirt, not his sleeve

Do we buy it? Is gritty chocolate great? Or are we drinking the Kool-Aid? Do we want Taza chocolate to be great because the passion of Alex, Larry and the Taza team is itself so compelling? Are we uncritically buying in to a belief that because something is local it must be better?

I think not.

Sicily popped up while I was pondering this. In May I visited the town of Modica which is famous for its chocolate tradition that dates back to the 16th century when Spaniards, who had visited Mexico, brought the Aztec chocolate techniques to Sicily. Modica is in the process of getting the first in the world IGP (like DOC) designation for their chocolate because they are convinced that preserving and celebrating their chocolate tradition is critical. Their chocolate is even grittier than Taza’s and it’s un-tempered and when it shows a bloom of white cocoa butter it looks like a mistake. I was fascinated by the process and intrigued with the different flavors—black pepper, ginger, cinnamon—but in the end, it wasn’t much fun to eat. It ripped the roof of my mouth. Italians in Turin modified the Mexican technique by conching and adding dairy products to chocolate to soften both the texture and the flavor, essentially creating the model that most of us think about when we imagine an ideal chocolate today. This silky chocolate has made people happy for centuries. Why go back?

In a word, flavor. All the Taza bars are fabulous, but if you really want to taste the essence of the cacao bean in the bar, try the 80% and judge for yourself. Close your eyes, put a piece on your tongue and let it melt. It will take a little time since it is pure chocolate and raw sugar, but if you take the time to really taste it’s as though you’ve never tasted chocolate before. It’s made for eating, but eating carefully. You wouldn’t sit down and inhale an entire bar in a sitting as you might a milk chocolate bar. You’d keep a bar on the shelf in the kitchen or a drawer in your desk and break off a small square and nibble on it in the afternoon, or serve it after dinner on a plate with nuts and dried fruits. It’s not a truffle, but it doesn’t aspire to be.


Alex explains the Taza way to Jody

Taza approaches chocolate as food rather than candy. The Mexican style of chocolate, whether from Oaxaca, Somerville or Sicily is made for drinking or as an ingredient in cooking. Bar chocolate is meant for savoring, the way good wine is meant for savoring. Once you start thinking this way, you approach this chocolate from a different angle. Taza is offering us a new local tradition with healthy superior tasting chocolate. You don’t need much.

I’ve concluded, after tasting both their Mexican and bar chocolate daily for the past week, that I do buy it. Taza chocolate is the real thing and I just have to figure out how to incorporate it into my life. Rather than chocolate being a guilty pleasure, think of Taza as a healthy responsible addition to your diet. It’s organic, local and delicious.

Anyway…on to the lunch:


Bean to table - cacao dusted venison and coco powder sprinkled mushrooms

It was the GG team, the folks from Taza and Fiore di Nonno around the table. The sun pouring in was so strong Alison wore sunglasses. The biggest deal was the venison that Nuno rubbed with crushed cocoa nibs before grilling. I found that I couldn’t get enough of the flavor with the venison so I sprinkled more crushed nibs on top. It was an amazing marriage; instead of jumping out at you, the chocolate flavor kind of melted in with the meat to give a rich round flavor. We also enjoyed a wonderful burrata with a fig filling, which turned out to be an unbelievable pairing with the chocolate venison, Nuno also grilled some scamorza and heirloom polenta from Anson Mills and there were portabella mushrooms and Rialto bread to grill as well. Arugula salad was a refreshing balance to the rich grilled food. We had Charles River Porter from the Cambridge Brewing Company and—how could we not?–hot chocolate. The refrain was…this is sooooo good.


A portrait of the afternoon's bounty

We left with goody bags, full stomachs and new friends. And later that afternoon when our energy was lagging, we found that the chocolate nibs and the new not-yet-released chocolate covered almonds helped get us over the hump into service.

My favorite things from the day were the simple unflavored burratini—little bundles of joy—and the chocolate covered almonds. You can find further information on both Taza Chocolate and Fiore di Nonno fresh mozzarella at and

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Guerilla Grilling: Part Seven – The Smokehouse


Murals throughout the Smokehouse neighborhood

I drive through Roxbury at least once a month on my way to visit my mother in Providence, but I’m always in too much of a rush to stop and poke around, and with each passing barbecue joint or bodega with a stencil of green platanos in the window I promise myself next time.

Next time came this past December, when the Guerilla Grilling team made its first urban expedition, to the Smokehouse (otherwise known as the Boston Sausage Company), just off Blue Hill Avenue. Located in a neighborhood of triple-deckers, auto body repair shops and the occasional boarded storefront it seemed a world away from our usual destinations off in the country or somewhere near the ocean.


This sign wasn't on the main street, we did a few Uturns before finding it

More than a foot of snow had been predicted for the weekend and I was greeted in the parking lot by Trey Goodwin, the Smokehouse manager, and my GG crew who were clutching coffee cups, stomping their feet, and eying the gray canopy of clouds overhead. It was 9:30 and Nuno was already fast at work unloading his truck and setting up the grills.

As we climbed the stairs to the loading dock a familiar-looking white haired gentleman was stacking boxes. I thanked him for allowing us to invade the Smokehouse and introduced myself. This was Victor Nosiglia, who with his son Dave had started the business. I first met him over 20 years ago when he delivered sausage at Hamersley’s Bistro. His eyes lit up with recognition and he said, “Oh yes…of course my dear. It’s been many years.” Gordon and I would start our night with a couple of grilled slices of Smokehouse andouille sausage dipped in Chris Schlesinger’s Inner Beauty Hot Sauce. We were younger and heartier then!


Victor Nosiglia and Trey Goodwin

Trey gave us an introductory lecture about USDA safety standards. Sanitation is a big deal at the Smokehouse. We donned shower capped-shaped headgear and Trey pointed out the foot-level nozzles at the threshold of every room. The nozzles spray sanitizer at brief intervals, disinfecting everyone’s shoes. At least we wouldn’t need to wear booties. A few of us shivered. Processing meat requires a chilly environment—below 50 degrees in the working room and below 40 degrees in the packaging room. We kept our coats.


USDA approved hairnets

The Smokehouse is inspected every day. Hours of operation are restricted by law and employees are required to wait until seven a.m. before so much as picking up a knife. This enables inspectors to insure that working areas are cleaned and sanitized every day. If employees were to start cutting at 6:50 and the inspector came at 6:59, they would have to throw everything away, then scrub and sanitize all over before resuming work.

A standardized weekly schedule with different meats handled on different days is an additional guard against cross-contamination:

Monday: pork
Tuesday: fresh poultry
Wednesday: Morning–cooked and smoked pork sausage
Afternoon–fresh sausage
Thursday: packing and shipping
Friday: cooking and cutting big muscle stuff–hams
Saturday and Sunday: cooking and smoking of bigger stuff: hams and turkeys


Christmas Ham!

It was Friday, and we were there to see large hams prepared for the Christmas season. In the month of December the Smokehouse sells four-hundred hams a week in addition to their other products. From their origins on the Cape a couple of decades ago to their current operation in Roxbury the Smokehouse output has grown from five or six hundred pounds to seven or eight tons of sausages and smoked meat a week.





The processing room was a study in well-lit, gleaming stainless steel surfaces. One table held a mound of hams, but everything still looked spotless. Trey introduced us to the two cutters, Juan Carlos and Sabba, tough strong-looking men, practiced in the art of butchery – it is cold, wet, slippery and repetitive. Although the smokehouse relies on a variety of machines this is a manul-labor intensive business. Hands touch the meat at each stage of the process. Instead of each man boning an entire ham they share the steps of removing the three large bones and trimming the ham between them. The men were cordial, but clearly intensely focused as their knives separated meat from bone. Part of their concentration was motivated by safety and part, as Trey explained, by the desire to get through the pile of hams and on the road home before the big storm hit later that afternoon. Some of the ham was destined for tasso, a highly seasoned, smoked Cajun specialty. Other hams would be brined, then netted and allowed to cure for 24 hours before packaging.


Hams Post-Brining


Smoked Provolone

After the processing room we visited the room-sized smoker, where provolone was being smoked. Of course, klutz that I am, I dropped my pen into a bin of hickory, mesquite and apple chips. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it before the chips were used. Smoking was more complex that I would have guessed, involving three fifteen-minute cycles, each cycle warmer than the one before, with a five-minute drying period between each smoking cycle. Smoke won’t penetrate wet surfaces of meat or sausage, so the drying is important. A final smokeless cooking period follows. Meats are cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, then cooled to 40 degrees. Generally, it takes much longer for the meats to cool than to cook.
On our next stop we checked out a variety of machinery used by the Smokehouse. The first was a vacuum tumbler. The proteins of meat tumbled in a vacuum migrate to the surface where they stick together, making the meat easier to handle. (Who invents these things?) The tumbler was used for a boneless turkey breast intended for slicing. Next up we saw a brand-new sausage stuffer, unfortunately idle (Friday is ham day, remember?). In the course of its twenty-five year career the old stuffer had packed over a million pounds of seasoned meat into sausage casing. Two final examples of mechanized labor were a brining machine that sent needles into the meat so the brine would penetrate faster, and a mechanical packer sealing pork loins in plastic containers.

For our final stop Trey led us down to the basement storeroom. Stacks of spices—cinnamon, cumin, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne, fennel, marjoram, coriander, allspice, ginger, cloves, and anise—testified to the complex recipes that result in the fabulous Smokehouse flavors. Dave Nosiglia earned his chops as a Master Sausage Maker after completing a demanding three-year apprenticeship in Germany, an education he rounded off with an additional stint in Louisiana.


Hanging Andouille

And then it was time to feast. Nuno had been grilling outside on the loading dock as snow thickened from flurries into something more serious. A makeshift buffet table complete with white tablecloths had been set up downstairs with platters of sausage, coleslaw from Rialto, our ubiquitous saffron peppers and grilled squashes.


Our banquett

We sat down and dug in, a minute elapsing as everyone snatched at napkins to control the juices squirting over fingers and down chins. Blood sausage, bratwurst, chorizo and weisswurst! We all gave up at the same time, grinning through the dribbles. Worrying about a little messiness seemed quibbling in the face of such incredible flavor. After the meal and cleanup all of us bought of sausages in anticipation of the upcoming holidays.


GG's doing some holiday shopping

The snow was heavier as we loaded up our gear and waved goodbye to Trey. Our adventure had taken us into a part of Boston we never visited and revealed it in an unexpected light. Like a lot of the small food entrepreneurs we visit, the Smokehouse has the feeling of a family. Trey Goodman took a job as a part-time delivery man for the Smokehouse twenty-one years ago; now he’s the manager. Dave Nosiglio didn’t want to go to college. Hey! Let’s make sausage! The business has grown organically out of a passion for making and selling the best sausages possible. People taking pride in making a high-quality product and serving a loyal community. They still make small 50-pound customized batches for their customers. How great is that? The next time I drive down Blue Hill Avenue I won’t feel quite so much the curious passerby. I may even stop and buy some sausages.


A perfect Smokehouse sandwich

The Smokehouse has a small retail store located at 340 Washington Street in Norwell (781.659.4824). Smokehouse products are also available at Savenor’s Market and Pemberton Farms.

Here’s a recipe inspired by the adventure:

Bucatini alla Guerilla Grilling with Eggs and Tasso Ham

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Guerilla Grilling: Part Six – The Watts Family Farm


The Watts family's classic red barn

As we headed into the holiday season it made sense to find a local New England family turkey farm to add to the notches on our Guerilla Grilling belt, but it wasn’t as easy as we had anticipated. It seems not many people want to farm turkeys in Massachusetts anymore and we were curious to find out why. We finally found The Watts Family Farm in Foresdale near Sandwich on the Cape. It’s owned and farmed by Peter Watts, his two sons Ajay and Andrew and Ajay’s wife Laura and their two kids Isabella and Evan. We arranged a GG visit for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and were hosted by Ajay, the eldest son who is clearly in charge. Peter, wise elder that he is, had left in his RV the day before on his annual journey to sunny Florida.


Ajay, Isabella, Evan and Laura Watts

We had quintessential Cape Cod weather for our trip to the farm. As we climbed into our cars at 8 in the morning in Cambridge, we congratulated ourselves on choosing a day with clear sunny skies and 50ish degree temperature. We were traveling against rush hour and people hadn’t yet headed over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house so traffic was light. Without warning a huge black cloud moved in from the west as we approached the turn off for The Watts Family Farm.


Hail on Melanie's gloves when we first arrived

The skies opened up with sleet and rain as we unloaded Nuno’s truck. We were cold and wet and wanted to keep moving so we ditched Nuno and followed Ajay toward the barns to learn about turkey farming. Anyway, we knew Nuno wanted to set up the cooking station by himself and was happy to see us go. The sleet and rain had turned to hail as we slogged through the muddy trenches in the road followed by 8 adorable free range pigs.


Very happy pigs in mud

The barn and pen where Amanda and I had met 250 Broad Breasted Giant White turkeys just 7 days before was eerily empty as they had been killed on Saturday and sold on Monday. With pride, patience and a respect for the birds, Ajay described the life of a Watts turkey to the group. Although he clearly cared about the health, safety and quality of the birds, he said when the time came, he was happy to see them go.


The turkey's just days before their collective march of death

The turkeys come to the Watts’ when they are 2 weeks old and established from Rainbow Farm in Rehoboth Massachusetts. Ajay and his father used to take them younger, but found that the first week of life is critical and they’re better off allowing natural selection to take place before they arrive at Watts. They take 250 of them and focus on making sure they have enough water for the first 3 days. Then they grow them for 21 weeks.

The Watts take very good care of their birds. They feed on an all natural soybean, corn and wheat-based grain treated with just a small amount of necessary antibiotic to prevent the dreaded Blackhead disease from infecting the birds. The birds are never artificially fattened so their body weight may range from 15 to 30 pounds at the end of their lives. They range free during the day on what begins as a patch of grass in the spring, but by November it has been picked clean. At night they’re herded back into the barn, safe from raccoons and other predators, where they peck from groovy orange hanging feed pendants. Ajay pointed out the fine mesh wire running 2 feet up from the ground at the base of the fence around their pen. It’s necessary for the prevention of a gruesome raccoon trick. If they can reach a paw through a chicken wire fence, a raccoon will grab a turkey and rip off its head, leaving the body behind.


Turkey processing tools like a plucker and gizzard peeler are hard to find. The Watt's bought theirs from a farm in Michigan.

With this image in our heads, we were ready for anything and gathered inside the processing plant to hear how the birds get from barn to table. Although there were no birds left to see processed, Ajay’s description was accurate and thorough enough to create a vivid picture. In the first step, the birds receive a very low voltage shock (not more than what you’d get from an electric fence) in the neck to slow them down. Next, they’re turned upside down–head sticking out of the bottom of a cone over a stainless steel trough. With a swift cut the necks are slit and the birds are bled for 1 ½ minutes. Without the shock, the birds would be flailing around and the bleeding could take significantly longer—not what anyone wants. Once drained of blood, they get a quick 45 second scalding dunk in a hot water bath and are then swiftly transferred to the plucker, a drum with many rubber fingers, for another 45 seconds. Next they’re ready to be evisorated and beheaded, and finally they’re plunged into an ice bath to bring their temperature down quickly. Once chilled for 5 hours, they’re dried and bagged and ready for the oven.

“These are,” Ajay reported, “delicious moist birds with lots of white meat…and you can’t dry them out”.


Nuno enjoying the juice bird

Peter Watts and his family have been farming and selling turkeys since he bought the property 20 years ago. Their turkey seeking following shows up at 6:30 am the Monday before Thanksgiving, and waits in the cold, clutching steaming cups of coffee, until the gate opens at 8:00. It’s such a seller’s market that the Watts don’t take orders, don’t guarantee size, and sell out of their 250 birds by noon. It wasn’t always this way. At the height of their turkey farming, they grew over 1000 birds at both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but with the rise in labor costs and the increase in the cost of grain in recent years, the Watts found that turkeys just don’t pay anymore. So now the birds they do grow are a labor of love for their community of loyal customers. These happy free-range farm raised turkeys take 21 weeks to grow, and at $3.09 a pound dressed, don’t turn a profit.


The skys cleared up over the Watt's composting site

What does turn a profit in 21 weeks is compost. Someone whispered into Mr. Watt’s ear in the early ‘90’s, that there was a market for dirt. After much trial and error and in collaboration with Stop and Shop and local horse farmers who pay to dump their manure with the Watts, the family developed a system for turning Cape Cod Potato Chips, cranberries, leaves, wood chips and bruised produce from local supermarkets into organic compost used by gardeners, landscapers and garden centers around the Cape. It’s a simple, process, one that is local, sustainable and organic and the only carbon footprint left is from the really cool big bold earth moving machines used to turn, strain and transport the dirt. They mix 3 parts manure to 1 part vegetable waste, keep it between 150 and 180 degrees, and turn it as often as they can when the wind blows north, (so as not to offend the neighbors south of them) for 6 months. It’s then strained of stones, sticks, large shells, baseballs, plastic rope etc resulting in 1500 cubic yards of clean smelling deep dark black dirt each year.


Compost is the Watt's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

We had heard about the composting and were eager to take a look. As we stepped out of the processing plant, the sun was out, the hail had stopped and a rainbow swept across the clouds. It definitely had been a day of perfect Cape Cod weather…one of everything. We took a quick tour of the compost business, found a baseball, played around on the equipment, and then headed to the grills followed by our cute piglet friends to see what Nuno was up to. We were happy to know that the pigs, once grown, were sent out to auction and not slaughtered on the farm so we didn’t have to hear details about how they were killed.


Playing on "big kid" toys

Since roasting a whole bird would have taken too long, he broke it down into legs and breast and prepared it in two different ways. The legs, with herbs under the skin, were deep frying in a pot over a propane stove under Nuno’s watchful eye. We nibbled on olives and antipasti with the Watts family and prepared the rest of the meal. As I was slicing the breast into cutlets to be wrapped in pancetta, one of the pigs came by, snagged our bacon and made a run for it. It caused a bit of a raucous as Melanie and Peter chased the pigs and 2 big beautiful lunky brown labs chased them. No luck… but there was some justice in a pig eating stolen pork goods.


There was something just in knowing the pig had stolen the bacon

I topped the thick turkey slices with sage, smeared them with some of my fig-ginger jam and improvised with prosciutto for the pancetta. Onto the grill they went with whole red bliss potatoes and dumpling squash. Nuno had baked an entire apple pie over embers. We’d also brought garlicky greens, gravy and pomegranate seeds for eye appeal and a little acidic crunch to round out the dinner. We gathered around the table, the Watts family and the Rialto rag tag Guerilla Grillers, and had a feast.


Nuno traced the Watt's hands to make the pastry turkeys for the top of the pie

The mission of our Guerrilla Grilling trips is to see, smell, touch and taste the food we eat at the source, to get to know the stewards who grow our food, to have a ton of fun and to learn some new stuff. Success!


All the fixin's for a Thanksgiving feast, Guerrilla Grilling style

P.S. FUN FACT: the standard American Thanksgiving turkey is a selectively bred Broad Breasted Giant White. They can’t naturally reproduce because of the enormous size of their breast and their skinny weak legs. We worried they might be sexually frustrated.

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Guerrilla Grilling: Part Five – Island Creek Oysters


A study in denim - some of the guys from Island Creek

I’m spoiled. The first time I ate an oyster was in Brittany, sitting on a sunny patio overlooking the Belon River.  I was intimidated, but intent to make the French proud.  Without hesitation, I slurped down a flat, briny, metallic Belon oyster, naked of a condiment, and followed it with some sanctioned brown bread and butter and a glass of crisp Muscadet. That became the paradigm, the archetype and epitome of oyster eating for me all in one slimy bite. It set the standards fairly high for any other poor oyster.Recently, on a late summer day visiting Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, MA, my paradigm began to shift. With about a dozen Rialto guerrilla grillers, I got an intensive crash course in Duxbury Island Creek Oysters…how to grow, harvest, taste and celebrate them.  Meatier, and with a different flavor profile,  these fresh from the bay oysters stood up to my memory of those first ones I tasted in Brittany and the guys growing them were far friendlier than their French counterparts.

Skip Bennett started Island Creek Oysters in 1992. After trying to grow quahogs in Duxbury Bay, he decided to try oysters instead. They had never been grown in this bay and it was a huge risk. Sixteen years and much trial and error later, he now heads up an oyster cooperative with twelve farmers and four employees in the wholesale business. Skip and his fellow farmers have learned to grow the perfectly round, three-inch, bivalve that tastes of the particular “maroir” of their bay. The temperature, salinity and tides all contribute to make an oyster that is rich and briny.

With his waders and faded Red Sox hat, Skip may look like a classic New England fisherman, but he is really true innovator, introducing sustainable aquaculture to the area. We laughed at a t-shirt one farmer wore that read “Island Creek Oysters – Carbon Negative.” It turns out that oyster shells are about 95% calcium carbonate. By harvesting thousands of oysters per year, the Island Creek guys are actually removing carbon from the environment. Cool trick. gg5-3


In addition to oysters we caught lobsters and steamers

gg5-41 gg5-6

Cool is actually exactly the word to describe the whole operation. The Island Creek guys spend their time out in the beautiful Duxbury bay, on the water, doing exactly what they want to be doing, with like-minded people who take their work seriously but know that having a good time is equally important. They don’t take anything for granted, and strive to grow the best possible example of the Duxbury oyster. In their case, innovation isn’t only about technology but rather paying attention and really getting to know the oysters and how they respond to natural changes. We learned that oysters can be coaxed to grow deep with round shells to host rich oysters rather than long, flat and watery ones. If their shells get damaged, given the right circumstances and care, they repair their shells in 24 hours.


Skip caringly inspecting the oysters

We sat crouched on the side of a motorboat while Skip dragged his hand through the water, scooping up a handful of adolescent oysters. He carefully turned each shell over, inspecting the shape and color, searching for any nicks and scratches. The delicate, almost intimate, relationship between oyster and oysterman was juxtaposed against the large expanse of the water. It seemed amazing that one could care for these tiny mollusks in this large bay. Skip does it and does it well.


Oyster Creek "oysterplex"

This year Skip built an “oysterplex,” a floating, covered dock where he processes the oysters. A long narrow table set with a checkered tablecloth transformed the plex into the perfect venue for our guerrilla feast. Bright orange fish crates served as chairs as well as the ideal color complement to the palate of blues from the sea and sky. We joked that it was really an Island Creek club house.


Sous Chef Nuno breaking down a 20 lb Bass

bassAs we were licking our lips and getting ready to feast, Mike (another farmer), pulled up in his boat with a huge, flopping striped bass. It must have weighed 20 pounds if it weighed an ounce. We all whooped and then watched the adrenaline rush through our sous chef Nuno as he was pulled to the fish like a magnet. Man confronted fish against the backdrop of sea and sky. Hemingway would have been proud. Nuno wrestled, gutted, cleaned and filleted the bass with alacrity and grace. We stood around in amazement, jaws dropped and drooling.

Nuno had set up the guerrilla kitchen with sous chef Drew as well as Meggie from Island Creek. They grilled bread and lemons, steamed clams and lobsters with seaweed, opened oysters, sliced radishes, chopped almonds, spooned out romesco, salsa verde, aiolo and chervil butter from our Guerrilla Grilling go-to pantry. We had heaps of farm greens with perfect end-of-the-summer tomatoes, an antipasti platter with sausages and cheeses, three wines to pair with the oysters and on and on. Most of us couldn’t sit still, but bounced from crate to crate to be sure we tasted everything and had a chance to talk to everyone. The afternoon was perfect and completely shifted my paradigm.

Check out The Boston Globe’s article on the trip here.



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Guerrilla Grilling: Part Four – Carlisle Farmstead Cheese


Tricia Smith - engineer and anthropologist

Tricia Smith and Michael Holland are pioneering a new model of suburban farming at Carlisle Farmstead Cheese. They live in a low-slung, mid-century modern home off a shaded road in pastoral Carlisle, Massachusetts. They have neatly organized garden plots, certainly not a full-fledged farm, but an abundant, intensive operation. Tricia’s small herd of gentle and curious Oberhasli goats live in an immaculate, fenced-in barn just opposite the house. The compact cheese-making lab, with its custom equipment designed by Tricia, is tucked under the house below a gracious patio with an outdoor oven. It is a farmstead, reinterpreted in 21st century, suburban terms. Tricia Smith has developed a model of small-scale, cheese-making in a high-end bedroom community.

At Rialto, we serve Tricia’s cheeses on our cheese plate. Our Guerrilla Grillers had been clambering for a trip to see where these delicate mini-tommes came from. The sign-up sheet was posted, quickly filled, and we were off.

Wearing both sweaters and sunscreen, we arrived at the Farmstead with the first gusts of fall. We passed no neon signs or aluminum sided-houses on the way out there. Instead, we drove by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house and reflected on what he and his friends, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts, would think of today’s “eat local” movement. Would they think we were too earnest? Would they think it odd that we had ever parted from these traditions? Either way, we were off to enjoy a special feast with food made by local friends.

I remembered something I had once read by Emerson: ”Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” It seemed that Tricia was living by this axiom. She brought together her degrees in engineering and anthropology to shape her work with the goats. The cheese lab had all the dials and thermometers and precision of an engineer’s lab. The barn hosted a micro, goat culture, where Tricia understood the nuanced relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers. Perhaps no career-counselor at MIT (Tricia’s alma mater) would have recommended “cheese-making” to Tricia as the right path but it seemed that it was the perfect way to engage her varied skills.


Wearing delicate, embroidered, L.L. Bean-style collars with names like “Lea” and “Ada”, the goats seemed like the next generation of Little Women. Their wide-set eyes, slightly cocked faces and nuzzling noses made it hard not to anthropomorphize the whole herd. It was clear they were family to Tricia. She cares for her happy animals with extraordinary care. And it shows. Tricia told us that her unpasteurized milk has far less bacteria than most pasteurized milk. A clean, comfortable living space allow the animals to live an unstressed life and produce milk that is healthy and delicious.

As we entered the sterile cheese-making lab, we took off our shoes, washed our hands and held our breath, hoping we would not contaminate anything that Tricia and her goats had worked so hard to produce. We watched as she measured, weighed and tested. Some of us carefully helped her ladle milk into forms. Her studied hard work has paid off – her cheeses win top honors with their lemony and slightly earthy flavor.


Tricia's cheeses

Earlier that morning (around 6 am) Michael had prepared the outdoor oven. This required not just building the fire but also calling the local fire department to warn them lest they think suburban Carlisle had an early morning smoker. Michael is both an accomplished engineer and baker. Tricia and Michael had worked together as engineers for many years. On the weekends, the couple would often hop on a tandem bike and visit state fairs. On their outings Tricia was inexplicably drawn to the goats. She followed her instincts, and the cheese venture was born.

We had heard of Michael’s bread-making skills and were looking forward to learning from him. By the time we got there, the floor of the oven measured 800°F and 1000°F in the dome. We were off to a hot start.


The outdoor oven

Our group gathered on the patio in front of the arched oven. There were baskets of basil, green and purple tomatillos and sweet ground cherries in their husks. A bag of corn straight from Verrill Farm in Concord was leaning against the oven.

In addition to the Rialto guerrilla grillers, Tricia and Michael had invited some of their food-loving friends. Jen of Backyard Birds, who we’d met in Dracut, and her husband Pete of Backyard Birds had brought four different kinds of chickens—Cornish Cross, Red Bro, Multi-colored, and Kosher King. They had blanched the chicken feet and marinated the hearts in a soy, ginger and garlic sauce. Annette and John from Allandale Farm brought an enormous box of the season’s first delicata squash.


Shapely delicata squash

Jim, an opthamologist friend of Jen and Pete’s, provided wonderful Pinot Noirs. Linda and John, who support the Lexington Farmers Market, brought locally-made vanilla extract. It was going to be quite a feast. A pied piper quality had begun to emerge from these grilling adventures as we collected people along the way.


Michael with vegetables

In addition to learning about Tricia’s cheese making, we had wanted to taste test the different chicken varieties. Per Jen’s suggestion, we simply seasoned half of each bird with salt and pepper. We sexed up the second half with basil and prosciutto under the skin and a marinade of garlic, fennel seeds and hot red pepper flakes. We quartered the birds, marked them with tooth picks so we could keep track of the different varieties and fed them into the hot oven.


Chickens - on the board and in the over

We split the squash, took out the seeds and rubbed it with garlic, evoo, mustard seeds and balsamic vinegar. In they went as well. The unhusked corn was thrown on the grill and covered. Once the husks blackened, we let them steam for a few minutes off the heat. With the husks pulled back, the silk slid right off and we smeared the yellow cobs with more evoo, lime juice and chopped basil.


Corn - on the grill


...and off

Seasoned and grilled, the chicken feet were all crispy deliciousness once you got over thinking of them as arthritic old hands. The chicken hearts were not for the faint of heart but were tender, smokey and oh-so yummy. Who knew a chicken had such a big heart?


Hearts and bones

All the food was ready, but no one was willing to dig in until Tricia ascended from the lab. When she did, we ate with gusto and glee. We loved all the birds and to be honest, did not do a serious, scientific taste test. It was too much fun just eating. But the favorite bird for texture and flavor was the Redbro with its rich, tender and, slightly darker, meat.


Scientific notes on four chicken varieties

Food tastes better when you know where it comes from. It tastes even better when you are in the place it comes from with the people who made it.




The hosts - Pete and Jen and Tricia and Michael

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Hurricanes in Haiti


We are delighted to announce that we raised


during our Bake Sale.

All of the proceeds will be donated to Partners In Health

Dear Friends,

Many members of the Rialto staff come from Haiti, from bakers to stewards to cooks. From them we have heard about family members who have been driven from their homes due to the devastation caused by hurricanes Gustav and Hanna.

To support relief efforts in Haiti and help our friends during this crisis, we are holding a bake sale. All money raised will be donated to Partners In Health. Having worked for over 20 years in Haiti, Partners In Health knows where help is needed most and how best to deliver it. They are right now working to do whatever it takes to stem the suffering of their patients, their families, and the communities they serve.

We will be selling cookies in the restaurant to raise money for the relief efforts.

Thank you so much for considering a donation.

For more information about Haiti, PIH and how you can help, please visit:


Jody Adams and the Rialto Team

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Guerrilla Grilling: Part Three – White Gate Farm


It was a beautiful July day with all the usual components of summertime on a New England farm: blue skies, warm air, white barn, newly harvested vegetables. A standard-issue bucolic scene.  In fact, this landscape hosted a cast of unlikely colleagues with stories of hard work, blinding tragedy, determination and gratitude. Over the course of our visit to White Gate Farm in Dracut, we met an assortment of remarkable people, each as intriguing as the next.

The Director

Jennifer Hashley had invited us out to White Gate. She’s the Director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP), a Tufts University program that helps immigrants with limited resources begin farming in Massachusetts. Young, bright and smiling in a flowered T-shirt, jeans and work boots, Jennifer looked the part of someone who lived the happy, healthy farm life she had carefully chosen.

Jennifer’s left hand was wrapped in a fresh white bandage.  It looked serious and, by the way she was holding it, painful.  “Oh,” she told us. “I caught it in our truck. It took off the last knuckle of my baby finger and they couldn’t reattach it.  I’ll be fine.  Yes, it’s hurts. And I shouldn’t lift anything heavy.”  The accident had happened just the day before, but it hadn’t interrupted her busy, committed schedule.  She’d already been up since 5 am to help another group of farmers with a Mobile Poultry Processing Unit that she’d helped design.  Clearly, Jennifer is a strong, tough woman.



Flowers from Jennifer's garden on a tablecloth she brought


As we unloaded the grill from the truck, Jennifer introduced us to Mr. Kim who stood in front of his small farm plot.

Mr. Kim arrived in the United States from Cambodia in the early 1980s.  He’s a slight, gentle, elegant man who wore a light blue, collared button-down shirt with a black baseball hat.  In the U.S., he worked at Hewlett Packard as a mechanic for many years and was also a backyard gardener. Around 1998, after being introduced to a few farmers’ markets, he heard about the Tufts program and began farming a plot of land at White Gate in Dracut.



Mr. Kim's lettuces, waiting for the fields to dry out

Mr. Kim, like other farmers who participate in the NESFP, sells his Asian produce to a CSA, a good way to spread the risk associated with farming. At White Gate, he had stately rows of lemon grass and water spinach, burly amarynth, a simple elegant structure covered with bitter melon vines, a blanket of garlic chives, rows of green onions, cilantro, Thai basil, and a tangle of squash plants peppered with bright orange blossoms. 

Mr. Kim takes “a snout to tail” approach to eating squash as well as just about everything else on his farm.  He blanches the leaves and eats them tossed with garlic.  Stems are peeled, chopped and stir fried with the blossoms. The squash is cooked in a variety of ways and, of course, the seeds are saved for next year.



Some of Mr. Kim's harvest

As we listened to Mr. Kim describe how he grows and prepares various vegetables, Rechhat arrived, another Cambodian farmer with NESFP. Rechhat pulled a wagon of beautifully arranged and bundled vegetables worthy of a glossy spread in a Martha Stewart magazine. Sitting in the wagon were little purple eggplants and round green Kermit eggplants, a handful of cherry tomatoes, peppers, Asian and pickling cucumbers, water spinach, green onions, garlic chives, jalapenos, fuzzy melon, a bundle of mint, Thai basil and something called frost lake or Asian celery.  



Rechhat on the go with his wagon of veggies

While we were talking, Rechhat darted back to the car and brought out a thermos of hot tea.  Made from dried garlic chives, it had a copper color and a prominent garlic aroma but a mild flavor and had been sweetened with just a hint of honey. We loved it and all felt much better after drinking it, hoping it would give us the energy that Rechhat seemed to have. Like many of the farmers in the NESFP, Rechhat works two jobs.  This morning he picked 40 pounds of Thai basil and 100 pounds of cilantro to fulfill an order.



Garlic chive tea, from nursery to cup

We climbed up Rechhat’s pumpkin patch on top of a mounded hill.  It was glorious to be up there in the sky surrounded by pumpkin blossoms—a Dorothy in the poppy field, or rather pumpkin patch, experience. We picked some of the “male” blossoms (with their long green stems) for our lunch.  They don’t produce fruit so we weren’t picking a potential squash.



Jody and Rechhat in the pumpkin patch


Male pumpkin flower, obviously

We visited his hot, humid, green house where he grows mustard greens in kiddie swimming pools, dries garlic greens on screens for his tea, and starts his seedlings for the fields.  It felt like a little plant factory where Rechhat’s energy was infused into all those green shoots.



Rechhat's nursery


As we meandered back towards the grill to begin preparing lunch, Jennifer told us about White Gate.

In the late ’90s, John Ogonowksi, the owner of the farm, had been approached by then Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Gus Shumacher to participate in the Tufts project by renting land to immigrant farmers. Coming from an immigrant, farming background himself and with some excess land on hand, John was enthusiastic about the idea and agreed wholeheartedly. He not only provided land but helped the farmers in the fields, lent advice and often waived their rent.

In addition to owning land and growing crops, John was an accomplished pilot for American Airlines. On September 11th, he was the captain aboard flight 11, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Towers.

Although we had never met him, we could only imagine the generous, brave kind of man he was. It seemed his spirit lived on in the fields at White Gate and in the lives of the people who worked his land.  After the tragedy of 9/11, John’s brother, Jim, stepped in to manage the farm. We met Peg, John’s wife, when she passed by walking her dog with one of her three daughters. She expressed fondness and admiration for the farmers as well as gratitude that John’s project lives on. 



Friends from White Gate - Peg, Rechhat, Mr. Kim and Jennifer


After walking and climbing and talking, we were hungry.  Nuno, our guerilla griller extraordinaire, had been hard at work back at the Weber cooking up our lunch.  Knowing that we would be visiting Cambodian farmers and cooking Asian vegetables, I had asked Nuno to add some soy sauce and ginger to our pantry of guerrilla grilling essentials.  He had also brought shrimp to grill along with sausages, some olives, cheese and peaches.  By far and away the stars of the day were the vegetables – the water spinach, bitter melons, tomatoes, Asian cucumbers, Kermit eggplant, and, in particular, the grilled garlic chives and stuffed blossoms. It reminded us once again that putting vegetables in the center of the plate and using animal proteins almost as condiments is the best thing to do for the body, soul and planet.  



A plate of farm-fresh veggies, with a side of shrimp and sausage

Jennifer, Mr. Kim, Rechhat, Peg, all the folks from Rialto and some other new friends as well sat down under the shade of a tent for the feast. Mr. Kim sat next to Peg and shared his thoughts about John and expressed a tremendous sadness over his death. We passed the vegetables around the table and talked about different ways to prepare various dishes. We laughed and ate and talked and relaxed. No one wanted to pack up to go home but eventually it was time.



Relaxing at the table, Peg and Mr. Kim

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Guerrilla Grilling: Part Two – Sweet William Farm


Caroline, Brittany, Briana and Rob Nicholson

Forty-five minutes west on I-90 and south down I-495, sits the semi-rural town of Upton, Massachusetts. A grandmother, her son, his wife and their two young girls live there on a 90-acre plot of land with Arabian horses, mixed-breed chickens, Sicilian donkeys and loads of vegetables. The scene is idyllic, pastoral and precarious.  Precarious because a modern-day small farm in New England must continually fight to define itself against bigger farms with lower costs and real estate developers with larger bank accounts. The second installment in our Guerrilla Grilling adventures took us to Sweet William Farm where the Nicholson family works to keep their farm afloat.


Summer squash and rows of lettuce

Leaving the restaurant in the morning, we felt a little weather cocky at how well we had planned our guerrilla grilling day—we predicted gentle, short-lived showers in the morning followed by bigger storms in the afternoon when we had all safely returned to Cambridge. We had it backwards.

At 9:00 am buckets of water were dumped from the sky and the lights dimmed.  It felt like dusk in a car wash. Fortunately, we were just around the bend from the farm so we crawled into the parking lot of the Sweet William Farm and raced for shelter.  As we dripped and snacked on freshly baked coffee cake and hard-boiled eggs, Gail and Rob (mother and son) told us the story of their farm.

Gail bought the farm as a haven for an Arabian horse some twenty years ago.  The horse should have been dead, as he was so cruelly neglected.   Gail adopted him and named him Sweet William.  Today he thrives and is the prince of the farm. 


Left: A descendant of Sweet William; Right: Sofia and Lucia

Gail, a fearless adventurer, (she’s ridden horses in Africa, India and other far away places)  was joined by her son Rob and daughter-in-law Caroline and their first daughter Bentley (Brittany came a few years later) to save the farm. They put up a little store and sold ice cream for a few years.  They hosted families and parties. But this wasn’t enough.   The land needed to be farmed.

Rob started with what he knew – hops.  He’d always had a passion for making beer. Later, it was on to vegetables.  Gail jumped when Tufts University asked if they’d like to participate in a chicken project.


The chickens - free to do as they please

Today, Rob has 30 chickens that collectively produce on average 80 delicious eggs/day. They’re a mixture of Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns and Aracona and produce an egg the color of a weathered beachside house—sort of light greeny, bluey, silvery gray.  The eggs have thick shells, big perky saffron yolks and dense firm whites.  The chickens are free to run around the yard pulling up worms and bugs and Rob regularly lets them roam along the grassy edges of the driveway.  As one hen in the coop fluffed her feathers, she revealed a blue beautiful egg. (You can purchase these eggs at the farm for $2.50/½ dozen or $5.00/dozen.)



Frittata - from hen to plate

Nuno (the grill-meister) had started the fire and laid out a platter of antipasti for nibbling as he set to making a basil frittata and grilling zucchini from the garden. 



Antipasti plate


Tom and Michael, delightfully resourceful, washed lettuce and tatsoi in rainwater as it ran off the roof of the tent. 



Lettuce and rain water

We made a salad and grilled the tatsoi.  The vibrant yellow eggs played the lead role at the table.



Tatsoi on the grill


Jody enjoying grilled tatsoi

We watched the hops growing in the garden and asked Rob about his making beer.  We insisted we try it…all four kinds.  



A portrait of beers with Michael

Rob has continued to grow his knowledge and skills as a farmer. This year he successfully started a CSA that includes 20 local folks.  He figured out what people want—simple regular vegetables like squash, spinach, lettuce, peppers.  When he offered bok choy and tatsoi, there wasn’t much interest.  That’s where we come in.  We want variegated round eggplants with a custardy texture, Tuscan kale, kohlrabi, cardoons, puntarelle and other deviant vegetables.  We’ll meet with him in the winter and talk about alternatives for next summer. 

A farmer on a farm like this works in the dirt and often works alone.   Single-handedly he is providing a weekly supply of vegetables for 20 families.  Next year he plans on 100.



Seedlings in the greenhouse

The family wants to hold onto their land.  They’ve learned to grow vegetables and chickens, they’ve revamped their store and offer a gathering place on Friday nights with music.  A step they did not know they would have to take is development of the land.  They’ve decided to take one piece of the farm and build a series of comfortable, green, houses for people who are interested in raising their family in farmland.  It’s clear that this was not an easy decision for Gail, but she knows it’s necessary for the protection of the farm as a whole. 

Rob and his family are students of the land.  They are learning as they go and are committed to growing the healthiest food they can.   It is not an easy life, but if you ask them, they will tell you they feel lucky.  Lucky to raise their girls in such a beautiful place.    



The Guerrilla Grillers


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June 9th, 2008: Guerrilla Grilling Part One – Nesenkeag Farm



           At 8:00 am on Monday, June 9th I found myself with seven Rialto cooks, servers, busers and managers crawling up 93 North towards Litchfield, New Hampshire to visit Eero Ruuttila and Liana Eastman at their Nesenkeag Farm. We were off on our first Guerrilla Grilling adventure.  After some strong coffee and crisp toast, we hit the road – Nuno with his flat bed truck loaded with a grill, a cooler and service for 12 and Catherine in her Honda with most of the staff. 

From 93 to 3 to 3A, the roads narrowed, the view opened but housing developments dominated and my heart sank. I remembered from other visits that the soil in this particular stretch of southeastern New Hampshire is exceptionally fertile. Zillions of years ago glacial run-off from the White Mountains paved the earth with highly productive loam—great soil rich with organic matter and perfect for farming. To see it planted with rows of look-alike houses instead of rows of tomatoes was depressing.

Finally, after three miles of suburban sprawl, we reached Nesenkeag—a haven of organic farming. We drove through the gate and pulled up next to a barn filled with tractors and equipment. A bright red, gleaming Ducati motorcycle sat beside a slightly faded red cultivator (the cultivator is Eero’s, the Ducati is the delivery man’s).



Red vehicles - tractor and Ducati

On this record-breaking 95 degree day, a small work area remained cool under the shade of shag bark hickory trees, a lean-to constructed by a group from the Timberland company and the gurgle of the nearby Merrimac River. A fat, warty toad enjoyed the shade, almost fading into the color of the wooden pallet and the brown leaves below.



A nicely camouflaged toad

Newly harvested, cleaned greens are spun dry in three old Maytag washing machines, stripped down to their colander-like drums.  An old truck converted into a refrigerated walk-in keeps everything fresh until the Ducati-loving delivery person picks it up and takes it to Rialto and other Boston and New Hampshire restaurants. 

On the side of one shed a small altar honors the culture and history of Cambodia, the home of many of the farmers who work at Nesenkeag.  A compelling photo makes you stop and take a closer look.  It is of a Cambodian genocide memorial. 

The work area is cool and humid. The Cambodian workers don conical hats and prepare to weed the fields. It doesn’t feel quite like typical New Hampshire.



Cambodian women working in the fields at Nesenkeag Farm

We all load into the back of Eero’s faded blue pick-up truck, feeling carefree to be seatbelt-less, perched on the rails of an old truck, bouncing up, down and over dirt roads.



On the pick-up truck


In the pick-up truck

Eero gives us a tour of the fields—pointing out the soil differences between the rich upper fields and the lower, sandier fields closer to the river. Spring flooding the last few years inundated these lower fields with water, destroying crops and sending the farm into a re-organizing frenzy. 



Eero and the Guerrilla Grilling team touring the farm

Nesenkeag is an 100% certified organic farm.  Keeping this certification has become increasing difficult because of the time-consuming and often ridiculous paperwork that the Federal government now requires. Eero uses a green manure system, planting wheat and legumes in combination to help fix nitrogen to the soil and increase microbe growth. Peas & oats, winter rye & hairy vetch are planted on rotation with other plants.  About 1/3 of his fields are fallow each year.



Lush red clover and iddy biddy spinach just peeping up

In one field, rows of tall red clover alternate with young potato plants—Eero’s technique for tricking the not-so-sharp potato beetles into thinking there are no tender potato plants anywhere around. The clover forms a barrier so the bugs can’t find the potato plants.



A hidden row of potato plants

Eero is a true steward of the land.  He responsibly and respectfully tends to it, working it and resting it, educating visitors about it, sharing its yields with food banks and restaurants alike. The land is owned by a land trust and Eero has been its manager for the last 22 years and hopefully for the next 22 and the 22 after those as well.



A full plate


A shaded feast

Nuno lit the Smoky Joe and everyone helped set the table.  Liana, Eero’s wife, had borrowed a little tent, tables and chairs and even brought red-checked tablecloths.  Olives, salami, Parmigiano Reggiano, mixed nuts with dukkah, Tuscan rolls, confit artichokes and garlic yogurt (all from the Rialto kitchen) adorned the table.  As we waited for the coals to heat, we nibbled: garlic yogurt smeared on Tuscan bread topped with a quarter of an artichoke and a shard of Parmigiano Reggiano. A delicious snack.

The garlic yogurt (check out our recipe here) turned out to be our secret, guerrilla grilling weapon—a cultural and culinary translator of sorts, bridging the divide between East and West, between Rialto, Nesenkeag and Cambodia.



Garlic yogurt - an internationally appreciated secret weapon

The cool yogurt worked equally well atop the grilled green garlic bulbs that had just been yanked from Eero’s soil, as alongside the beef sate with lemon grass that the Cambodian women workers had added to our feast. We tried it with the Cambodian salad of green papaya, cucumber and carrots tossed with vinegar and sugar as well as with the homemade picante Portuguese chorizo that Nuno’s Dad had made.



Green papaya salad with garlic yogurt


Cambodian beef sate with Nesenkeag greens


Chorizo, grilled bread and antipasti

Central to our feast, were the very first Spring salads from Eero’s fields—a mix of tender mesclun greens with a squirt of lemon and olive oil and a few handfuls of baby spinach with a balsamic vinaigrette and fresh mint, lemon balm, chive and sage flowers.



Eero's Mesclun greens and tender Spinach

The garlic yogurt not only took care of any lingering colds, lurking vampires or upset stomachs but also brought us all together around a table—cooks and servers, farmers and friends.  Seeing, smelling and tasting where our delicious food came from told a vivid and important story that we took home with us. 



Jody, Eero and Liana

Thank you, Eero and Liana, for hosting us, sharing with us your farm and produce and teaching us what it means to work an organic farm on a slip of land in the corner of New Hampshire.


                                          GUERRILLA GRILLING

                                           A FOUR STEP GUIDE


Step one: Find a farmer with green garlic Step two: Season green garlic


Step three: Grill green garlic


Step four: Plate and eat green garlic

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Garlic Yogurt

garlic-yogurtGARLIC YOGURT

1 – 2 cloves garlic, depending on size and strength of garlic

1 cup thick Greek-style yogurt  (or 2 cups whole milk yogurt, drained for 2 hours in a colander lined with cheesecloth so it reduces to 1 cup)  

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a fine grater or microplane, grate a single clove of garlic into the yogurt.  Season with salt and pepper.  Allow the flavors to meld for an hour and then taste again.  If you think you’d like more sass in the mixture, add more garlic. 

Grilled Rosemary Lamb Skewers with Garlic Yogurt

Summer Breakfast- fried eggs and tomatoes with garlic yogurt and parsley

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Slow Braised Tomatoes


Slow Braised Tomatoes

Makes 4 to 5 cups

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus approximately another ½ cup for roasting

1 large white onion, cut into ½-inch dice

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 pints ripe cherry tomatoes

18 basil leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

⅛ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons sugar

  • Preheat oven to 250°. 
  • Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat; add the basil leaves and hot red pepper flakes and stir well. 
  • Rinse and dry the tomatoes.  Toss with a teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons sugar. 
  • Place the tomatoes in a roasting pan with sides.  The pan should be large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer.  If they won’t fit, use an additional roasting pan and more olive oil.  Spoon the onion mixture over the tomatoes.  Add enough additional olive oil to come halfway up the tomatoes, about ½ cup, depending on the size of the pan.
  • Roast until the tomatoes are tender, but not falling apart, about 3 hours.  Stir once, gently, during the roasting. 

Cloaked cod with slow cooked tomatoes

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Artichoke Confit

The artichoke is an enigma. How did anyone ever think to peel away all of those spiny, tough exterior layers to find a small, tender and (finally!) edible heart within? I imagine it was a spring day in dusty, ancient Rome when a curious, hungry farmer stumbled over a wild thistle that hadn’t yet blossomed and started unfolding its leaves. After much sampling of leaf after bitter leaf, his perseverance paid off with a yellow-green core that tasted somehow earthy, grassy and tin-like all at once.  From that day on, like a holy trinity, the Roman Spring Artichoke became the emblem of the eternal city.

But an emblem does not an easy vegetable make. Unlike sweet, petite spring peas that seem to have a generous spirit (I imagine them dancing in white linen dresses singing: “Sauté me. Blanch me. Pop me in your mouth.”), thorny, bitter artichokes are demanding. They require trimming, peeling, rubbing with lemon, cooking or dressing to make them delicious.  But at the end of the day, they’re worth it.  Whether dragging an aioli-dipped steamed leaf across my teeth or chomping on shaved raw baby artichokes dressed simply with lemon, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, salt and pepper, the artichoke is a welcome, albeit crotchety, friend come April and May.  


I have found that preserving lots of artichokes all at once is a great way to get the most bang for your buck. There are a number of ways to go about it.  In Italy, you often find delicious carciofi sott’olio on an antipasti plate. These artichokes are first gently pickled with vinegar and then immersed in oil.  I prefer to use a confit-style recipe that produces a more versatile, less acidic, flavor and yields an ideal addition to your pantry. 

Confit is typically a French technique (from the verb confire to preserve) for preserving by cooking meat in a fat.  In my recipe for artichoke confit, you trim and slow-cook baby artichokes under olive oil until they’re tender. Submerged in olive oil, the artichokes last for months.

Don’t be scared off by the amount of oil the recipe requires.  The oil becomes infused with artichokes, lemon and thyme and can be used in vinaigrette over salads, as a liquid to poach shrimp in or drizzled over roasted vegetables or grilled fish.  Tender, baby artichokes (similar to the classically Roman kind) are the best ones to use for this recipe but large, globe ones trimmed down to their softer, interior yellow leaves work as well.

I have recommended three recipes below — braised chicken thighs with artichoke confit, artichoke confit and celery salad and finally a very yummy, very easy chicken and artichoke sandwich. The possibilities, however, are endless.


Baby Artichoke Confit

2 lemons

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 cup onion, diced 1/2 inch

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Kosher salt

2 pounds baby artichokes, trimmed and cut in half (about 24)*

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Scrub 2 lemons, then cut them in half. Combine the juice of 1  1/2 of the lemons with 2 quarts cold water in a large bowl. Add the squeezed rinds to the water.  Save the remaining lemon half to use during trimming.*

One at a time, trim 1/2 inch off the crown of each artichoke and snap off any tough or scarred outer leaves, until only pale green leaves remain. Trim away the tip of the stem and peel the stem itself. As you finish each artichoke, rub the cut spots with the lemon half to prevent the flesh from turning brown and cover with acidulated water until ready to use. The choke of a baby artichoke is edible after cooking, so you don’t need to remove it.  

Heat the 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and the onions in a large non-reactive pan over medium heat.  Cook 8 minutes or until the onions are tender.  Add the garlic and cook until it releases its perfume, another minute or so.  Season with salt.

Add the trimmed artichokes with the remaining ingredients to the pan.  Season with salt.  Add enough olive oil to just cover the artichokes.  (Don’t fret about the large quantity  of olive oil you will be using. The oil will become infused with artichokes and is wonderful for making a vinaigrette.) Cover with a lid and simmer until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a knife.  Check after 15 minutes.  Larger artichokes may take 30 to 40 minutes. 

Allow the artichokes to cool in the oil.

Refrigerate when cool.

*A note on trimming artichokes

Trimming artichokes involves several simple but necessary steps that appear to discard a major portion of the vegetable.  Don’t worry.  You’re not removing anything edible.  The point of trimming an artichoke is to make it easy to reach the edible parts.  Baby artichokes, about 1 1/4 ounces each, require less trimming than larger ones, which range from 8 ounces to well over a pound.  Bigger is not necessarily better. Baby artichokes haven’t had time to outgrow their young tenderness, and more of the vegetable is edible. The “choke,” the thistle-like center of the artichoke, is edible in a cooked baby artichoke; in an adult, it must be removed as part of the trimming process.

Artichokes will discolor easily during trimming, from contact with a carbon-steel knife or from prolonged exposure to air. You can remedy this by using a knife with a stainless steel blade and rubbing the cut spots with a lemon half. Cut-and-rub is a habit worth cultivating.  If you’re not going to use the trimmed artichokes immediately, keep them covered with acidulated water (water containing lemon juice) until you need them.  Two lemons will suffice for trimming 2 pounds of artichokes (3 to 4 medium-sized ones or 24 babies).  They’ll yield enough juice for 2 quarts of acidulated water, with enough lemon left over for rubbing the cut surfaces as you trim.



Jody in search of Spring Roman Artichokes






Braised chicken thighs with artichoke confit

Artichoke confit and celery salad

Chicken and artichoke confit sandwich

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Saffron Pasta

As I was walking out the door of my office in mid-February, heading to Rome for a family vacation, I asked Catherine if there was anything in particular she wanted me to do.  “Find out what the spring fashion color is this year…it will show up first in Rome. “   This was a new one for me.  I am a very visual person and would certainly look for color in the Roman parks and markets. I’ve noitced before the blue-grey water of the Tiber river, the silver, sage and mustard of the mottled sycamore trunks, the fabulous muted spectrum of yellow, orange and peach colored buildings,  the rainbow of colors in Testaccio and Campo di Fiori, the asparagus, artichokes, anchovies, squid, tomatoes, oranges, chicories, ricotta, pecorinos, prosciuttos, rabbits, eggs and on and on. I was excited to add shop windows to the list of things to check out as well.


We arrived in Rome early in the morning and wanted to stay awake so we walked and walked, stopping for cappuccino, cournettes and panini.   Eventually we made our way to Via del Corso where I got the answer for Catherine and checked the assignment off my list.   The color was yellow.  I saw yellow dresses, bags, bracelets and men’s shirts.   Yellow was everywhere.    Although the weather was still a little wintery, the color yellow and the smooching young people, called out that spring was in the Roman air. 

In Italy, fresh, hand made pasta is also yellow.  Italian egg yolks tend to be such a rich deep color, that they dominate the white flour and create a warm saffron hue.   When I got home to snowy Boston, I wanted to bring some of that cheery sunshine yellow to the table.   I wanted to make pasta that color but our Bostonian yolks are typically just too pale so I decided to add a dash of saffron to my dough.




                                 A NOTE ON HOMEMADE PASTA

Making homemade pasta is easy.  All you need is flour, a liquid and a willingness to make a mess in the kitchen.  The basic proportion that I like to use is 9 ounces (or about 2 cups) flour and ½ cup liquid.   If you stick with this proportion, you can play around with all kinds of different liquids and flours. Try whole wheat, fine cornmeal, semolina, buckwheat or farro.  One bit of advice: be sure you use some all purpose flour because the other flours have little or no gluten.  Without the gluten, there is no structure to the dough.   For the liquid, experiment with wine, water or vegetable purees. Check out my two-part video for a hands-on lesson followed by a saffron pasta recipe and three easy pasta recipes for dinner. (And a special thanks to Joshi Radin for putting together these awesome videos).


                                           PART ONE – THE DOUGH




Saffron Pasta

9 ounces all-purpose flour or about 2 cups

3 eggs or about ½ cup

¼ teaspoon saffron bloomed in 1 teaspoon water

For those of you with a food processor, here’s the recipe to use:
Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor.  Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork.  With the food processor running, add the beaten eggs in a steady stream.  Add the bloomed saffron. Process until the dough comes together and is smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes.  If the dough seems sticky, add a little more flour.  Put the ball of dough in a bowl and cover with plastic.  Let rest 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into 6 pieces.  Cover 5 of the pieces with plastic.  Flatten the remaining piece of dough slightly with your hand, dust it the with flour and crank it through a manual pasta machine with the rollers set at their maximum distance apart, the setting labeled “1”.  Now fold the dough in thirds as though you were folding a sheet of typing paper.  Run the dough through the machine again, feeding the narrow side into the rollers.  Repeat the process of folding and rolling two more times.  This process kneads the dough and prepares it for the next step of thinning it.  Don’t hesitate to sprinkle the dough with flour as you continue running it through the machine.  You don’t want it to stick to the rollers.�
Gradually roll the dough to the desired thinness, narrowing the distance between the rollers with each pass of the dough.  If the dough tears just patch it back together and roll it through the same setting again, a little slower this time.  If the dough sticks to the rollers, sprinkle it with flour.  You will soon get the feel for the right speed and the proper level of moisture to keep the dough rolling efficiently.  After you’ve rolled the dough through the “6” setting it should be thin enough to cut into any string pasta. 

Let the dough dry for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting noodles. Transfer cut noodles to a board or a sheet pan covered with a towel lightly dusted with flour. 

Tagliatelle with fresh figs, prosciutto and parmigiano-reggiano
Pappardelle with roasted asparagus and pistachio pesto
Tagliatelle with leeks and mussels

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Green Eggs and Ham–Rialto Style

We are creeping up to Easter and our offices are full of orange (plastic) eggs with special treats insude for our brunch on Sunday.  Although we won’t be serving Green Eggs and Ham on Easter (you can check out what we will be serving here), I thought it would be fun to reinterpret Dr. Seuss’ dish. For this recipe, hard-boiled eggs are dressed with a delicious salsa verde (with parsely, anchovies, capers, garlic, tarragon and celery leaves). I added roasted asparagus because they scream “SPRING” and we have started to get the very first spears into the kitchen. I simply roasted them with olive oil, salt and pepper. The “green” eggs and asparagus lie on two slices of prosciutto. I topped it off with a spray of spicy arugula to give it a bite. The whole dish makes a simple supper dinner to help tease out the Spring.



Roasted asparagus with green eggs and ham

{serves 4} 

4 extra large eggs

1 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves

1/4 cup roughly chopped celery leaves

1 tablespoon roughly chopped tarragon

1/4 cup chopped capers

2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and roughly chopped

Zest of 1/2 lemon

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 celery stalks, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice

1 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane

1 pound asparagus

8 slices prosciutto

1 cup of small leaf lettuces such as arugula or mache


Preheat oven to 400° F. 

Put the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water.  Set the saucepan on the stove over high heat.  Bring the water to a boil, and then immediately remove the pan from the heat.  Allow the eggs to sit in the hot water, covered, for 8 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool.  Peel under running water and coarsely chop.  The yolks should be bright yellow and creamy.

Combine the parsley, celery leaves, tarragon, capers, anchovies and lemon zest in the food processor with 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.  Process to a rough paste.  It should not be a smooth puree.   Transfer to a bowl with the celery and garlic, season with salt and mix until well combined.  Mix in the rest of the oil if necessary.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add the eggs.

If the asparagus are large, snap off the fibrous portion off the root end of the stems.  Peel the remaining part of the stem.  If the asparagus are pencil thin, simply snap the ends.  Toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange on a sheet pan in a single layer.  Roast in the oven, 4-5 minutes, or until the asparagus are tender and start to brown.

To serve, arrange 2 slices of prosciutto on each of 4 plates.  Lay the asparagus on top.  Spoon the green eggs over the asparagus.  Garnish with arugula or mache.

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January 12 – 19, 2008: Our Trip to Rwanda with Partners In Health

What took my breath away immediately about Rwanda was its beauty.

My son Oliver and I had left Boston on a cold, rainy night, and 24 hours later we were met at the Kigali airport by Margaret Butler of Partners in Health and The Clinton Foundation.  Standing in a sleeveless shirt and a cotton skirt in the bright Rwandan sun, Margaret gave us a warm welcome followed by a prompt apology: there was no time to stop at the hotel and freshen up because Paul had insisted that we head straight for Rwinkwavu, a village about an hour and a half to the East of the capital.  He was excited to show us the hospital there, which was the first PIH project in the country.  If you know Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Partners in Health, you know this is how things work in his world.  He is truly and sincerely sorry, but sleeping and showering will have to wait given all there is to see, hear, taste, and smell.  We’ll sleep when we’re dead.  In the meantime there is just so much to learn, so much to tell, and ultimately so much to do.

In 2005 the Rwandan government invited Partners In Health to bring their model of comprehensive, community-based, HIV prevention and treatment programs to rural regions of the country.  In January of this year, Oliver and I were invited by Ophelia Dahl, Executive Director of Partners In Health, to learn about the work they’d accomplished in the last three years in partnership with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

We drove to Rwinkwavu along a main road lined with houses made of red mud bricks from the region’s iron rich soil. They were picturesque. In some the brick was left exposed and it made them seem unfinished, while others were painted white, blue or yellow and had wooden doors in bright, contrasting colors.  The houses came right up to the edge of the road and were surrounded by a rich green landscape: flowers, vines, small kitchen gardens, small trees and tall clumps of grass, some planted purposefully in rows to form natural fences. Lots and lots of banana trees. It was lunchtime, and we kept passing groups of smiling, laughing, running children in their school uniforms, the girls in royal blue dresses and the boys in khaki shorts and shirts.  They were walking home for lunch or carrying yellow Jerry jugs to the water pump. We saw women in skirts and wraps of brightly patterned batik fabric carrying full baskets on their heads, and men in suit jackets pushing decorated bicycles laden with bananas.   It was so visually compelling it was almost surreal: wave after wave of bright color.

Rwanda is a place of contrasts.  The landscape is spectacular, with volcanic mountain ranges and lakes in the north of the country easing into a savannah to the east. Throughout the week, as we travelled to PIH sites in Rwinkwavu, Burera, and Kirehe, I was struck by the beauty and variety of the land: the hills dotted with a patchwork of farms, the valleys of tea and rice fields, the walls covered in garish shades of bougainvillea, the rows of corn, the daisy-like pyrenthrum.  I had been told that this tiny, land-locked country in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa was a beautiful country, and I also had in the back of my mind all those far-removed newspaper accounts of genocide, malnutrition, and horrible suffering.  As we drove, the actual rise and fall of the rich Rwandan landscape wove these painful images into a present reality.  One full of hope, change, progress, and the conviction that keeping the memory of the genocide alive is critical so it may never happen again.

After six days of hospital, clinic, and home visits, and after meeting many doctors, patients, politicians, and program leaders, Oliver and I travelled back to Kigali on the very same road that had taken us there.  It was the first leg of our 27-hour journey back to Boston.  I saw the same scenes.  The same beauty and bougainvillea, the same abundance of bananas of all kinds, the same school children jumping, waving and yelling Muzungu! (Which we now knew meant “white person”).  What had changed was the depth of what I saw.  I knew to look farther than the stunning blue front of a house, allowing my eyes to follow instead the adjacent dirt path into the small village behind.  There I would find a family gathered in front of their home—a hut just nine feet long, six feet wide, and seven feet tall, covered with only a roof of dried banana leaves.  I knew that there might be six people living in that hut, the children sleeping on a dirt floor and living without heat, running water, or electricity. Perhaps they would have a tiny plot of land to farm, but too little rainfall and low soil fertility would mean that they would sometimes still go without food. It was more than likely that some of the children were suffering from acute or chronic malnutrition, and that members of the family had been affected either by a food and water-borne disease like Hepatitis A, or by major infectious disease like HIV/AIDS. If they were lucky, and the family did have access to food, I knew they were probably cooking a single pot of bananas and beans in questionable water on an open flame inside that house.  The heat would keep the family warm, but it could also cause terrible respiratory problems.

Six days in Rwanda was not enough for me to understand this beautiful and complicated country.  It was not enough to fully understand the problems of poverty, malnutrition, disease and a country healing from national genocide.  It was, however, just enough time for Rwanda to settle firmly in my heart. It was enough time to learn that what happens in Rwanda happens not just to these people in this country but happens to all of us.  Just as what happens in Kenya happens to us.  What happens in Iraq happens to us.  What happens in Pakistan happens to us.  What happens in Darfur happens to us.

The tragedies of war, genocide, and poverty are our tragedies.   They are ours to see, hear, taste and smell.  Most importantly, they are ours to do something about.  

I thank Paul, Ophelia, and all the folks at PIH for sharing Rwanda with Oliver and me and for teaching me these lessons.  To find out more about Partners In Health, their work and how you can help, visit






















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The Pantry of Good Things – Dukkah

For those of you who know me, you probably know I have a thing about dukkah, the Egyptian blend of nuts and spices. A few years ago it was so present on my menus at my restaurant and at home, that the Rialto staff made up a song to the tune of the 1962, Gene Chandler hit “Duke of Earl:”

♪ ♪ “du, du, du, dukkah; du, du, du, dukkah; du, du, du, dukkah; duuuu…” ♪ ♪

Every time I introduced a new menu that featured dukkah on fish or with grilled vegetables, the staff would start singing along to their own dukkah song.




Claudia Roden, the food scholar and cook book writer, is probably responsible for bringing dukkah to us from Egypt where it originated.  There, she says, bread dipped in olive oil and then dukkah, is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I can understand why.  It’s a magical little mix that hooks you.  I’ve  put it on poached eggs, on salad, on shrimp, and even on ice cream.  I first came across dukkah in Boston but I’ve found it on tables from Iceland to South Africa, and I’ve heard it’s big in Australia and New Zealand–each one different from the next.  Some have herbs and pepper along with nuts and spices, and others are as simple as a combination of cumin and coriander with a little salt and perhaps some sesame seeds.  Mine is quite luxurious with pistachios and coconut. Make some and you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. Keep it in a sealed jar on the table next to the salt and pepper and use it often.


Du-du-du-Dukkah Du-du-du-Dukkah

LASTS 4 weeks

Makes about 8 cups

1 cup pistachio nuts

1 cup cashew nuts

1 cup blanched almonds

1 cup hazelnuts

1 cup unsweetened, untreated, shredded coconut

1 cup coriander seeds

6 tablespoons cumin seed

1 cup sesame seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Chop the pistachios, cashews, almonds and hazelnut coarsely, just enough that each whole nut is in 4 about pieces.  Toast the chopped nuts, and the coconut in a single layer, in five separate pans until golden brown and aromatic, about 8 minutes.   Each nut will take a slightly different length of time to toast, depending on its moisture content. You can do them all on the same pan by putting them in open foil packages.  As each variety is toasted, remove from the sheet pan.  Allow to cool.  Toss them together in a bowl.  Toast the coconut in a single layer on a separate pan until golden brown and aromatic, about 6 minutes.  Cool and add to the bowl with the other nuts.             

While the nuts are toasting, prepare the seeds.  Spread the coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds on 4 separate sheet pans and toast until golden brown and aromatic, about 3 minutes.  Watch the seeds carefully.  Thirty seconds of neglect can transform perfectly toasted spice seeds into a burnt mess.  Allow to cool, and then put the toasted coriander seeds in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely.  Add the whole cumin and the chopped coriander seeds to the bowl with the nuts. 

Transfer the mixture to the food processor in small batches.  If the batches are too big, some of the mixture will be ground into a paste. Process until the mix is a coarse crushed powder.  Take care not to blend too finely or the nuts will release their oils and turn to a paste. 

When you’ve completed the batches, add the sesame seeds and salt and pepper to the mixture and toss well.  Dukkah will keep several weeks if stored in a tightly sealed container. 


Roasted Cornish game hens stuffed with dukkah and artichokes

Warm greens with glazed squash and chevre

White bean puree with dukkah, garlic and extra virgin olive oil


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The Pantry of Good Things–Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are an ideal pantry item–they can last for months in your cupboard and they add bright flavor to lots of dishes. They are essentially pickled or brined fruit. I’ve tried many recipes for preserved lemons.  I’ve added garlic, herbs, spices and orange juice.  I keep coming back to this simple but perfect one that a member of the Rialto staff, Taleb from Morocco, shared with me years ago.  For a while, he was the only one who made them, but he has passed the baton on to the sous chefs.

Preserved lemons are a classic ingredient in North African cuisines but are also found in kitchens across the Mediterranean. Most importantly, they are a cinch to make—the main ingredient is really just time, the time it takes for the lemons to break down and soften. Preserved lemons transform braised meats, roasted vegetables or even risottos into tangy Mediterranean dishes. I never run out of things to do with these.  One warning: When you start to incorporate them into your personal repertoire, use them sparingly—they pack a punch.


Simply Preserved Lemons

This recipe comes from my cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef: Cooking with Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant (HarperCollins, 2002). If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book, give us a call at 617.234.8025. We’ll send one right to you.

4 lemons

3/4 cup kosher salt

About 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 8 lemons)

Extra virgin olive oil

1. Sterilize a glass jar large enough to hold 4 lemons (washing it in a dishwasher is fine). A 1-quart mayonnaise jar works well.

2. Scrub the lemons well, then slice them lengthwise almost in half, leaving a 1 1/2-inch section uncut at one end so  the halves remain attached. Hold a lemon over a bowl and pour 3 tablespoons salt in the lemon cut, letting the excess salt fall into the bowl. Squeeze the lemon, rubbing the salted cut surfaces back and forth and releasing the juice into the bowl. Put the lemon in the jar. Repeat with the remaining lemons. Pour the salt and lemon juice from the bowl into the jar. Add enough of the 1 1/2 cups lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Cover with plastic wrap.

3. Allow the lemons to sit in a cool dark place or the refrigerator for 3 days, giving the jar a stir with a sterile spoon once a day to distribute undissolved salt.

4. After 3 days, carefully pour a thin (1/4 inch) layer of olive oil on top of the lemon juice and replace the plastic wrap. Let the lemons cure for 6 weeks before using. Preserved lemons will keep for 6 months in the refrigerator.

Lemon-Brined Halibut – If your fishmonger doesn’t have Halibut, try this recipe with Cod.

Ken’s Shrimp Risotto with Preserved Lemons – This is my husband’s killer risotto.

Roasted Asparagus with Cherry Tomatoes, Preserved Lemons and Pine Nuts – Substitute seasonal roasted vegetables when asparagus is not available.

Spiced Duck Legs Braised with Preserved Lemons - I LOVE duck. This recipe might be a little more complicated than the others but it is well worth it. A great dish to warm you up on a cold winter night.

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The Pantry of Good Things – Carmelized Onions

“Where’s the cream?” a friend said recently, peering into my refrigerator.  “You’re a chef.  Aren’t you supposed to have cream and fancy cheeses?”   The tone of her voice suggested a professional deficiency, like a writer caught without pen and notebook, or a doctor patting his pockets in vain for a tongue depressor. 

“Sorry,” I told her, “no cream today.  But if you poke around you might find other good things in there.”   Really good things, like garlic yogurt and preserved lemons, three-pepper paste and ginger-lemon syrup.  

I’m a professional chef, and a home cook, and I’ve borrowed some things I’ve learned about in the restaurant world to make my cooking life at home both tastier and easier.  My technique is simple—I enhance an ordinary pantry with a few really exceptional—and simple—homemade ingredients, what I call “my ten good things.”  You don’t need all of them, you don’t even need most of them.  In fact, your cooking life will take a sharp turn for the better if you just have one or two of them regularly on hand.  

In my blog I’ll introduce a new homemade pantry item (every now and again) as well as a few recipes that use that item. Let’s start with caramelized onions, a favorite of mine.


It’s important to use fresh onions when making caramelized onions. If the onions are old and dry, they will start to toughen rather than cook to a melting point.  When making caramelized onions, cut the onions with the grain, rather than across the grain.  The onions will hold their shape through a long cooking time.


Makes 4 cups

Heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. 

Add 12 cups thinly sliced white onions, cut ¼ inch thick with the grain,

(about 2 pounds), ¼ cup chopped garlic and 3 bay leaves, fresh if possible. Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper, cover and cook 10 minutes to start to release the moisture.  Uncover, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, caramelized and sweet, 30 to 40 minutes. Do not let them cook too fast, or they’ll dry out and burn, rather than caramelize; add a little water if they look too dry while cooking.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup medium-dry sherry if you’d like, and cook 15 minutes.  Cool completely.  Remove the bay leaves and transfer to a storage container, cover and refrigerate. 

The onions will last a week in the refrigerator, or several months in the freezer.  If you are going to freeze them, put them in 1 cup containers.


Now that you have your caramelized onions, try a few of these recipes:

Bucatini with sweet onions, prosciutto, pine nuts and greens

This is a really yummy weekday meal. The hollow center of the bucatini gives the pasta a nice texture. If you can’t find it in the market, any long thin pasta would work well.

Caramelized onion and watercress soup with Marsala and parmesan toasts

I love the balance of the sweet onions with the bitter greens. This makes a great Sunday night supper.

Grilled pork tenderloin with caramelized onion sauce with capers and anchovies

Caramelized onions with capers and anchovies are delicious. Try this sauce on chicken or even fish.

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December 16, 2007: Hey Mambo, Mambo-Italiano

Hey Mambo, Mambo-Italiano

Check out our first video. This was from our “From Farm to Table” cooking class. 

Antipasti plate from Campania

Makes 4 servings

4 lemon leaves, if available

1 piece buffalo mozzarella, 4 ounces

8 cherry tomatoes

4 basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces thinly sliced San Daniele prosciutto

2 ounces thinly sliced capocollo

Handful of marinated olives

1 stalk celery, peeled cut into 2 inch lengths, and blanched

2 tablespoons flour

1 egg, beaten

¼ cup breadcrumbs

1 cup vegetable oil for frying

1 lemon

4 roasted and stuffed peppers—see recipe

Grill the lemon leaves until lightly charred.

Cut the mozzarella into 4 slices and set on top of the lemon leaves.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters.  Toss in a small bowl with the basil and the olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the meats on a platter.  Set the cheese on the lemon leaves on the platter and top with the tomatoes.  Add the olives.  Cut the lemon into 4 very thin slices and save the remaining lemon for juice.  And now tackle the celery.

Toss the celery in the flour until lightly coated, dip the pieces in the egg, and then roll in the breadcrumbs.

Heat the oil to 350◦F.

Carefully drop the celery into the hot oil and fry until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. 

Set the celery on top of the lemon slices and squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the celery.

Add the peppers to the platter and you are all set.  Dig in.


Stuffed Farm Pepper

8 medium peppers

4  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 ½ cups coarse toasted bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated pecorino

1/2 cup grappa soaked raisins

1/2 cup chopped pitted green olives

1 tablespoon capers rinsed and dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

¼ cup white wine

Roast the peppers over a flame until charred.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with a towel and allow to cool.  They will steam under the towel, making it easier to peel the peppers.

Peel and seed the peppers.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil with the garlic in a small sauté  pan over medium-low heat.  Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the garlic is tender. 

Transfer the garlic to a mixing bowl and add the breadcrumbs, pecorino, raisins, olives, capers and pepper flakes.  Mix well.  Season with salt. 

Open the peppers and fill each one with ¼ of the filling.  Close and arrange the peppers in a small baking pan that they will fit in snuggly.

Add the wine and pour the remaining oil over the peppers and bake for 20 minutes.  Check half way through to be sure the liquid has not evaporated completely.  Add a little water if necessary.

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October 11, 2007: Partners In Health

On Sunday, September 30th, we opened our doors for the Partners In Health 20th anniversary celebration.  It was a time for the PIH founders, Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Tom White, Jim Kim and Todd McCormick, and friends, to raise a glass to the organization’s first 20 years, and to raise funds for the next 20.

The first course was a toast to September–farm tomatoes in an old fashioned tomato and bread soup garnished with a bit of corn and crab; the main course was our classic Rialto steak with arugula salad, Parmigiano Reggiano and lemon; and we finished with a rich chocolate cake topped with crunchy praline. 

There was a warm feeling in the room during dinner, like a family gathering, with people moving from table to table and chatting, but when the auction started, people got serious.  They recognized that PIH is a special organization, one worth investing in. 

We raised almost half million dollars.  It was thrilling.

Partners In Health’s model uses comprehensive and community-based care to treat infectious disease and poverty simultaneously.  The work they do is difficult—medically, politically, socially and financially, and at the core, their success has to do with something very simple, hospitality.   In their words, it means “Doing whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.”

At Rialto we ’re inspired by PIH—they have so much to teach us.  It’s very simple.  It’s hospitality.  It’s treating everyone who comes to us not as a stranger, but as a member of the Rialto family.

Hospitality: a little fire, a little food, and an immense quiet. — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


Tomato-bread soup

Serve the soup warm or at room temperature.  It can be gussied up with garnishes like corn and crab, but I think it’s best unadorned.   At family meal we serve leftover soup over spaghetti with grated parmesan cheese.  

Soak 2 cups cubed crust less day-old rustic white bread in water.

Heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat.  Add 1 1/2 cups diced white onions, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1/2 cup diced celery stalks, 3 tablespoons chopped garlic  and 2 teaspoon diced hot peppers, (optional).  Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender.

Add 5 pounds chopped peeled tomatoes, a bay leaf and basil stems and cook for 35 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a pinch of sugar if necessary.  Remove and discard the bay leaf and basil stems.  Cool.  Puree in the food processor with the 1/2 cup chopped basil leaves and return to a large clean saucepan over low heat.

Squeeze the water from the bread and crumble it into the tomato base.  Using a whisk, beat the bread into the base and cook 10 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings, sugar, salt and pepper.  Serve warm, or at room temperature with a fresh drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


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September 29, 2007: Oliver’s Cheese Sandwich

By the time our son Oliver was three, he had figured out how to slide out of bed at six-thirty a.m. and trundle down the hallway to our room—hungry and ready for something fun.  Believe me, I wanted to get up.  Really.  But while the spirit was whispering the Good Mom thing in my ear—teddy-bear shaped pancakes, fruit salad mounded up like an ice cream sundae—my flesh was dead.  Twelve-hour night shifts ending at one a.m. will do that to you.  Good luck with the dawn patrol pancakes.   

The solution. . .  before I went to bed I made his favorite food: a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, Oliver style.  Soft white bread, hold the crusts, the sandwich cut into quarters.  My treat would be waiting for him, wrapped and sitting on a plastic plate on the bottom shelf of the fridge, along with a partially filled cup of milk.   The next morning, before the sun came up, we’d hear the patter of feet and then a small wedge of light would hit our room from the fridge as Oliver retrieved the plate and cup and brought it into our room to settle into several hours of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers  at the foot of our bed.  Each day I had to shake off a groggy hit of shame when I woke to see our son in front of the TV. . .  but I needed the sleep, and we learned to love Mr. Rogers.

Fourteen years later, the tables have turned.  On weekends Oliver often stays out until one, and it’s me who gets the ball rolling by six-thirty.      

This Saturday I was the first one up.  Drinking a cappuccino and reading the paper, I heard the unexpected heavy patter of Oliver’s feet coming down the stairs at eight-oh-five, followed by, “Shit!  Oh, hi mom.  I screwed up—I’m late.  My college essay-writing workshop is this morning and I turned off my alarm.”

I gave him my cappuccino, added a fresh shot of espresso and asked if I could make him a cheese, tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.  He declined the addition of tomato, as I knew he would—just Cabot extra-sharp cheddar cheese on sourdough bread smeared with Hellman’s mayonnaise. 

The four-block drive to the high school was sweet.   He was in the middle of his journey to college, a journey away from us, and he was clutching the same cheese and mayonnaise sandwich (okay, with a bread upgrade) that had given him his first steps of independence fourteen years earlier.  It was just a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, but it was perfect.

The Perfect Cheese and Mayonnaise Sandwich

For the 3 year old

Put two slices white sandwhich bread on a cutting board and generously smear, or to taste, both sides with Hellman’s mayonnaise.  Lay an ounce of thinly sliced Cabot cheddar cheese on one slice and top with the second.  Cut off the crusts, cut into quarters, diagonally and set on a plastic plate.  Serve immediately, or wrap in plastic for later.

For the 17 year old

Put four slices of crusty sour dough bread on a cutting board and generously smear all slices with Hellman’s mayonnaise.  Lay three to four ounces of sliced Cabot extra-sharp cheddar cheese on two of the slices and top with the remaining slices.  Cut in half any way you want, or if they’re traveling, keep whole.  Wrap in paper towels and hand to your teenager.

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September 25, 2007: Spring Vegetable Stew–Roman Style

By the last week of August I’m tired of the all-corn all-tomato diet (although, if I could, I’d eat a summer tomato sandwich with Hellman’s every morning).   


Whining about a surfeit of corn and tomatoes is like complaining about the second hot day in June, after carping all winter about the rain and cold.  Nevertheless, come Labor Day, I begin fantasizing about squash and apples—filling the house with the smells of slow, cold-weather cooking.     

But before the leap to autumn roasting and baking, there are still the special pleasures of late summer vegetables.  At the farmer’s market the other day, I found scallions, garlic, green beans, Swiss chard, mint, basil and exquisite mottled cranberry beans.  The beans had to be shucked, but that gave me a chance to slow down and just hang out at the kitchen table, listening to the beans dropping into the blue ceramic bowl in my lap.  As the beans fell through my fingers, I figured out what I want to do with my vegetables.

What follows is very much a Roman approach to cooking vegetables, like Spring Vignole—a vegetable stew where all the flavors meld.    


Autumn Beans

I started with 1 cup of scallions, sliced crosswise ½-inch thick—use both white and green parts—and sweated them in about ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil for about 3 minutes in a large deep sided sauté pan over medium heat.  Then I added 1 1/2 cups of fresh cranberry beans and took a last look at their patterns and coloring.  Once they are cooked, the cranberry veins fade away and the creamy white color of the beans turns pearly.  I added salt and pepper, some fresh thyme sprigs, about 2 cups of water and then covered the pan. Fresh cranberry beans don’t take as long as dried beans, but they are starchy and need to absorb quite a bit of water to become tender.  This took about 30 minutes over medium heat.  By the times the beans were cooked, the water had been absorbed. 

While the beans were cooking, I stripped the leaves off a large bunch of Swiss Chard stalks, pulled the strings from the stalks and cut them on the diagonal into ½-inch thick pieces.   In a second pot, I started with about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, added the white part of the chard, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and cooked them for about 4 minutes on medium-high.  I threw in 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic, reduced the heat to medium, and cooked it for a minute or so, and then added the Swiss Chard leaves and 1 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes.  I covered the pan for 5 minutes to steam the greens a bit.  (Lower the heat if it looks as if everything is cooking too quickly.) When the greens were tender, I scooped them out, added them to the pan with the beans and ½  cup chopped mint and basil, and cooked everything for 3-4 minutes longer. 

It tasted like Autumn in Rome to me!

The first time I made this, it was for a crowd, and we had lots of leftover.  The next day we ate it at room temperature for lunch with a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

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September 18, 2007: Divas Uncorked

Ok, so it took me a little while to get this blog up about my experience at the Divas Food and Wine Festival…but here it is:


The first annual Divas Uncorked Food and Wine Festival on Martha’s Vineyard was held on August 11 and 12 (Wow—over a month ago. I still need to get the hang of this blog thing).  I was reminded of how much fun I had when I ran into four of the Divas this weekend at The Foxwoods Food and Wine Festival—a very different place than the Vineyard, but that would be another story…


 The Divas’ event took place at the Outerlands in Martha’s Vineyard under a big tent with a stage and picnic tables. Divas Uncorked is a wine organization begun in 1999  by ten women  interested in meeting monthly to learn, in a fun and friendly way, all about wine. The organization now runs conferences on wine issues with a unique focus on women and wine.

“Diva” Karen Ward had asked me back in the winter if I would participate in their Martha’s Vineyard event. I said yes without even thinking and only later learned that they wanted me to talk about pairing wine with pizzas.  At first I was taken aback—“Pizza?” I thought, “What about braised lamb or homemade agnolotti?”   But as I considered it and thought about the Divas’ commitment to making wine appreciation fun and accessible, I realized that pizza paired with wine would be the perfect way to take the stuffiness out of food and wine pairing.  

The Martha’s Vineyard event was a blast. It felt like a family reunion, with a strong sense of welcome and celebration.  Everyone was in high spirits, talking and sharing stories with friends and strangers alike. People were meandering, sipping, chatting and nibbling under a big white tent.  Each Diva was dressed in her own interpretation of the uniform—summer eyeleted white cotton or linen with bold turquoise jewelry.  They all looked fabulous!

I had the great fortune to spend several hours with pizza experts Mike and Joe of Boston Original Pizza, learning the perfect pizza dough stretching technique.  I’ve made many pizzas over the years, but I had never been shown their method (see below for technique).  It’s humbling and exciting for an old cook like me to learn a new trick. 

I demonstrated a prosciutto, mozzarella and fig pizza.  I felt a bit like Vanna White, holding up the pie after each topping was added. The audience was amazing—cheering me on at every step.  “Go Jody, go Jody, go Jody…”  They made me feel like a star and it made the demonstration one of the best I have ever participated in.   

The Divas plan is to have this festival be an annual event.  Be sure to put it in your calendar for next summer. 

Pizza Dough Rolling Technique

To make the pizza, preheat a pizza stone on the top rack of your oven to 500°F.

Roll a ball of pizza dough in flour until there is a light dusting all over.  (Mike says Wondra flour is best because it doesn’t cake.)  Start by making an impression with your finger tips 1 inch from the edge of the dough, all the way around in a circle.  This will define the edge of the crust.  Use your finger prints to “toughen the dough” in the center within the boarder you have just made with your fingertips.  This essentially means docking the dough, or reducing the size of the air pockets so the pizza doesn’t puff up in the center.  It also starts the stretching of the dough.  Next, pick up the dough and, keeping both hands together, grasp it lightly at the top of the edge.  Letting gravity do the work, start rotating the dough as though you are turning the steering wheel of a car and don’t stop until you’ve gone all the way around.  This will stretch the dough without the risk of thinning out the center too much.   When it is the size you want, lay the dough down on a peel or on a sheet pan dusted with cornmeal.  At this point, I like to brush the dough all over with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil, taking care not to add too much or the pizza will be greasy. 

Diva Pizza – Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Fig Pie

For the “Diva” pizza, I distributed sliced buffalo mozzarella over the dough, topped it with thin slices of San Daniele Prosciutto and sprinkled it with juicy fresh Mission fig quarters that had been tossed with a little balsamic vinegar.  The trick is to not put too much stuff on the dough—there should be visible dough—or it will be soggy.  Finally, I put a light coating of grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the whole thing and slid it into the oven.  It took about 10 minutes to bake.  The prosciutto got a little crispy, the cheeses melted, the figs softened up and the edge of the crust got a beautiful golden brown.  It was perfect with Mathew Glynn’s Acacia Pinot Noir!

A tip from Mike the pizza guy:  If you build and bake your pizza on a mesh rack it will reheat really well.  In fact, he prefers a twice baked pizza because it gets crispier that way.

An End Note

I love to write recipes in a free form style without instructions that are too rigid   When I wrote my cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef, our publisher required incredibly precise directions. I appreciate my co-author’s (aka my husband’s)  attention to this detail and understand that when you publish a cookbook, the recipes better work. I can also, however, enjoy reading a recipe written in a looser style—a style that allows the cook to interpret as she wishes. I have lately been reading Anna Gosetti della Salda’s Le Ricette Regionali Italiane. This is a classic, Italian cookbook. Anna surveyed the peninsula, collecting traditional recipes from home cooks and chefs in every region. Her recipes, like many recipes written in Italian, are short and provide general instructions rather than precise directions. They do require some previous knowledge of basic Italian cooking and are therefore not recipes for everyone. I enjoy reading the recipes as general guidelines, inspiration, a roadmap through the kitchen that is not meant to be read too carefully.  My hope for my new blog is that you will take my recipes as a base to work from and feel free to experiment by leaving an ingredient out or adding another one in. You don’t have to be a chef to navigate your way through your own kitchen. Tell me what you think?  Is this fun or frustrating? Email with your comments.

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September 17, 2007: An Ode to Duck

A lovely man named Lou Middleman sent us this poem about the Long Island Duck on the menu. We love it and thought you might like it too. Thanks, Lou! You are wonderful.


A Long Island Duckling’s Prayer

for Jody Adams

Since I, no cat,

Have but one life to give,

Let it be my luck

Not to fall into the hands

Of some dumb cluck:

Let me, hopeful duck,

Be not just any sir’s or madam’s—

But Jody Adams’!

Let her marinate me

In my flavorful amico,


Let me roast long and slowly,

So I may come to table succulent and crisp,

Disproportionately wonderful

Beyond hope or expectation.

So may all appetites for duck—

For me! For me! Exalted among fowl—

Be thence forever thrall to


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August 15, 2007: The Return of the Prince

In the New England town where I spent my summers there were only two fish worth taking note of—bluefish and striped bass. We never actually purchased either from a fishmonger because my father did all the work for us. He caught them off the Cape Cod coast.  We took bluefish for granted.  It was good, we ate a lot of it and generally tired of it by the end of the summer.  And anyway, they were mean fish with big, sharp teeth. Striped bass, on the other hand, was in a different league.   Bass was elegant and cherished —we took notice when it appeared at the summer table.  It was a special occasion. And when bass disappeared in the 1980s, due to over fishing and polluted waters, we mourned the loss. Scientists feared we would lose the fish forever and a moratorium was placed on all commercial and sport fishing. Although it seemed that life just wouldn’t be the same, we reluctantly turned our attention to bluefish and moved on.

About 4 years ago, however, the prince returned.  At first striped bass was only available for a few weeks and it was anticipated like the arrival of a prized Beaujolais Nouveau.  The stocks were carefully monitored lest we overwhelm the developing population.  It was treated with awe, served carefully and  epitomized the height of summer culinary delight. If you added sweet corn and juicy tomatoes to the mix, there was almost nothing more perfect.

Every summer I wonder how many different recipes I can make with this simple corn-bass-tomato triumvirate. One recipe that quickly comes to mind is a riff on the “crazy water” or “acqua pazza” common along the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

 You start with a quick tomato sauce (this is the “crazy water,” crazy because of the slight spice from the chili pepper).  Over low heat, cook a couple of chopped cloves of garlic with some minced chili pepper in a generous amount of spicy extra virgin olive oil.  As soon as you can smell the garlic cooking, throw in 2 pounds of peeled, seeded and chopped beautiful ripe summer tomatoes.  Be sure to season them with salt and pepper.  Strip the kernels off 2 super fresh ears of sweet corn.  Reserve the kernels and chop each cob into 3 pieces—these will not be wasted, but used to infuse the tomato sauce with some corn flavor. Let the tomatoes stew for a few minutes on their own and then add a glass of white wine, the corn cobs, and 2 cups of water.  The tomatoes should be just at a simmer for 45 minutes or so.  When done, the sauce should be fairly watery as it will cook again with the fish.  If you like, throw in a few fennel seeds and some fresh oregano.  Sprinkle 4 pieces of striped bass with salt and pepper.  Sear the fish in some olive oil in a sauté pan, skin side down.  Flip the fish, add some littleneck clams. Remove the corn cobs and add the tomato sauce. Cover and cook over low heat until the fish is done and the clams have opened.  Transfer the seafood to 4 bowls, add the corn kernels and some chopped fresh basil to the pan and cook for 3 minutes or so.  Taste and make sure it’s as you like it.  Pour the sauce over the fish and serve with some nice rustic bread.

That’s just one way to enjoy striped bass, tomatoes and corn. I’ve come up with a few other ideas below:

  • Soft potato gnocchi stuffed with striped bass and corn on fresh tomato, pancetta sauce
  • Fried bass belly with spicy corn and tomato salad with a tartar sauce
  • Bass, corn and tomato cocktail with horseradish and lemon
  • Poached cold bass with cucumber, corn and tomatoes with a cool mayonnaise.
  • Baked bass with baked tomatoes stuffed with black olives and creamed corn
  • Bass wrapped in zucchini on corn, tomato and fennel stew
  • Striped bass chowder with smoked bacon, corn and tomatoes and potatoes
  • Striped bass in a “hobo pack” with mustard vinaigrette
  • As simple as it gets…Grilled striped bass and grilled corn with sliced beefsteak tomatoes
  • Corn and pesto—open husk, remove silk, smear with pesto, close and grill.  Grill bass and tomatoes seasoned with balsamic and garlic
  • Whole tomatoes stuffed with bass salad (like tuna salad) with corn and pepper vinaigrette.

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July 22, 2007: Two shrimp, a couple of cobs and a recipe for corn chowder

 My mother is a “loaves and fishes” kind of a cook. She manages to create a delicious meal out of the left over bits and pieces from lunch, last night’s dinner and a few things from the market. On a recent summer afternoon on the Cape, our hungry family was stirring and it was time to make supper out of the seemingly barren refrigerator. 

Several nights earlier, my mother had served shrimp and corn on the cob for dinner.  Being true to one of her favorite mottos, “waste not want not”, she had stripped the corn from the uneaten cobs and made a broth with the cobs, the shrimp shells she had saved, and the court bouillon in which the shrimp had cooked.  We had about 2 quarts of a delicious base for our dinner.  The idea of chowder began to come together.

No one really wanted to go into Hyannis to shop for food, so we did a mental inventory of the fridge.  My mother was able to list lots of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, some of the corn, beans), but there didn’t seem to be any protein.  When I said I thought we needed protein, she said, “but, Jody dear, there are leftover shrimp—two of them.”  That’s my mom.

As the family relaxed, friends wandered in and the girls giggled and played hide and seek, Ginny (my sister) and I did the kitchen dance we’ve been doing together forever and made a fabulous chowder.

I diced 3 strips of smoked bacon and started it in a soup pot over medium heat.  When the fat had rendered, I added a chopped white onion and a red pepper I found in the fridge, along with some chopped garlic.  After seasoning with salt and pepper, we let the vegetables sweat until they were tender.  Fortunately, we had visited the Farmer’s market earlier in the week so we had lots to work with.  Ginny peeled and sliced a bunch of baby carrots and cut green beans.  These went into the pot with  2 small potatoes cut into a dice and Mom’s fabulous broth.  The pot simmered away until the potatoes were tender.  We added 2 peeled and chopped tomatoes, (I would have added 4 if we had had them), the corn, a cup of heavy cream, chopped parsley and at the last minute, the two shrimp, chopped up.  As it simmered for a few minutes, the broth filled the kitchen with an amazing aroma—which, of course, is the trick to a great and satisfying, not necessarily big and grand, meal.

Mom was right, with some bread, a little smoked mackerel on the side and a beautiful salad, there was plenty of shrimp for 6 people.  And as our girls and parents slept, Ginny and I were able to leave the Cape at the crack of dawn the next morning, knowing that those two shrimp would provide another dinner for the four of them.

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