Days of Fruit & Jelly

Though it’s easy to get the impression these days that virtually everyone has gone back to embracing the joys of canning and preserving, in truth the reality is that very few North Americans ever purchase produce of any kind, let alone go through the trouble of canning.  There are those that are tempted, though.  They’ve read the articles, seen the television programs, listened to the podcasts, bought the cookbooks, and are very much inclined to can and preserve.  One of the things that can hold a lot of potential canners back, however, has to do with quantity.  Most recipes for canning and preserving are high-quantity.  They’re geared toward stocking a pantry for a long winter, or for the apocalypse—whichever comes first.

Small-batch preserve recipes are what most novice canners need, though.  They want to give it a shot, but they’re looking for something that’s not a huge undertaking. Something that doesn’t require a large capital investment. Something that pays dividends.

We discovered the pleasures of small-batch canning years ago, back around the time that we first started experimenting with touristic preserving, or small-batch canning as DIY souvenirs. We didn’t rely on a single set of instructions at the time. We just based our experiments on what we already knew about canning. After all, Michelle was already a pretty expert canner, and had been for some time.  But we’ve always been struck by how little encouragement there is to can in small batches.

Recently, though, we discovered a particularly sublime small-batch jelly recipe, in Nigel Slater’s Tender, vol. 2. This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Slater is exactly the kind of food writer who you’d expect to have written such a treatise, given his devotion to fruits and vegetables and his fine-tuned attention to seasonality and to the pleasures of the garden.  He’s also someone who never expected to become a serious canner, which may partially explain his openness to all different approaches to preserving.  “I find it slightly amusing that I am now the sort of person who makes jellies and jams,” he writes.  “The process is relaxing and somehow good for my wellbeing.  Twenty years ago I would have laughed at the idea of ever pouring cottage garden fruit through a jelly bag, let alone labelling my own jars of jam.  Getting older isn’t all bad.”*

fig. a: high summer berries

fig. a: high summer berries

Michelle had picked a beautiful mix of berries from our garden—redcurrants, raspberries, and blueberries—and was looking for inspiration.  When she came across Slater’s recipe it struck her as especially well-suited for her needs, even if it was rather unconventional: he recommended virtually no liquid, and his cooking time was very, very short. But most importantly, Slater brought his berry mixture to gel stage before passing it through his jelly bag.  She had her doubts, but she decided to follow the instructions closely, and Slater’s recipe ended up putting her apprehensions to shame. The results were truly exceptional:  the finest, loveliest jelly she’d made in quite a while, and one that required a minimum of effort.

fig. b: still life with quivering jelly

fig. b: still life with quivering jelly

It did require a tiny bit of equipment, however:  a nice, deep stainless steel pan to cook the fruit in, a jelly bag, and some jars.

fig. c: Nigel’s jelly bag

fig. c: Nigel’s jelly bag

But with its simple method, the small amount of fruit it requires, and its easily adaptable equal-parts-fruit-and-sugar formula, this is a recipe that makes preserving high summer berries as easy and as satisfying as possible.  See a beautiful bunch of berries at the farmers’ market?  Pick them up.  Have some in your garden?   Gather a few handfuls.   Know some friends who happen to have a bumper crop? Unburden them.

Here are the essentials of Slater’s recipe, including its wonderful, somewhat poetic, but very appropriate title:

A Quivering Jelly

450 g redcurrants

A small handful of blackcurrants

450 g white sugar

Put the berries, still clinging to their stalks, into your nice, deep stainless steel pan.  Pour in the tiniest amount of water, barely enough to cover the bottom of the pot, then add the sugar.  Place on the stove over medium to medium-high heat, depending on the strength of your flame/element. Gently bring to a boil, stirring from time to time, and boil for eight minutes, and eight minutes only—“no longer or the flavour will spoil,” according to Slater. Pour the mixture through a jelly bag set over a wide jug or bowl.  Let it be until all the juice has dripped through.  Resist the urge to press the fruit in order to produce more juice.  Doing so “will cloud the jelly,” Slater points out, spoiling its breathtaking translucency.

Pour into clean jars you have sterilized with boiling water from the kettle and dried, preferably in the oven.  Can using sterilized lids, or follow Slater’s instructions by cutting discs of greaseproof paper to fit over the preserve, then covering tightly with a screw-top lid, before storing the jars “in a cool, dry place.”

Of course one of the major advantages of small-batch preserving is that you don’t really have to go through the trouble of canning at all.  Put it in any kind of clean container you like.  Keep it the fridge.  Eat it now.  Enjoy it in the moment. 

This jelly is so utterly perfect, it won’t last long.


*Ain’t that the truth?

That Nashville Sound

fig. a: That Nashville Style

fig. a: That Nashville Style

Yes, a number of these tracks were recorded in Nashville by artists who actually lived in Nashville and/or environs for significant lengths of time. In other cases, they were recorded by artists who spent fleeting time in Nashville, but were inspired by its music scene. In still others, they’re tracks that were recorded in other parts of the States, but got channeled through Nashville because of its central role in the North American music industry. Then there were songs that I heard during a remarkable trip to Nashville in April of this year, or ones that I picked up on that trip. Whatever the case, this is a mix that came together soon after I got back from Nashville, and while very, very few of these songs are true examples of “the Nashville sound,” together they go a long way toward conjuring that magical time in that magical place for me. A Nashville of the Mind.

If you happen to be in Nashville sometime soon, by all means visit the Country Music Hall of Fame (after all, ‘round there, “Honor Thy Music” is taken pretty seriously), and, when you do, check out “Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ‘70s” and “Emmylou Harris: Songbird’s Flight”, both of which are pretty astounding if you’re as big on “outlaw” country-folk and country-rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the LA-Austin-Houston-Nashville connection that was so crucial to it, as we are.

If you’re not going to Nashville anytime soon, but you share our devotion to that “outlaw” scene and you haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing James Szalapski’s Heartworn Highways (1981), don’t hesitate. Now is the time. Honor Thy Music.


In Praise of Clay Pot Cooking 1: the Donabe

fig. a: dinner with  donabe  (far right)

fig. a: dinner with donabe (far right)

Michelle has been on a Japanese kick for at least a couple of years now. Japanese pickles. Japanese country cooking. Hand-dyeing her own shibori tablecloths (pictured above). You know, that kind of thing. And she’d also started to acquire some Japanese ceramic ware in order to up her game. She was pretty happy (very happy, actually) with the savoury stews that resulted from her experiments with using commercial Japanese clay pots, but she still wasn’t fully satisfied. What she really wanted was a ceramic pot—a donabe—that was suited for cooking rice. She’d read that once you cooked high-grade Japanese short-grain properly in a rice donabe there was no going back. Especially if you took the trouble to seek out an artisanal model from Japan’s Iga region, which is famous for the quality of its clay, as well as for the centuries-old tradition of ceramics that has fashioned this clay into some of Japan’s finest cookware. So she started to drop no-so-subtle hints.

I pretended as though I wasn’t getting the message, but early this year I began to do some research well in advance of Michelle’s birthday. I had thought that I would have to order a model from Toiro in Los Angeles, the store that’s most closely associated with donabe cooking in North America because its owner, Naoko Takei Moore, literally wrote the book on the topic (Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking), and was the first one to import such models to the States. Michelle has become a disciple of Takei Moore’s, so I was happy to do business with them, but I was worried about having one shipped, and getting one shipped to Canada appeared to be even more of a hassle. Then I found a stylish little store in New York City called Nalata/Nalata that also stocked the same double-lidded rice cooker donabes from Iga. Seeing as I was just about to be down in NYC for a film function at Anthology Film Archives, I decided to look up Nalata/Nalata’s precise location, and what I discovered was that they were quite literally half a block away from Anthology. What are the chances?

Anyway, when the surprise was finally revealed, and Michelle received her gift, she was overjoyed to see that her hints had actually registered with me, but she was even more overjoyed when she seasoned her new donabe and used it to cook rice the first time. The results were perfection. And they have been every time she’s put her donabe to work since then. Every grain blessed with the ideal texture. Every grain a little jewel of goodness.

fig. b: rice by  donabe

fig. b: rice by donabe

There’s just something about that donabe’s thick, porous clay body, its brilliant double-lid design (complete with that slot to hold your rice paddle), and those hundreds and hundreds years of skill and know-how that went into its production.

Mostly Michelle uses the donabe to make rice, but she’s also used it to cook more elaborate dishes from time to time—like ginger-marinated chicken thighs with schmaltz rice (!), and a variety of different wintery Japanese stews.

The added bonus is that the perfect rice has inspired her to expand her Japanese repertoire to include such gems as pickled magnolia buds (!!).* Takei Moore claims that rice donabes from the Iga region produce rice that’s so good that it doesn’t even need accompaniment, “because it [is] just so delicious as itself.” And she’s right. But this rice is also so good that it elevates virtually everything that’s served with it, and it encourages you—the cook—to prepare dishes befitting it.

fig. c: pickled magnolia buds (right)

fig. c: pickled magnolia buds (right)

Takei Moore refers to the pleasures associated with Japanese clay pot cooking as “Happy Donabe Life.”

It’s only been a few months, but I think I already understand.


*More on these later.

2018, The Year in Review


Ahmoudou Madassane, Zerzura [OST] (Sahel Sounds)

Foxwarren, s/t (Anti-)

Sample track:  “To Be” 

The Beatles, s/t, a.k.a., White Album (Apple)—revisiting the album in its entirety on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, only re-discover George’s “Long, Long, Long”

Marianne Faithfull, Negative Capability (Panta Rei)

sample track:  “The Gypsy Faerie Queen”

You Drive, “Home in My Love” (Bandcamp)

Cat Power, Wanderer (Domino)

sample track:  “Me Voy”

Destroyer, Sandro Perri, and André Ethier, The Great Hall, Toronto, ON, October 21, 2018

Sandro Perri, In Another Life (Constellation)

sample track: “In Another Life”

Kurt Vile, Bottle It In (Matador)

sample track: “Loading Zones”

v/a, Agrim Agadez (Sahel Sounds)

sample track:  Mohamed Karzo, “C’est la vie”

Rosinha De Valença, “Consolação”

Mary Lattimore, “Baltic Birch” (Ghostly International)

The New Year, Snow (Undertow)

sample track: “Snow”

Angelique Kidjo, “Born Under Punches” (Kravenworks)

Antonio Sanches, Buli Povo! (Analog Africa)

sample track:  “Bem De Fora”

Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelly with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (Decca)

Orchestra Baobab, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit)

J. Mascis, Elastic Days (Sub Pop)

Low, Double Negative (Sub Pop)

sample track:  “Fly”

Townes Van Zandt, Flyin’ Shoes (Fat Possum)

sample track:  “Flyin’ Shoes”

Townes Van Zandt, Our Mother the Mountain (Fat Possum)

sample track:  “Our Mother the Mountain”

Nina Simone, Nina Simone at Town Hall (WaxTime)

sample track: “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”

moving images

First Reformed (2018), dir. Schrader

You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir. Ramsay

Wild Wild Country (2018), dir. Way Bros.


Roma (2018), dir. Cuarón

Three Identical Strangers (2018), dir. Wardle

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018), dir. Van Sant

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), dir. Neville

Leaning Into the Wind:  Andy Goldsworthy (2017), dir. Riedelsheimer

American Animals (2018), dir. Layton

dawson city.jpg

Dawson City:  Frozen Time (2017), dir. Morrison

Let the Sunshine In (2017), dir. Denis

Loveless (2017), dir. Zvyagintsev

Abacus:  Small Enough to Jail (2016), dir. James

Icarus (2017), dir. Fogel

I, Tonya (2017), dir. Gillespie

Strong Island (2017), dir. Ford

Eighth Grade (2018), dir. Burnham

Whitney (2018), dir. Macdonald

Beautiful Boy (2018), dir. van Groeningen

Les Blank: Always for Pleasure box set (2014), Criterion Collection—featuring Always for Pleasure (1978), Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980), In Heaven There is No Beer? (1984), and many others


Alone (2017), dir. Bradley

Ten Meter Tower (2017), dir. Van Aertryck & Danielson

2,300 Miles to Work (2018), dir. Brown

The Polaroid Job (2017), dir. Plante

Seafarers (2017), dir. Mortimer

I Have a Message For You (2017), dir. Rochlitz


W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country

Fred Morin, David McMillan, and Meredith Erickson, Joe Beef:  Surviving the Apocalypse 


Emily Kaiser Thelin, Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life (2017)

Patrick Modiano, In the Café of Lost Youth 

E.M. Forster, Maurice 

Rebecca Solnit, River of Shadows:  Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West

John Le Carré, The Pigeon Tunnel:  Stories From My Life

Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris, The Lost Words

Nancy Hass, “The Craftsman Still Making Windsor Chairs By Hand,” The New York Times Style Magazine, September 14, 2018

T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

Burkhard Bilger, “The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans,” The New Yorker, April 23, 2018

food & drink

I Tortellini di Martina, Pordenone, IT

rancho gordo.jpeg

Rancho Gordo beans (see “The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans” above)

Kojin, Toronto, ON

Good Hombres, Toronto, ON

Côte de Boeuf, Toronto, ON

Tennessee Tavern, Toronto, ON

Joe Beef:  Surviving the Apocalypse book launch, McKiernan’s, Montreal, QC

harbor fish.jpeg

Harbor Fish Market, Portland, ME

Honey Paw, Portland, ME

Tandem, Portland, ME

Ten Ten Pié, Portland, ME

homemade meatballs

Worthy Burger, South Royalton, VT

Feast & Field, Barnard, VT

mushroom hunting.jpg

mushroom hunting

donabe madness


“Operation Infektion,” dir. Ellick and Westbrook, Times Video, The New York Times, November 12, 2018

Slow Burn, Season 1:  Watergate, Slate Media

Slow Burn, Season 2:  The Impeachment of Bill Clinton, Slate Media

Caliphate, The New York Times

The Daily, The New York Times

Serial, season 3, Serial/This American Life/WBEZ Chicago

“Novelist John Le Carré Reflects on his Own ‘Legacy’ of Spying,” Fresh Air, August 17, 2018 (September 5, 2017)

“The Feather Heist,” This American Life #654

R.I.P., darling Boris (2001-2018)

boris shadow.jpg

Bonne année!


Out of the Archives: "Green Mountain Pizza: In Search of Transcendental Pizza Along Vermont's Hippie Trail" (2011)

fig. a: green, Green Mountains

fig. a: green, Green Mountains

This article first appeared in the Montreal Gazette in September 2011. It was syndicated by PostMedia News not long afterwards, and although you can no longer find the article on the Gazette’s website, you can still find it on the Ottawa Citizen’s site.

At the time, I considered this article to be my modest contribution to the project of determining each and every one of America’s vast number of regional pizza styles initiated by Slice NY, Serious Eats, and others in the 2000s.

All three of the pizza/flatbread restaurants featured in this article are still thriving, and I stand by all of them. Since then, however, Vermont’s Hippie Pizza scene has continued to grow at an impressive rate. Many more recent establishments could be added to this list. It’s quite possible that a follow-up article is in order. But that will have to be for another time.

In the meantime, without any further ado…

For at least a decade now, North America has been swept up in a full-blown pizza revolution, one characterized by a cult of Neapolitan pizza and an almost fanatical concern with authenticity and Verace Pizza Napoletana accreditation, not to mention a considerable amount of boasting and posturing.

Meanwhile, pizza enthusiasts in Vermont have been quietly going about their business, developing a similarly passionate and characteristically unorthodox approach to the venerable pizza pie.

This is a state that has made "Keep Vermont Weird" a mantra, after all. These are people who pride themselves on marching to the beat of a different drummer.

One might call it Vermont's very own Quiet Revolution.

In spite of a vibrant movement that dates back at least 25 years, Vermont continues to fly under the radar of most pizza authorities. The explanation for this is simple. It has to do with the relative lack of concern Vermont's pizzaiolos have shown for Neapolitan articles of faith like tipo 00 flour, D.O.C. San Marzano tomatoes, and imported Italian ovens. It has to do with the fact that pizza in Vermont is not rigidly bound by a type of oven, a type of crust, or a shape.

Instead, Vermont's pizza pioneers have put their focus on sourcing top-calibre local ingredients - from farm and chef partnerships like the impressive Vermont Fresh Network, which unites farmers, artisanal producers and chefs in a common cause, and mills like Norwich, Vermont's, highly esteemed King Arthur Flour - and on using these ingredients in an ingenious manner.

They've also placed an emphasis on community. At its best, pizza in Vermont is less a style than a way of life. One that's guided by an innate belief in the power of transcendental pizza to bring people together, even in the most rural of locations.

In fact, this is one of the signature features of Green Mountain pizza. While the history of pizza has been very closely bound to the urban experience, many of Vermont's most outstanding pizza establishments are well off the beaten path.

In other words, not only are there great pies to be found in Vermont, but many of the best are found in the most bucolic of settings. For those with a taste for pizza and the great outdoors, this is road food at its finest.

There were surely precursors, but the modern Green Mountain pizza movement began in 1985, when George Schenk built his first woodburning oven out of field stones from his property and founded American Flatbread.

fig. b: clay oven, Murray Bay, QC, 1898

fig. b: clay oven, Murray Bay, QC, 1898

Bigger ovens followed, including a domed, earthen oven built in the style of the traditional bread ovens of Quebec, which has become American Flatbread's signature model. And by 1990, Schenk & company had established their flagship location on the historic Lareau Farm in Waitsfield, near Montpelier, Stowe and Sugarbush.

It was there, at this idyllic farmhouse setting in the Mad River Valley, that my partner and I had our first extraordinary experience of pizza in Vermont. I remember it vividly, for as we turned off Route 100 and entered Lareau Farm [which doubles as a comfortable inn], we found a veritable Midsummer Night's Dream before us. Tables were set up al fresco next to the farmhouse. Kids were running freely across the meadow. A fire was burning in the fire pit. And those who were waiting for a table were spread out across the vast deck, sipping wines and drinking craft beers, and taking in a perfect summer evening. As the sun began to set, fireflies came out. It took us a while to get a table (2½ hours!), but we didn't mind - we couldn't have been happier, or more relaxed.

Then we were seated at an outdoor table and our pizzas arrived, and the experience was taken to a whole other level. We'd never had a pizza named after an obscure evolutionary theory before, but when that beautifully blistered Punctuated Equilibrium arrived fully dressed with Kalamata olives, roasted sweet peppers, handmade Vermont goat's cheese, mozzarella, fresh rosemary, red onions and garlic, we were sold. The work of Stephen Jay Gould had never tasted so good. And our New Vermont Sausage Pie was an even bigger hit. Its combination of homemade maple-fennel sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and caramelized onions was positively lusty, and the maple syrup notes gave the pizza a real gout du terroir.

We left Lareau Farm in a state of bliss. We'd discovered Vermont hippie pizza at its finest and its effects were mind-expanding.

Glover is a Northeast Kingdom town best known for its associations with the Bread and Puppet Theater, a radical performance ensemble that developed a reputation for sharing bread with its audience in an act of communion. Just a couple of miles away, in West Glover, stands the Lake Parker Country Store, where, at the back of the store, past the displays of local organic produce, Vermont artisanal cheeses, locally sourced maple syrup and convenience store staples, you'll find the Parker Pie Company. There, another kind of communion has brought the local community together - one based on the twin pleasures of Vermont pizza and American craft beers.

Started five years ago by partners Ben Trevits and Cavan Meese, the Parker Pie Company was an instant sensation, a back-country treasure that locals guarded jealously. And with good reason. Parker Pie's pies are the product of a conventional electric pizza oven - not the imported wood-burning ovens preferred by pizza snobs - but they feature a crispy-chewy crust that borders on the sublime and contains a secret ingredient: maple syrup. (Meese's parents are maple syrup producers.)

fig. c: half & half: NEK Garden Style (l) + Green Mountain Special (r)

fig. c: half & half: NEK Garden Style (l) + Green Mountain Special (r)

No pizza captures the peculiar genius of the Parker Pie Company as powerfully as its Green Mountain Special, an inspired combination of wilted spinach, cheddar, red onion, crisp apple slices, and Vermont Smoke and Cure bacon. Here, you have it all: a perfect union of imagination and execution, an edible homage to the state that produced it, and a pizza that's so magical that it enters into your dream life.

Roughly 20 kilometres south of Burlington, in Charlotte, you'll suddenly find a painted roadside sign bearing an image of a pizza that looks suspiciously like a circular map of the world (with tomato sauce oceans and mozzarella continents) and bold lettering that reads "Pizza on Earth: Wood Oven Bakery." We slammed on the brakes and made a U-turn so that we could take a closer look.

The story of Jay Vogler, the founder of Pizza on Earth, contains so much of what makes the Vermont pizza scene so special. Trained first as a painter, then as a cook, he left New York 20 years ago and relocated his family to a farm in Charlotte, out of the conviction that farmers would be to the '90s what superstar chefs had been to the '80s. He and his wife ran their farm as a wholesale vegetable farm, then a CSA before the cooking bug and the chance purchase of a previously owned wood-burning oven got the better of him.

A decade later, you can gauge Vogler's success not only by the number of pizzas he sells on a typical Friday night (about 150), but also by the range of licence plates you find in his parking lot (Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, New York). And it's easy to understand why.

The combination of Vogler's specialty pizzas - like his Sausalito, with garlic sausage, chard, red onion, Parmesan, mozzarella and a dash of garlic oil; and his Spudnik, with bacon, sour cream and (you guessed it) thinly sliced potatoes - and the relaxed atmosphere of open-air, bring-yourown-bottle Champlain Valley dining is completely seductive.

Like Parker Pie and American Flatbread, Vogler insists on using Vermont flour (King Arthur) and locally sourced herbs and vegetables. And like the best of the Green Mountain pizzerias, Vogler creates some unusually creative and flavourful pizzas - pizzas that capture the spirit of Vermont, pizzas worth travelling for.


American Flatbread

Lareau Farm, 46 Lareau Rd., Waitsfield, Vermont 1-802-496-8856

Parker Pie Company

161 County Rd., West Glover, Vermont 1-802-525-3366

Pizza on Earth

1510 Hinesburg Rd., Charlotte, Vermont 1-802-425-2152

Where to stay:

Lareau Farm Inn, which is connected to the original American Flatbread in Waitsfield, is an absolute gem of an inn.

Ceres Arises: A Cereal Narrative, pt. 2

fig. a: pretty fab sprouts

fig. a: pretty fab sprouts

In honour of Ceres 3.0, I went ahead and created a new loaf of bread, one that was meant to be an ode to her sheaf and the variety of forms of wheat that constitute it. Essentially, this was a sprouted wheat berry loaf with 30% whole wheat.

The Ceres 3.0

700 g all-purpose bread flour (preferably organic)

300 g whole-wheat flour (preferably organic)

850 g water

150 g leaven

25 g fine sea salt

250 g sprouted wheat berries (preferably organic) [for information on sprouting grains, see below]

For my whole wheat I wanted something with real flavour. I was pretty excited to use some locally milled flour from Morningstar Mill in Decew Falls, ON, but any locally sourced whole wheat flour would do. Of course, the optimum is to find some freshly milled organic whole wheat flour, but if you can’t source flour that was milled that very day, opt for something that’s at least distinctive. Remember, this loaf is an ode to wheat, so do Ceres proud—use the best varieties you can find.

fig. b: Nice knickers, mate!

fig. b: Nice knickers, mate!

Sprouting Grains

Here, as in the recipe above, I followed the model laid out by Chad Robertson in Tartine Book No. 3.

Most grains need to be soaked for 4-6 hours to sprout properly.

After you’ve soaked them, they should be thoroughly drained and you should aerate them by lifting, tossing them gently, and stirring them with your hand. Then place the drained grains in a clean glass jar and cover them with cheesecloth. Keep the jar at room temperature, and repeat the process of rinsing them, draining them, and aerating them twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening, preferably—returning them to the jar each time. Most grains take 2-4 days to sprout. My organic wheat berries have been taking about 2 days. How will you know when they’re ready? As Robertson notes, “The grains are ready when they have just sprouted but have not yet formed spider shoots.” At this point, you can use the sprouted grains immediately in your baking, or you can keep them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a few days. But, personally, I’ve seen no reason to use mine immediately.

You can assume that the volume of dry berries will roughly double after sprouting.

You can also expect the weight of the sprouted grains to increase by about 65% over what the grains weighed originally.

Robertson adds his sprouted grains fairly late in the mix—about 1 hour into the bulk rise phase. I’m still not 100% sure what the logic is here, but I’ve been following his lead and the results have been solid.

Just take a look.

fig. c: behold the Ceres 3.0!

fig. c: behold the Ceres 3.0!

Delicious, too.

And if you look closely, you can see a sprout or two poking through the crust, and plenty of tender wheat berries also making their presence known.


Ceres Arises: A Cereal Narrative, pt. 1

I should start off by saying that my attachment to Ceres, the Roman wheat sheaf-wielding goddess of agriculture, began in London and not in Montpelier. That’s because I worked at a vegetarian café and bakery called Ceres on Portobello Road in my early twenties. The “grain shop,” as it was known, had begun as a macrobiotic pioneer back in the Hippy Era—one that looked something like this.

fig. a: Ceres of London

fig. a: Ceres of London

By the time I got there it was owned by a couple of crazy bon vivants and it had little to do with Zen. And in the time I knew it, Ceres was mostly a veggie take-out, with a decent pastry and bread program, and very close ties to the community.*

Anyway, I started off at Ceres as a replacement baker, but I stayed on as a kitchen hand and cook, and it was definitely the best job I held down during my two years in London. I wasn’t paid much, but I was paid under the table, and I got fed 2-3 meals every day that I worked there, so somehow I still managed to save money to go to shows, see films, and eventually even travel. And I still get incredibly nostalgic about the carry-out containers we used to pack full of brown rice, mac & cheese, fried tofu, veggie curry, sautéed mushrooms, stir-fried broccoli, “cheesy spuds,” and salads of all kinds, including their signature lemon-tahini pasta salad (based on a recipe from a famous veggie café that was located in Harlem in the sixties, or so I was told).

Years later, I can still remember the experience of visiting Montpelier, Vermont for the first time. It was such a tiny town (the population was about 7,000 at the time, but sometimes it felt even smaller than that), such a charming one, but the skyline was dominated by its rather impressive, if diminutive, Vermont State House, with its majestic golden dome. I’m sure I noticed the statue that adorned the dome the first time I laid eyes on it, but it took me years to realize who the statue represented. I’m sure I just assumed it was a statue of Ethan Allen,** or one of Vermont’s other founding fathers, but, in fact, it was Ceres (or, rather, Agriculture) who graced the dome. Wheat sheaf and all.

fig. b: Vermont State House, featuring Ceres, Montpelier, VT

fig. b: Vermont State House, featuring Ceres, Montpelier, VT

I never took a close look at this Ceres. I mostly just admired her from afar. So it was only in the last couple of years, when the word began to get around that Ceres needed to be replaced because she was literally falling apart at the seams, that I learned that she already was a replacement.

The original version of Ceres had been carved and erected by a Vermont artist named Larkin Goldsmith Mead. It was Mead’s first major success, and it established him as an in-demand sculptor—one who would have a long and prolific career in public art.***

In 1938, hasty arrangements were made to replace the original Ceres when it was discovered that Mead’s version was in an advanced state of deterioration. The contract for this Ceres was awarded to Dwight Dwinell, a State House employee who was close at hand and willing to take on the challenge. Dwinell was 87 years old at the time. He was also something of an amateur.

fig. c: portrait of the artist as a sad woman

fig. c: portrait of the artist as a sad woman

As it turns out, in spite of his relative inexperience, Dwinell’s version lasted roughly as long as Mead’s had, but when it became apparent that Ceres 2.0 needed to be replaced as well, an effort was made restore Ceres to her former neo-classical glory, and to make sure this version was built to last: 150 years, if at all possible.

This time it took two artists to recreate Ceres. One of them, Jerry Williams, created a 1/4 scale model based closely on Mead’s original design. The other, Chris Miller—a local stone mason and woodcarver—was the one tasked with carving the 15-foot version out of a block of mahogany (as opposed to the pine that Mead had used).

Miller is a gregarious guy, and a true local character, and one of the conditions he placed on his contract was that his workshop inside the Vermont Granite Museum in nearby Barre be open to the public throughout the carving process. He saw Ceres as being a “people’s artwork,” and, therefore, it was important to him that the people have access to her as she came to life, so to speak, and before she ascended to her summit for the next 150 years.

A little over a week ago, we received an invitation to join our friends M., R., and E. at the Vermont Granite Museum to pay Ceres a visit. Chris was going to be putting the finishing touches on Ceres—applying the final coats of protective white paint, and adding some gold-leaf details—as she was just under a week away from making her ascent. That this was a rare opportunity goes without saying. We jumped at the opportunity.

When we arrived at the museum, we could see that our friends had beaten us there. So we followed the signs to Ceres.

fig. d: “Ceres statue? Come in. Follow signs.”

fig. d: “Ceres statue? Come in. Follow signs.”

fig. e: “statue —>”

fig. e: “statue —>”

fig. f: “statue in here”

fig. f: “statue in here”

When we reached our destination, it was a little like we’d stepped into a cavernous medical theatre to witness some kind of strange operation.

The patient was there in all her splendour.

fig. g: Ceres at rest

fig. g: Ceres at rest

An artist/artisan/surgeon was at work.

fig. h: Chris at work

fig. h: Chris at work

Informative panels/collages had been set up nearby to help explain the history of Ceres, and of the current project.

fig. I: a brief visual history of Agriculture

fig. I: a brief visual history of Agriculture

Hoiy relics had been made available.

fig. j: authentic relics here!

fig. j: authentic relics here!

Fittingly, a crowd of pilgrims began to assemble.

fig. k: pilgrimage

fig. k: pilgrimage

And about an hour after we first arrived, we were lucky enough to witness Ceres being anointed with gold.

fig. l: enter the gilded age

fig. l: enter the gilded age

The application of gold-leaf details was pretty much the final step in the process of creating Ceres 3.0.

A little less than a week later, she took flight again, with a little help from some friends, and in front of a crowd of a few hundred onlookers who’d braved the unusually cold November temperatures to witness a resurrection, Ceres assumed the pedestal she will adorn for the foreseeable future.

fig. m: Ceres arisen!

fig. m: Ceres arisen!

Or as long as the Good Lord is willing, and the Winooski don’t rise.

Of course, we’re no fools. We know how these things are bound to end.

fig. n: all things must come to pass

fig. n: all things must come to pass

But, in the meantime, we feel confident that Ceres was built to stand the test of time. And that she’ll be able to communicate an important message or two to future generations.


* At the time, Ceres also did a very brisk trade in Guarana, if you can remember that moment.

**Allen’s marble statue is actually located inside the State House.

***As it turns out, Ceres is a subject Mead would revisit some 45 years later, when he received a commission to design and carve another version of Ceres—”The Triumph of Ceres”—this time as part of a bas-relief group that would adorn the Agriculture Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

2016, The Year in Review



Weyes Blood, Front Row Seat to Earth (Mexican Summer)

sample track:  "Do You Need My Love"

Weyes Blood + Sahara + Ducks Unlimited, Baby G, Toronto, October 29, 2016

DIIV, Is the Is Are (Captured Tracks)

sample track:  "Bent (Roi's Song)"

Ranking Dillinger, None Stop Disco Style (Clocktower)

sample track:  "African World Wide" + "Into the African Dub"

Heron Oblivion, s/t (Sub Pop)

sample track:  "Beneath Fields"

Destroyer, “Forces From Above” and “My Mystery” (both remixed by (Merge)

Destroyer + Andre Ethier, Mills Hardware, Hamilton, ON, November 10, 2016

Nathan Bowles, Whole & Cloven (Paradise of Bachelors)

sample track:  "I Miss My Dog"

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed)

sample track:  "I Need You"

Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia)

sample track:  "It Seemed the Better Way"

Promised Land Sound, For Use and Delight (Paradise of Bachelors)

sample track:  "She Takes Me There"

Angel Olsen, My Woman (Jagjaguwar)

sample track:  "Shut Up Kiss Me"

Steve Gunn, Eyes on the Lines (Matador)

sample track:  "Ancient Jules"

Steve Gunn + Promised Land Sound + Nathan Bowles, La Victrola, Montreal, June 26, 2016

Bob Dylan and The Band, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11:  The Basement Tapes Raw (Sony/Columbia)

Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 (Columbia)

sample track:  "Pretty Saro"

Bob Dylan, John Birch Society Blues (bootleg)

The War on Drugs, Wagonwheel Blues (Secretly Canadian)

sample track:  "Barrel of Batteries"

Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary + Early EPs [deluxe edition] (Sub Pop)

sample track:  "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts"

Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (Fat Possum)

Sandy Denny, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (Hannibal/Carthage)

sample track:  "The Banks of the Nile"

Wye Oak, Tween (Merge)

sample track:  "Better (For Esther)"

Cate Le Bon, Crabday (Drag City)

sample track:  "Wonderful"

The Byrds, Untitled (Columbia)

sample track:  "Lover of the Bayou"

Beyoncé, Lemonade

sample track:  "Formation"

Meg Baird, Don’t Weigh Down the Light (Drag City)

sample track:  "Stars Unwinding"

Sahara, s/t (Artificial Sounds)

The Feelies, Time For a Witness (Bar None)

sample track:  "Doin' It Again"

David Byrne w/ Arcade Fire and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Société des Arts Technologiques, Montreal, February 19, 2016


3-D, 1950s rev.jpeg

Moving Images

The Lobster (2015), dir. Lanthimos

Stranger Things (2016- ), created by the Duffer Brothers

Arrival (2016), dir. Villeneuve

Manchester By the Sea (2016), dir. Lonergan

Weiner (2016), dir. Kriegman & Steinberg

Son of Saul (2015), dir. Nemes

The Revenant (2015), dir. Iñarritu

45 Years (2015), dir. Haigh

Mustang (2015), dir. Ergüven

Paterson (2016), dir. Jarmusch

Gimme Danger (2016), dir. Jarmusch

Dark Horse (2015), dir. Osmond

The Strong Man (1929), dir. Szaro

Algol:  Tragödie der Macht (1920), dir. Werckmeister


13th (2016), dir. DuVernay

Moonlight (2016), dir. Jenkins

Things To Come (L’Avenir) (2016), dir. Løve-Hansen

Mia Madre (2015), dir. Moretti

Cooked (2016), prod. Gibney & featuring Michael Pollan



John McPhee, Levels of the Game

Guy Lawson, "An Insurance Salesman and a Doctor Walk Into a Bar, and End Up at the North Pole:  The Story of an Accidentally Pioneering Expedition," The New York Times, March 17, 2016

T.H. White, Letters to a Friend 

Frankie Barnet, An Indoor Kind of Girl

Ben McGrath, "The Wayfarer:  A Solitary Canoeist Meets His Fate," The New Yorker, December 14, 2015

essential oyster.jpg

Rowan Jacobsen, "The Essential Oyster:  A Salty Appreciation of Taste & Temptation" 

Ken Forkish, The Elements of Pizza

Greil Marcus, Mystery Train:  Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music [revisited]

Greil Marcus, Invisible Republic:  Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes [revisited]

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Evan Osnos, "The Far-Right Revival:  A Thirty-Year War?," The New Yorker, January 12, 2016

Andrew Marantz, "Trolls For Trump," The New Yorker, October 31, 2016

Travis Lett, Gjelina:  Cooking From Venice, California

Bon Appétit, "Healthy-ish" issue, January 2016

Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Preserving the Japanese Way

Ruth Allman, Alaska Sourdough:  The Real Stuff By a Real Alaskan


Food & Drink

Larrys, Montreal, QC (co-winner:  AEB's Montreal Restaurant of the Year)

Boulangerie Automne, Montreal, QC 

Butterblume, Montreal, QC (co-winner:  AEB's Montreal Restaurant of the Year)

Bar Henrietta, Montreal, QC

Doc Ponds, Stowe, VT

CoVino, Venice, Italy

Enoteca Ferronato, Pordenone, Italy (store + degusteria)

Tortellini di Martina, Pordenone, Italy

Ranzani 13, Bologna, Italy

PizzArtist, Bologna, Italy

Roccati l'Artigiano del Cioccolato, Bologna, Italy

Osteria dell'Orsa, Bologna, Italy

Gelateria Castiglione, Bologna, Italy

Enoteca Storica Faccioli, Bologna, Italy

Mercato Delle Erbe, Bologna, Italy (featuring Banco32)

Deirdre Heekin + Caleb Barber @ La Garagista Wines, Barnard, VT

Backacre Beermakers, Weston, VT

Comforting Tomatoes in Cream with Bread Crumbs and Smoked Salt

Chatham Shellfish Co., Chatham, MA

homemade Zucchini Blossom Pizza

Taste for Grain conference, Montreal, QC, June 13, 2016

Plum Cobbler

Grain Therapy

"The Essential Oyster!:  The Montreal Book Launch," Lawrence, Montreal, December 12, 2016

Colville Bay Oyster Company, Souris River, Prince Edward Island

Nonesuch Oysters, Scarborough River, Maine

Rockin' Cool Times Bar & Grill, Montreal, QC


Marseille, yo!.jpg

Italy (Venice/Pordenone/Friuli/Bologna), October 2016

Museo Canova, Possagno, Italy

Villa di Maser (a.k.a. Villa Barbaro), Maser, Italy

Brion Cemetery, San Vito d'Altivole, Italy

Museo di Palazzo Poggi, Bologna, Italy

michelle's sashiko.jpg

DIY Sashiko

DIY Shibori



Fairbanks Museum, St. Johnsbury, VT

Mjölk, Toronto, ON

Christmas in Vermont, 2016



Leonard Cohen

David Bowie


Raoul Coutard

Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds

Jim Harrison


Well, it certainly was an eventful year, wasn't it?

All the best in 2017 from your friends at AEB.


Viaggio in Italia, pt. 1

fig. a: cinephilia

fig. a: cinephilia

Like so many others before us, it was film that brought us to Italy.  In this case, however, it wasn’t the vicarious pleasures of films set in Italy (like Contempt or Journey to Italy, a.k.a., Viaggio in Italia), but, rather, the direct and immediate pleasures of an Italian film festival.  

This was no typical film festival, either—it was the 35th edition of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival—so there was no Godard (or Rossellini) on offer—just hundreds of gorgeous, meticulously restored silent films from around the world, spanning the period from the early 1890s to the mid-1930s.

And as far as we were concerned, this was a trip that was long overdue.  I'd been wanting to attend Pordenone since I first heard about the festival in the mid-1990s, when I was a young grad student.  And Michelle and I had been wanting to make a journey to Italy for years and years—almost as long as we’ve known each other.  Hell, Michelle had never, ever been to Italy, and I'd only ever been once, in my early 20s, for a grand total of four days.  So we were both thrilled to finally get a chance to go to Italy together.  We'd "only" be there for ten days, and most of that time we'd be anchored to a single city, but ten days anywhere in Italy was a godsend.

If you’re not familiar with it, Pordenone is located about an hour by train from Venice in the Northeastern province of Friuli Venezia Giulia, so we flew into Marco Polo.  I had a feeling Day 1 would be our one and only opportunity to visit the majesty (and insanity) of "the Queen of the Adriatic," so we hopped on a bus immediately upon arrival and made a bee-line for Venice's centro storico.  

fig. b: Venezia

fig. b: Venezia

The wonders and curiosities of Venice are well known--it is, after all, one of the cities that gave birth to tourism in the first place--but Venetian cuisine often gets a bad rap precisely because of the abundance of generic, tourist-oriented establishments that you'd expect for such an attraction.  However, the region that surrounds Venice--the Veneto--is hardly a slouch when it comes to food and wine, and we’d heard that there actually was plenty of great eating and drinking in Venice, if you knew where to look, so we took a look around.

fig. c: gondola scene

fig. c: gondola scene

fig. d: that was then

fig. d: that was then

fig. e: this is now

fig. e: this is now

fig. f: palimpsestic

fig. f: palimpsestic

We were in search of wine and cichetti—the Veneto’s contribution to the small plates cuisine so typical of wine bars in the Mediterranean region—preferably in one of Venice’s traditional bacari, no-nonsense snack bars where tasty treats are served alongside local wines, spritzes, and other aperitivos.  In our delirium, 11:00 am on a Sunday seemed like a great time for copious amounts of cichetti and wine—we'd just flown in from North American and we wanted to hit the ground running—but apparently Venice’s bacari owners see things differently. All the ones we were interested in checking out were closed for domenica santa.

Luckily, we’d made plans to visit a restaurant that was actually open on Sunday afternoons—one that was not a bacaro in any traditional sense, but one that prided itself on its Venetian flavours, on the quality of its ingredients, on the artistry of its execution, on the calibre of its natural wine list, and on its bacaro-like conviviality.  Your basic win, win, win, win situation.  We'd been tipped off to CoVino by our friend Geneviève, who wrote a great article on Venetian bacaros, cichetterias, and other wine-friendly restaurants in Venice for EnRoute a couple of years ago (you can find the article here), and it truly was an outstanding tip.

Fresh off our red-eye flight from Toronto, and having been walking the stone and marble passageways and contending with the ever-growing crowds of Venice for hours already, we showed up at CoVino a little worse for wear, but we settled into our table shortly after noon, the local “pet nat” prosecco began to flow, and not long afterwards a succession of plates began to arrive. 

CoVino is a tiny establishment, with roughly 20 seats, so it’s an incredibly intimate experience. Andrea Lorenzon tripled as our maître d’, our sommelier, and our waiter, while the open-format kitchen just beyond our table was manned by Dimitri Gris and his assistant.  CoVino is a tightly run ship, and it showed in the cuisine--the dishes were impeccable:  fresh and flavourful, perfectly conceived, beautiful to the eye.

Our rather extravagant lunch consisted of the following:

crudo of shrimp manti dressed with micro-greens and a bergamot oil mist that was actually administered from a tiny atomizer

poached sea bream with bagna cauda, boiled potatoes, and cavolo nero--glorious!

spaghetti alla bottarga, which couldn't haven't been simpler, but also couldn't have been more perfect--Michelle devoured this one

salade composée with the most beautiful local mixed greens, edible flowers, pomegranate seeds, figs, and grapes--a truly gorgeous salad

and a lovely and incredibly generous cheese plate to finish

Of course, as their name suggests, CoVino is a wine establishment, and it was here, one glass of prosecco into our meal, that Michelle began to understand what a magical mystery tour this trip was going to be.  CoVino had an astounding selection of wine, and these beauties were priced to move.

This was only the beginning—we were only hours into our Italian adventure—but already CoVino had set the bar incredibly high.

Should you find yourself in Venice:

CoVino, 3829 Calle del Pestrin, Castello, Venice 30122 (tel:  +39 041 241 2705)

(For obvious reasons, CoVino is a very hot ticket, so reservations are a must.)


Top Ten #63

welcome cape cod.jpg

1.  Cape Cod, MA, July 2016

2.  Steve Gunn + Promised Land Sound + Nathan Bowles, La Vitrola, Montreal, QC, June 26, 2016

3.  Promised Land Sound, For Use and Delight (Paradise of Bachelors)

sample track:  "She Takes Me There"

4.  Deborah Madison, Vegetable Literacy (Ten Speed Press)

sample recipe:  Comforting Tomatoes in Cream

5.  Doc Ponds, Stowe, VT

6.  Greil Marcus, Invisible Republic:  Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (Henry Holt) and Mystery Train:  Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (E.P. Dutton) revisited + Bob Dylan and The Band, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11:  The Basement Tapes Raw (Sony/Columbia)

7.  the bounty of summer

8.  Barnstock, Maple Corner, Calais, VT, August 27, 2016

9.  T.H. White, Letters to a Friend (Putnam)

10.  Sandy Denny, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (Hannibal/Carthage)


The Time is Now 3: Cabbage

fig. a:  before

fig. a:  before

Once again, the concept here is pretty simple.

Find yourself the freshest, tastiest locally grown cabbages you can find (preferably organic, please), and throw them on the grill.  That's right:  take your cabbages and grill them.

fig. b:  after

fig. b:  after

The first time we had our minds blown by such a dish was in Charleston, SC, in late 2013.  We'd driven down to Charleston for Christmas on a whim.  And, oh, what a whim it was!  We had an absolutely phenomenal time, and the food we ate was completely off the charts, but there's no question that the meal of the trip (and our Meal of the Year) was the feast we had at McCrady's.

We had a number of phenomenal dishes that night, including Calico scallops with roasted butternut squash, chervil, and green peanuts; pan-fried trout with Meyer lemon and thyme; and a  fall greens salad with charred pecans, country ham, apples and turnips.  But in many ways, the most memorable dish, and the one that proved to be the most inspirational dish of the night, was a smoky grilled cabbage dish that made up just one-third of a medley of brassicas that came with the trout.  That smoky grilled cabbage dish is usually the first dish we mention when we describe our experience of McCrady’s; it’s also the only dish that we had that night that we’ve tried to replicate repeatedly in the years since our trip to Charleston.

Unfortunately, I don’t have McCrady’s original recipe.  But I can tell you that it was grilled outside the restaurant on one of a battery of barbecues and hibachis the McCrady’s crew had set up around the premises.  Like so many other top chefs, Executive Chef Sean Brock and Chef de Cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne* had become obsessed with cooking over wood fires, but the historic landmark status of McCrady’s Unity Alley location kept them from outfitting the restaurant with an indoor wood-fired grill (apparently, they're in the process of moving locations, so we'll see if that's changed when they start up again).  They’d made up for it by taking full advantage of the restaurant’s surroundings, as well as its roof (!).  Anyway, the dish in question was a relatively simple preparation, but that was the first time we’d ever tasted grilled cabbage, and the experience was a revelation.  This cabbage was unusually sweet and wonderfully smoky, and it had absolutely perfect mouthfeel:  tender and supple, with just the perfect amount of crunch still present.

The next time our waiter dropped by our table and inquired as to how our meal was progressing, we told him that everything was going swimmingly, but that the grilled cabbage dish had been the standout, and we were going to have to insist upon seconds.  He gave a nervous laugh, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, right…  You guys!”  But we weren’t kidding, and when he took a closer look at our dead earnest expressions, he hustled back to the kitchen with our request.  The kitchen was thrilled, of course.  That grilled cabbage dish was exactly the kind of backroom experiment that kitchen staff get super excited about, but that the general public typically doesn’t even notice.  When they heard that their homely little cabbage dish had some serious fans out on the floor, they sent us back a heaping portion—which we promptly devoured, once again.

A few months later, when the snows and the ice had subsided in Montreal and grilling season had started up again, grilled cabbage was a top priority for me.  I had a good sense of how the team at McCrady’s had made their version, but when I came across a recipe for roasted cabbage in the book Brassicas:  Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables by Laura B. Russell, I recognized it as one that could be easily adapted to similar effect.  So that’s exactly what I did.  The recipe that resulted has been my go-to grilled cabbage recipe ever since.  It’s a dish that never fails to receive raves from our dinner guests.  People respond to it pretty much the same way Michelle and I did that fateful December in Charleston.

If the cabbage is just right and I’m feeling suitably ambitious, I’ll cut the cabbage in wedges, leaving part of the stem attached, and keep the wedges intact as I grill them—grilling just the top and bottom of each wedge if the cabbage is particularly young and tender, and all four sides, if the cabbage needs a bit more time over the fire.  If the cabbage doesn’t feel like keeping its wedge form and it would rather just let itself go and spread its leaves all over the grill, I just go with it, turning the mass of leaves carefully with my tongs to try to avoid losing any of them into the coals below.  There are times when I prefer the look of a perfectly intact grilled cabbage wedge on a platter or on an individual plate, but I like the taste of the warm cabbage salad version just as much.

In any case, if you’ve grilled a cabbage, now is the time to try it.  The cabbages are at their very best these days, and there’s still plenty of time left in our grilling season.  Avoid frisée cabbages like the Savoy cabbage when making this.  Opt instead for a good-old fashioned green cabbage, preferably a local organic one, or, even better, one of those beautiful conical cabbages that are becoming more common these days (again, preferably a local and organic one)..

Without any further ado…

Grilled Cabbage

1 green cabbage, cut into 8 wedges

vegetable oil

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper


Light your grill, using all-natural charcoal or charcoal briquets.

When you cut your cabbage into wedges, try to keep some of the stem attached so that the wedges remain intact when you grill them.  

Drizzle the wedges with vegetable oil and place them on a baking sheet or in a platter until your fire is ready.

When your fire is medium-hot, go ahead and start grilling, making sure to blacken each wedge gently on at least the top and bottom, and possibly on all four sides.

Remove the wedges from the grill and let them cool slightly.

Prepare your dressing.  Whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, making sure to season to taste.

Pour the dressing over the grilled cabbage wedges, or grilled cabbage leaves, and toss them gently for even distribution.

Serve immediately.

[based very closely on a recipe for roasted cabbage** that appeared in Laura B. Russell's Brassicas:  Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables (Ten Speed Press, 2014)]

Not only is this dish unbelievably delicious, but it's versatile.  We've served this dish as part of all kinds of different menus.  Just this summer we served it with as an accompaniment to an Italian antipasti spread to great effect, but it was particularly great with grilled pork skewers and fennel-and-chile-rubbed grilled chicken.

I've said everything I have to say about this recipe.  The time is now.  Start grilling!


* Langhorne is now the chef and owner of The Dabney in Washington, D.C.

**  If grilling isn't your bag, and you'd prefer to roast your cabbage, by all means, be my guest.  As noted above, Russell's original recipe is for roasted cabbage.  Place your cabbage wedges on a baking sheet, and after drizzling a little vegetable oil on them, slide them into a 425º F oven.  Total cooking time will be a little longer with this version (30-45 minutes), making sure to flip your wedges once midway through.


The Time is Now 2: Fruit Cobbler


Here's the plan.

It's early September.  Find yourself the freshest, ripest fruit you can get your hands on.

Could be peaches.  Could be blackberries.  Could even be some early apples.

If you're lucky, it could be the last of your very own plums.  Plums that you picked off your own tree, and cradled just as carefully as you possibly could.

fig. a:  fresh plums

fig. a:  fresh plums

Now make a cobbler with them.  A drop-biscuit cobbler.  Using the recipe that follows.

The recipe comes courtesy of Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer.  But, this being the Social Media Age, I received it from Michelle via Facebook.  When I did, it looked like this:

cobbler pt 1.jpg
fig. b:  all mod coms

fig. b:  all mod coms

Pretty cute, huh?

The cobbler that results is a thing of beauty.  It's everything you want in a cobbler.  Crusty and sweet on top, bursting with fruit flavour down below.

fig. c:  let 'em be

fig. c:  let 'em be

This is a recipe that embodies the simple elegance of late-summer cooking--when you're working with the best ingredients, and mostly you just want to let them be.

Remember:  the time is now.

Our plums are finished, but there's no question that we enjoyed them while they lasted.  

Hello, peaches!



The Time is Now 1: Tomatoes


It’s rare that I get stopped in my tracks by a recipe these days, but this was one of those times.

fig. a:  veg lit

fig. a:  veg lit

I was browsing at our local bookstore in Montreal when I came across a book I hadn’t seen before:  Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  I thought, “Oh, cool.  Deborah Madison’s got a new cookbook out.”  But when I flipped the book over the price sticker indicated that it had been published in 2013.  “That’s strange,” I said to myself.  “I never noticed anything about this book when it came out.”  As it turned out, Michelle had never heard of it either.

Michelle and I read a number of food magazines.  We keep a pretty close eye on the latest cookbook releases, but here was a book that had totally slipped us by.  And this was not just any cookbook.  Here was a book that a) was written by one of the prominent cookbook authors of our time; b) was published by one of the top houses for cookbooks and food literature:  Ten Speed Press; c) features photographs by the dynamic duo of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, who are two of our absolute favourites, and among the very best in the business; and d) is book devoted to understanding, growing, and cooking vegetables (and features over “300 deliciously simple recipes”) that was released at a time when vegetable-centric and vegetable-forward cuisine was just beginning to sweep the food world.  Who knows?  Maybe we’d just missed all the hoopla.

Then I started to leaf through it, and I was immediately impressed by its encyclopedic take on the vegetable kingdom, it’s beautiful photographs and layout, its fresh, often imaginative, and highly tantalizing recipes, and its enormous value to both gardeners and cooks, and especially those of us who garden to cook.  The book breaks things down according to twelves families of vegetables:

The Carrot Family:  Some Basic Kitchen Vegetables and a Passel of Herbs

The Mint Family:  Square Stems and Fragrant Leaves

The Sunflower Family:  Some Rough Stuff from Out of Doors

The Knotweed Family:  Three Strong Personalities [sorrel, rhubarb, buckwheat]

The Cabbage Family:  The Sometimes Difficult Crucifers

The Nightshade Family:  The Sun Lovers

The Goosefoot and Amaranth Families:  Edible Weeds, Leaves, and Seeds

The (Former) Lily Family:  Onions and Asparagus

The Cucurbit Family:  The Sensual Squashes, Melons, and Gourds

The Grass Family:  Grains and Cereals

The Legume Family:  Peas and Beans

and The Morning Glory Family:  The Sweet Potato

Each chapter is as captivating and fascinating as the last, and, not surprisingly, Madison excels when it comes to establishing linkages across families, providing inspiration for how to successfully combine edible plants from different families, as well as from the realm of fruit.  [Note:  This cookbook is entirely vegetarian, and all the better for it.  For a book like this, which is so focused on gardening, meat-based recipes would just be a distraction.  Plus, there are plenty of other cookbooks that do that and do that well.]

And then I came across that recipe.  Actually, I noticed the photograph first. 

fig. b:  tomatoes & cream

fig. b:  tomatoes & cream

It was a perfectly composed overhead shot that was highly colourful and just a bit mysterious.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was gazing upon, or what the recipe entailed, but it involved a beautiful array of heirloom tomatoes, and it looked good.  I scanned the opposite page.  “Comforting Tomatoes in Cream with Bread Crumbs and Smoked Salt.”  That’s what the recipe was called.  As I began to make my way through it, I was a bit stumped by what I was reading, and I was happy to see I wasn’t alone.  Madison begins her recipe by explaining its origins, and she, too, was stumped by it the first time she encountered it:

A friend once told me that her comfort food, and her only one at that, was a dish of canned tomatoes cooked in cream which she poured over toast.  I struck me as odd at the time, but I’m now in the same camp.  It’s a perfect indulgent lunch for a day when tomatoes are irresistible.

Of course, this being a book that’s all about growing your own—or at least acquainting yourself with your nearest farmer’s market, so you have access to a wide variety of vegetables at their peak of ripeness—Madison’s take on her friend’s comfort dish doesn’t involve canned tomatoes.  This is a dish to be made “when tomatoes are irresistible,” when field tomatoes are ripe, juicy, and plentiful.

Well, at the time I was reading this local field tomatoes were still nowhere to be found—it was late June, after all, and we live in a Northern zone—but I knew they’d be here soon, and, in case you haven’t noticed, that time is now.  

fig. c:  heirloom time

fig. c:  heirloom time

This recipe also calls for garlic and basil.  Again, the time is now.  Local hard-neck garlic is available again, and fresh, local basil is easy to find, if you’re not growing your own.

How did Madison update and improve her friend’s favourite comfort food?  How did she transform it into an ode to late-summer seasonality?  Let’s see…

Comforting Tomatoes in Cream with Bread Crumbs and Smoked Salt

Serves 1

4 tbsp heavy cream, preferably Vermont cream

1 clove garlic

1 fresh basil leaf

8 oz ripe tomatoes, preferably a mix of the ripest, tastiest heirloom varieties you can find

fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil until trip

smoked salt* and freshly ground pepper

Warm the cream with the garlic and basil in a small skillet over gentle heat.  When it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and steep while you prepare the tomatoes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Score the tomatoes on the blossom end (the “bottom”), then drop them into boiling water for about 10 seconds.  Transfer them to a bowl of cold water to cool, then peel.  Cut the tomatoes into quarters if large, into halves if smaller.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, along with a generous pinch of smoked salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  Turn the heat back on and allow the cream to bubble over the tomatoes and mingle with their juices for 2 to 3 minutes.

Ladle into a bowl.  Adjust the seasoning, if need be.  Scatter the bread crumbs generously over the tomatoes.  Devour, making sure to have some delicious bread close at hand to sop up all the juices with afterwards.

[this recipe based very, very closely on a recipe by the same name that appears in Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy]

It’s hard to explain just how good this dish is.  There’s a simplicity, and purity, and genius to it that’s breathtaking.  If you’re a true lover of fresh tomatoes at the height of season, this is the dish for you.  If you’re a true lover of fresh cream, all the better. 

If you’re still a little mystified by the combination, think of the pleasures of a fine rosé sauce, but one where both the tomatoes and the cream have more of an assertive presence.  Even better, think of the pleasures of eating a fine, ripe burrata—one that’s been allowed to come to temperature—with the ripest, freshest, most delicious tomatoes you can find, some torn basil leaves, and some freshly baked bread.  You know how you’re left with that delicious cream mingling with the tomato juices?  You know how good it tastes when you run a piece of crusty bread through there?  Is it all starting to make sense?

The first time we tasted Madison’s “Comforting Tomatoes” we were completely beside ourselves.  Maybe the two of us are just the ideal audience for this dish.  Maybe it was specifically the combination of our local, organic Vermont tomatoes with local, organic Vermont cream that made the difference (we had intentionally waited to make this recipe in Vermont, so that we had access to a pint of Kimball Brook heavy cream).  But this was the single best thing either of us had tasted in quite some time.  Madison describes it as a “perfect indulgent dish,” but I’m not sure I entirely agree.  It was, quite simply, a perfect dish.  It was one of those exceptional dishes that was entirely satisfying.  And, in fact, it was a dish that lingered with us for hours afterward, even after we’d had our main dish (which was definitely no slouch, either).  Even after we’d had dessert.

You’ve been warned.


*  Don’t skip out on the smoked salt.  If you don’t smoke your own, look for Maldon smoked salt, which is a very fine product, indeed.

The Cod Days of Summer


...You're my piece of the rock / And I love you, C.C...--George Clinton*

fig. a:  lightning over Vermont

fig. a:  lightning over Vermont

Things were a little ominous in North Central Vermont, the night before our planned return to Cape Cod.  Our farmhouse was buffeted by torrential rain, the skies were lit up by one electrical storm after another, and the thunder claps were literally earth-shaking.  

But the sun was out and the clouds were dispersing early the next morning when we started to head down east from the Green Mountains, and by the time we got across the Massachusetts state line, the skies were blue, the sun was bright, and the temperatures were blazing.  And a few hours later, when we reached the heart of Cape Cod, things looked exactly the way we've come to expect them:  Seaside Sublime.  

fig. b:  return to paradise

fig. b:  return to paradise

Cape Cod is a tradition-minded place.  It's a place that's big on its rituals.  And these are among the reasons we love the Cape so much.  We quickly established our own set of Cape Cod rituals a few years ago, when we first started paying summer visits.  (If you've been following us for years, you might even remember these trips in 2013 and 2014.)  And even though we'd had to skip our visit last year (darn it!), we found ourselves falling right back into our "old" routine with ease.  

fig. c:  outside Parnassus

fig. c:  outside Parnassus

fig. d:  inside Parnassus

fig. d:  inside Parnassus

These rituals included visiting all our favourite secondhand bookstores--places like Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouth Port, MA (right in the heart of Edward Gorey Country) and Herridge Books in Wellfleet, MA.

fig. e:  Wellfleet Flea Market

fig. e:  Wellfleet Flea Market

They also included hitting as many thrift stores, rummage sales, and flea markets as we could fit into our schedule, with a Sunday morning visit to the Wellfleet Flea Market being an absolutely mandatory stop.  

Naturally, we made a bee-line to find Beach Plum Mike and visit his amazing Cape Recycled Art Project (a.k.a. C.R.A.P.).  Unfortunately, he didn't have any beach plums this time around (we were much too early), and he'd gotten rid of the large C.R.A.P. signs that had once been prominently on display.  He'd also scrapped the "Local Folk Art" sign that had been there back in 2014.  But we were happy to see that Mike had replaced it with a sizeable "Loco Folk Art" sign.  

To celebrate the persistence of Loco Folk Art on the Cape, we bought another one of Mike's birds and took the Great Speckled Bird home with us.

fig. f:  Great Speckled Bird

fig. f:  Great Speckled Bird

Another one of our rules is to take the time to admire the gardens and the architecture.  A resident of Wellfleet saw me taking a photograph of the American Gothic church you see below and she stopped me and said, "I never thought of taking a picture of this one, but, you're right, it is quite nice."

fig. g:  better homes & gardens

fig. g:  better homes & gardens

fig. h:  American Gothic

fig. h:  American Gothic

But our #1 Cape Cod ritual has to do with hitting as many seafood markets as we can possibly squeeze in--places like the Chatham Pier Fish Market (Chatham), Chatham Fish & Lobster Co. (Chatham), Hatch's Fish Market (Wellfleet), Mac's Seafood (Wellfleet), and George's Fish Market (Harwich Port).  The really good ones have the absolute freshest local catch and their prices are always amazing.  

figs. i & j:  Chatham Fish Pier Market

figs. i & j:  Chatham Fish Pier Market

fig. k:  Chatham Fish & Lobster Co.

fig. k:  Chatham Fish & Lobster Co.

fig. l:  Hatch's 1

fig. l:  Hatch's 1

These Cape Cod fish markets also tend to have a lot of personality and a wicked sense of humour.  Take the lobster display at Hatch's, for instance:

fig. m:  Hatch's 2

fig. m:  Hatch's 2

fig. n:  Hatch's 3

fig. n:  Hatch's 3

And if all that wasn't enough, Cape Cod's fish markets also frequently have kitchens serving up the very best fried clams, fried oysters, and fried shrimp you can find, plus steamers, boiled lobsters, and, of course, lobster rolls--sometimes prize-winning ones.

When we're on the Cape, we go out for seafood just about every day for lunch.  Steamers, oyster po' boys, lobster rolls, shrimp rolls--you name it.  But that's partially because every day around lunchtime we're at one fish market or another buying seafood for later that night.

fig. o:  seafood spread at Mac's

fig. o:  seafood spread at Mac's

Sunday is always the night of our Cape Cod Seafood Extravaganza, which usually includes oysters on the half shell; steamers and/or grilled clams; grilled shrimp; sautéed diver scallops; and pan-fried white fish (like flounder or sole) with beurre noisette; plus a whole lot of vegetable sides and a salad.  The revelation of the Extravaganza, and of the whole trip, really, were the grilled clams.  In the past, we've jazzed them up and made things like Clams Casino, and they were phenomenal.  But this time around, I just threw them on the grill, took them off as soon as they opened, and tried to do as little as possible to them--mainly, I just tried to get them onto a platter without losing any of their precious nectar.  Those Cape Cod littlenecks were as fresh as they come--lightly grilled, they were plump, juicy, and bursting with brine.  Truly fantastic.

Traditions are meant to be cherished and maintained, but it's also good to introduce new ones, and to expand upon existing ones.  This time around we upped our oyster game by going right to the source and buying fresh oysters (harvested that very morning), in quantities, directly from the crew.  More specifically, we visited Chatham Shellfish Co. right on the banks of the Oyster Pond River in Chatham, MA, met up with Steve, and picked up 100 oysters for our return trip back to Vermont.

fig. p:  Chatham Shellfish Co.

fig. p:  Chatham Shellfish Co.

fig. q:  the boat they came in on

fig. q:  the boat they came in on

figs. r, s, t:  special delivery

figs. r, s, t:  special delivery

fig. u:  Cape Cod, VT

fig. u:  Cape Cod, VT

Talk about the best souvenir ever!  Those Chatham oysters were unbelievably briny, meaty, and sweet.  We knew it was time to leave the Cape and go home, but we just weren't ready to let go of our little piece of the rock entirely.  

Sadly the memories only lasted about two nights.  We polished off over 60 of our oysters not long after getting back to Vermont.  The next night we had no problem finishing off the remaining three dozen.

We miss you, Cape Cod!  But that's okay, because we also know where to find you.


p.s.  Deepest thanks to R & MA and the rest of the crew for letting us crash their paradise.

Thanks also to RJ for the amazing contacts.

And respect and love to P & P for taking care of Boris and the Milk House for us.

* Of course, George wasn't talking about Cape Cod, but that's okay.

Out of the Archives 7: Tastes of Summer 1: AEB Superdawg Redux rev. ed.


The original version of this post first appeared in July 2013.  It appears here as part of an ongoing series that explores the back catalogue at " endless banquet" in search of timely classics.  Summertime is peak hot dog season at AEB.  We always have packs of our favourite hot dogs on-hand in case we need to prepare a simple lunch or dinner for a group--something that happens with some frequency at the Milk House in Vermont.  And since establishing a foothold in the Green Mountain State, our hot dog game has undergone a transformation.  Read all about it below...

That was then:

We'll take AEB Superdawgs pretty much any way we can get 'em.  But, let's face it, they're particularly good on a real hot dog bun, and if you happen to be passing through the Mid-Atlantic region sometime soon, you might want to keep your eyes open Martin's hot dog-style potato rolls.  They're easy to spot--they come in those distinctive neo-Fraktur Pennsylvania Dutch-style bags.

fig. a:  De Stijl

fig. a:  De Stijl

We swear by their classic potato rolls for hamburgers and chopped pork sandwiches, but their hot dog rolls are pretty choice, too.  I mean, just look at those dawgs!

fig. b:  double-dawgged

fig. b:  double-dawgged


Hebrew National kosher all-beef franks
finely chopped yellow onion (buried)
chopped cherry tomatoes
finely chopped half-sour pickles
pickled corn
Keen's hot mustard
Hellmann's mayonnaise
celery salt

Total prep time:  about 10-15 minutes.

And this is now:

Since we first ran this post a few years ago, lots has changed:  namely, we've been spending a lot more time in Vermont, and, consequently, our AEB Superdawgs have gotten Green Mountain-ized.  

Don't get me wrong, I still like good, old-fashioned hot dogs from Hebrew National, Vienna Beef, and other time-honoured producers in the East and Midwest, but I love some of the decidedly non-Kosher, humanely sourced, and artisanally produced hot dogs I can find in Vermont.  And the fact that potato rolls are abundant in Vermont is an added bonus.  Martin's potato rolls don't seem to travel east of Lake Champlain, but potato rolls from Vermont Bread Co. and others are a mainstay at local supermarkets, co-ops, and grocery stores.

Our two absolute favourite hot dogs these days are both bacon hot dogs:  Vermont Smoke & Cure's uncured bacon hot dogs and North Country Smokehouse's delicatessen franks.  North Country Smokehouse's home is in New Hampshire, but they're located just across the Connecticut River in Claremont, NH, and they're amazing line of bacons, hams, and sausages can be found widely in Vermont.  Vermont Smoke & Cure was founded in South Barre, VT in the early '60s, but moved to a larger, more modern production facility in Hinesburg, VT just a few years ago.  Both companies produce supremely good hot dogs.  Hot dogs that are juicy, snappy, and absolutely bursting with flavour (thank you, bacon!).  Hot dogs that'll bring a tear to a true hot dog lover's eye, as long as she or he can stand the thought of a bacon dog.

fig. c:  double bacon-dawgged

fig. c:  double bacon-dawgged


Vermont Smoke & Cure uncured bacon hot dogs
finely chopped vidalia onion (buried)
spicy mustard
Hellmann's mayonnaise

When it comes to preparing my AEB superdawgs, I go about doing so two different ways, depending on my mood and/or weather conditions.  I either fire up the Weber barbecue and grill them gently (both Vermont Smoke & Cure's bacon hot dogs and North Country's delicatessen franks are fully cooked, they just need to be heated before serving) over charcoal, or I put a pat of butter in a cast-iron skillet and sauté/roast them carefully.  

I also make sure to toast my potato rolls.  And I usually do so with a bit of butter in a skillet.

Either way, total prep time is short:  about 10-15 minutes, plus the time it takes to get your barbecue going, if you're using charcoal.

If you're passing through Vermont and you're looking to pick up some quality bacon hot dogs for yourself, good sources include Healthy Living (South Burlington), Onion River Co-op (Burlington), Hunger Mountain Co-op (Montpelier), Sterling Market (Johnson), and Hannaford Supermarkets (various locations).  While North Country's line of bacons, hams, and sausages are often in stock at these locations, their delicatessen franks are much harder to find--so you might have to pay them a visit in Claremont, or drop them a line.

Summer is definitely here, people (just feel that sun!).  Make the most of it.  Keep things simple, but, for the love of Dawg, keep 'em tasty.


Pizza, Bibles, and Blossoms


If Ken Forkish's The Elements of Pizza:  Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home (10 Speed Press, 2016) hasn't officially been anointed as the New Pizza Bible, that distinction seems imminent.  

I was already a fan of Forkish's earlier book Flour Water Salt Yeast (10 Speed Press, 2012), which is an excellent, and meticulously detailed general text on bread baking.  It also tells a great story:  how Forkish left a corporate career of almost 20 years in Silicon Valley to embark upon a new career as a bread baker; how he was inspired to do so by reading a profile of the legendary French baker Lionel Poilâne in the pages of Smithsonian that a friend had lent him (a profile that also left an impression on me way back in 1995); and how this eventually led to the founding of Ken's Artisan Bakery in 2001, a bakery that quickly became a mainstay of Portland's food scene, and one that has since built a national reputation.  

fig. b:   FWSY 's pizza margherita

fig. b:  FWSY's pizza margherita

One of the the things I loved about Flour Water Salt Yeast was its devotion to pizza:  roughly 60 pages out of a 260-page text.  The book's full title is Flour Water Salt Yeast:  The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, after all.  And this section of the book was no mere afterthought--Forkish, like others before him, had gone from being a bread fanatic to being a pizza fanatic.  In fact, he followed up on the success of Ken's Artisan Bakery by opening Ken's Artisan Pizza in 2006.  His thoughts on pizza were based on 5+ years as a full-scale pizza professional, as well as years as a pizza lover before that. 

fig. c:  detail, back cover of  Flour Water Salt Yeast

fig. c:  detail, back cover of Flour Water Salt Yeast

Forkish's pizza section featured the same passion and attention to detail that characterized the rest of his book, and along with the teachings of people like Jim Lahey and Anthony Falco, it proved to be an important step in my pizza education.  But you've gotta hand it to the guy.  He could have gone back to the well and just expanded upon the lessons he'd already laid down in Flour Water Salt Yeast.  Add a little more detail.  Develop some funky new recipes.  That's it, that's all.  Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.  Instead, he embarked upon a series of pizza pilgrimages.  He went back to the sources.  He interviewed the masters.  He observed closely.  He asked questions.  And doing so forced him to scrap much of the pizza wisdom he'd developed over the years.  It forced him to part ways with a number of the pizza truths that he'd believed to be self-evident, including one that had been a cardinal belief of his:  that the fundamentals of artisan bread baking and artisan pizza making were identical.  Hell, that was much of the premise of Flour Water Salt Yeast.  

What he learned was that from the perspective of an Italian master pizzaiolo this was categorically untrue:  bread was bread, and pizza was pizza.  There might be some overlap between the two, they might share a similar skill set, but bread and pizza were fundamentally different.  Pizza dough needed to be made differently, fermented differently, and handled differently.  And, of course, the baking of pizza was also altogether different.

fig. d:  hands of a master pizzaiolo:  Enzo Coccia

fig. d:  hands of a master pizzaiolo:  Enzo Coccia

The book that resulted, The Elements of Pizza, represents a major leap forward for Forkish and for the ever-growing body of pizza lit.  It is written with passion and conviction, and with a great deal of personality.  It is sufficiently comprehensive, beginning with the great traditions of Italy, Naples and Rome, where Forkish locates "the soul of pizza," but also encompassing a number of the most important American traditions:  New York, Trenton, NJ, New Haven, Detroit, and a whole host of new-school pizza enthusiasts (like Roberta's, Motorino, Emily, and, indeed, Ken's).  And it is meticulously detailed and filled with all the inspiration an aspiring pizzzaiolo could ever ask for.  Beginning with chapters on Ken's pizza pilgrimages and his breakdown of pizza styles, it follows this up with a number of very helpful chapters, such as:  8 keys to unlocking the secrets of top-notch pizza crusts; sourcing ingredients and acquiring necessary pieces of equipment; methods; and pizza dough recipes; before offering another 120 pages worth of actual pizza recipes.

But the emphasis is placed quite squarely on achieving Perfect Crust Forever, as it should be.  Top-shelf ingredients and creativity aren't worth a hoot if the pizza crust isn't sublime.  That utterly transcendent crust is what Forkish experienced on numerous occasions over the course of his pizza pilgrimages, and it's that utterly transcendent crust that is the ultimate goal of The Elements of Pizza.  One can get a sense of what Forkish is after, and just how elusive this goal might be, in his opening chapter, "The Soul of Pizza."  Here, Forkish describes a trip he paid to Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo, Italy, roughly 30 miles outside of Naples.  There, Franco Pepe, a third-generation pizzaiolo, has established a new pizzeria (Pepe in Grani just opened in 2012) that has quickly developed a reputation for being one of the world's very best, because of its utter respect for tradition (the dough is naturally leavened, it is hand-mixed, and Pepe uses no refrigeration in its preparation), on the one hand, combined with its willingness to push the envelope when it comes to toppings (fig jam with grated Conciato cheese, anyone?), on the other.  But it's Pepe's pizza crust that is the true star of the show, and to which Forkish directs most of his attention:  

These were flawless pizzas.  [Pepe's] reputation is well deserved.  The crust had a very thin layer of crisp on the outside and the bottom, and a feathery light crumb inside the rim.  It was almost weightless.  The inner base of the crust was very thin and perfectly leopard-spotted on its bottom...
...Franco's crust tasted of lactic fermentation--a flavor that's sometimes described as milky and fruity, and similar to what you get with a ripe liquid levain...  His is a very well-fermented dough, with a beautiful balance of flavors, and as they might say in Italy, it is highly digestible ("digestibility" is loosely defined, but widely regarded as beings a benefit of long-fermented, naturally leavened pizza and bread).  We put that to the supreme test by eating five more pizzas... [my emphasis]

"Flawless."  "Feathery."  "Weightless."  "Highly digestible."  These are not words used to describe your typical pizza pie.  Forkish is pursuing transcendence, and what makes his book so captivating is his conviction that one can reach similar heights at home, using a conventional oven.

One of the recipes that caught my fancy right off the bat was Forkish's Zucchini Blossom Pizza recipe.  I'd been kind of obsessed with the idea of zucchini blossom pizza ever since I received Saveur's 2010 issue devoted to Los Angeles, which featured a glorious photograph of Pizzeria Mozza's Squash Blossoms & Ricotta pizza on its front cover:

fig. e:  Pizzeria Mozza's zucchini blossom & ricotta pie

fig. e:  Pizzeria Mozza's zucchini blossom & ricotta pie

I made it out to L.A. not long after that issue came out, but I never made it to Pizzeria Mozza and I've never been lucky enough to find a squash blossom pizza anywhere else. With zucchini blossoms plentiful here in Montreal's farmers' markets right now, though, I knew I had to give Forkish's recipe a try.  But first I had to think about my pizza dough.

When it comes to using Forkish's book to unlock the secrets of pizza, there's no better place to start than with his simplest dough:  his "I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" Dough.  It's a simple recipe (as long-fermentation pizza doughs go), and it's designed to be easily achievable within a day--within half a day, actually.  This is the recipe that most people are going to turn to first, for obvious reasons, so it's gotta be good.  I went ahead and gave it a spin.

"I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" Dough

350 grams water

10 grams fine sea salt

0.5 grams (roughly 1/8 tsp) instant dried yeast

500 grams white flour, preferably Caputo 00 flour

olive oil

special equipment:

digital scale

dough tubs

instant-read thermometer

baking stone or baking steel

Use a digital scale to weigh 350 grams of 100º F (38º C) water into a 6-quart dough tub.  Measure 10 grams of fine sea salt, add it to the water, and swirl it around until dissolved.  Measure instant dried yeast and add it to the water, allowing it to rest there for a minute to hydrate, before swirling it around to fully dissolve it.  Add the flour to the water-salt-yeast mixture.

Mix the dough by hand, stirring it thoroughly to fully integrate the ingredients and create a single mass of dough.  Then use the pincer method [consult Forkish's books for details] to cut the dough up into sections, before folding it back together into a unified mass.  Continue for just 30 to 60 seconds.  The target dough temperature at the end is 82º F (28º C).

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, then knead it on a work surface that's been lightly dusted with flour.  Knead for 30 to 60 seconds, until the skin of the dough is very smooth.  Place the dough ball seam side down in a lightly oiled (olive oil) dough tub.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.  This is the first fermentation.

Divide and shape the dough into 3 dough balls [consult Forkish's book for details].  Moderately flour a work surface about 2 feet wide.  With floured hands, gently ease the dough onto the work surface.  Dust the entire top of the dough with flour, then cut it into 3 pieces (or 5, depending on the style of pizza you're aiming for).  Shape each piece of dough into a medium-tight ball [following Forkish's instructions], working gently and being careful not to tear the dough.

Place the dough balls on a lightly floured baking sheet or dinner plate, leaving space between them to allow for expansion.  Lightly flour the tops, cover with airtight plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours.  This is the second fermentation.

After the second fermentation, you're ready to make pizza.  Refrigerate the dough balls if you need to delay making your pizza for a bit.  Just let them come to room temperature before making pizza.

[based very, very closely on Ken Forkish's recipe of the same name in The Elements of Pizza]

The verdict:  this was a fantastic recipe.  Everything worked like a charm, and the resultant pizza crust was everything one could hope for:  light and crispy, with a perfect amount of chew, a lovely cornicione, and loads of flavour for a relatively "quick" pizza.  This was not Franco Pepe's "flawless" naturally leavened pizza, but it was supremely good for a "I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" dough.

Important caveat:  Forkish is adamant about letting his pizza doughs rise at room temperature, just like Fraco Pepe, both during the first fermentation and the second fermentation.  This is something that is common in the greatest pizzerias in Italy, but highly uncommon in North America.  I agree that letting the dough rise at room temperature during the first fermentation is a great idea.  However, after trying Forkish's room temperature method for the second fermentation on a couple of occasions and meeting with difficulties, I've gone back to refrigerating my doughs during this part of the process.  The primary reason is that my kitchen is rarely "room temperature."  We don't heat our kitchen a great deal in the winter, and we never use air conditioning in the warm-weather months.  Our windows are often open, and our kitchen is usually either warmer than room temperature or cooler than it, and our humidity is often fairly high in the spring and summer.  In other words, the conditions in our kitchen are much too volatile to allow for a 4- to 6-hour second fermentation without monitoring the process obsessively and risking failure every time.  What's been working for me is giving the dough balls a 5-6-hour (or more) second fermentation in the refrigerator, then allowing them to come to warm up at room temperature for about 60-90 minutes before forming, stretching, and baking them.  My dough balls haven't been over-proofed, and 60-90 minutes at room temperature has allowed them to relax to the point that they become very easy to handle.

fig. f:  zucchini blossom pizza 1

fig. f:  zucchini blossom pizza 1

Now, here are the instructions for making Forkish's ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossom pie, a version of which you see pictured above:

Zucchini Blossom Pizza

[Makes one 12-inch thin-crust pizza]

1 dough ball

1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 egg yolk

zest of 1/4 lemon

sea salt

10 mint leaves, snipped or chopped

6 zucchini blossoms

fragrant extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup tomato sauce

In a medium-size bowl, mix the ricotta, Pecorino Romano, egg yolk, lemon zest, a pinch of salt, and half of the mint leaves with a fork until completely blended.  Cut off the zucchini blossom stems, gently open the blossom, remove the pistil, and stuff each blossom with some of the cheese mixture (roughly 1 tbsp per blossom).  Close the blossom back up and seal the petals with a twist.  Set aside on a plate, and gently rub with a thin film of olive oil to keep the petals from scorching in the oven.

When your pizza dough has been properly stretched and formed, apply the tomato sauce.  Place the blossoms on the tomato sauce with their tops pointing in, making sure to space them in such a way as to make a lovely radial pattern.  Drop any extra ricotta into the spaces between the blossoms.  Scatter the remaining mint leaves over top.  Bake your pizza following Forkish's instructions for roughly 5-7 minutes total.

[based on the essentials of Ken Forkish's recipe in The Elements of Pizza]

fig. g:  zucchini blossom pizza 2

fig. g:  zucchini blossom pizza 2

Not bad, huh?  And, again, this was made with the very same "I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" Dough recipe featured above.  I hadn't actually slept in, but I definitely hadn't started any other long-fermentation dough recipes one or two days before, and I woke up with a hankering for pizza.  My dough balls were in the fridge by 9:00am.  By 6:00pm I was back at home, firing up my oven, and beginning to pull my dough balls from the refrigerator.  By 7:15pm or so, the pizzas coming out of the oven were divine.

But it was that zucchini blossom pizza that stole the show.  It was just so beautiful and the flavours were magical:  the blossoms, the ricotta, the mint, the crust.  Highly recommended!

An important note about baking in a conventional oven:  Place a baking stone or baking steel in your oven, and crank it as high as it will go.  I've been using a baking stone with good results for years.  Recently I switched to using a baking steel instead, and the results have been exceptional (and I'm not the only one who's experienced this).  If you can afford it, you might want to consider the combination baking steel/griddle--it's a truly ingenious contraption, it works remarkably well in both capacities, and it comes very highly rated.  Ten minutes before you're ready to bake your pizza, use your broiler on full blast.  When you throw in your pizza, switch it back to conventional baking mode for 2-3 minutes.  For the final 1-2 minutes of your bake, turn your broiler back on to achieve some lovely blistering on the top side.

That's it for now.  You'll find more on Forkish's The Elements of Pizza here in the pages of " endless banquet" as I work my way through its various styles.

Behold the New Pizza Bible!  My love of pizza blossoms anew.


Le Goût du grain / A Taste For Grain

fig. a:  a feel for grain

fig. a:  a feel for grain

If bread, baking, grains, and milling are your thing, either on a professional level, or even just a personal one; if the kinds of things that I discussed in my last post ("Grain Therapy") are of interest to you; if you have a genuine taste for grain; have I got the event for you.

Le Goût du grain / A Taste for Grain is a symposium and dinner that will be taking place on Monday, June 13 at the Société des arts technologiques' Foodlab / Labo Culinaire.  It will bring together bakers, chefs, grain producers, brewers, millers, and other interested parties to discuss the future of grains and grain-based production in a Northern climate such as ours.  The invitation-only symposium will take place in the afternoon and will feature such distinguished participants as Amy Halloran (The New Bread Basket), Ed Behr (The Art of Eating), Andrew Heyn (Elmore Mountain Bread), Randy George (Red Hen Baking Company), Charles Letang (Seigneurie des Aulnaies / Du pain c'est toût), Rowan Jacobsen (American Terroir:  Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods), James MacGuire (The Taste of Bread), Naomi Duguid (Home Baking:  The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions From Around the World), Simon Blackwell (Blackbird Baking Co.), representatives from Moulin des Cèdres and the Maine Grain Alliance, and many others.  The dinner is open to the public and will feature grain-themed contributions from a who's who of talented chefs:  Stephanie Labelle (Pâtisserie Rhubarbe, Mtl), Julien Jore (Cirkus, Mtl), Pamela Yung (Semilla, NYC), Dyan Solomon and Vanessa Laberge (Olive + Gourmando, Foxy, Mtl), and your hosts, Marc-André Cyr (Baker On the Go, Mtl) and Michelle Marek (SAT Foodlab, Mtl).

For more information you can find a Facebook event page here.  Or you can contact Marc-André directly.

If you're interested in the dinner and you'd like to book a reservation for it, please call (514) 844-2033 ext. 225.

In Grain We Trust.



Grain Therapy


After months and months where stress levels were running high and I was without an adequate oven, I needed to get back to my bread baking habit.  I needed the aroma of fresh-baked sourdough wafting through the premises.  I needed to taste the wonderful flavours of slowly fermented and deeply baked organic grains again.  I needed some grain therapy.

The first two loaves that came out of the oven were a couple of 25% whole wheat loaves.  They were just what the doctor ordered, and they looked something like this.

fig. a:  whole wheat loaf

fig. a:  whole wheat loaf

You see, there are few things as gratifying as baking fresh bread.  Like so many of the types of food and the types of cooking experiences that I love the most, you begin with the most basic, most humble of ingredients, and you wind up with something that, ideally, is completely transcendent.  With a little bit of practice, and a few simple tricks, you can produce bread that surpasses the quality of the vast majority of the bread that you can find in North America.  And you can see the entire process through within a relatively short period.  

There’s also something that can be calming—even meditative—about baking one’s own bread.  Given the right space, it slows things down.  It teaches one to observe, to feel, to smell.  It teaches one to be patient.  It encourages mastery, but it can also be a rather forgiving process (thank god!).

And, finally, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from the lovely aroma of bread baking in the oven, from the feel of the heat radiating from a freshly baked loaf, and from the deep sound that comes when one drums the bottom of a loaf straight from the oven.  Most of all though, there’s the sheer pleasure that comes from the taste of that first slice of bread when you can no longer take the temptation, and even though you know the loaf will keep longer if you hold off, you also know that that loaf smells much too good to last too long anyway, so you take your bread knife to it and savour the moment.

Trust me, I’m not the only one who gets this thrill.  If you don’t believe me, just check out Michael Pollan in the recent Netflix series Cooked, based on his best-seller of the same name. 

fig. b:  Air Pollan

fig. b:  Air Pollan

Check out the episode called “Air,” in particular, which is devoted to wheat, to bread, and to baking.  And check out how Pollan waxes poetic and philosophic about baking naturally leavened bread at home.  

What quickly becomes apparent is that although Pollan’s interest in food cultures and in cuisine is vast, there is nothing he is more fascinated by and no process that he finds more rewarding than baking bread.  The steps that took humanity beyond the cultivation of grains and their preparation as porridge, to baking bread, and eventually baking leavened bread, were pivotal.  Not only were grains transformed into tastier preparations, they were literally made more nutritious in the process.  The result was the staff of life.

As Pollan explains, “air” was of the essence.  Early cooks noticed the beneficial effects of fermentation on grains, they figured out that yeasts traveled through the air to make this process possible, and they learned how to control this process to naturally leaven their loaves.  When they did, something magical occurred to their bread:  it became lighter, airier, easier to digest, more nutritious, and more flavourful.

After decades and decades where the emphasis was placed on modernization, on speed, and on efficiency, and heavily industrial processes reigned, there’s been a much-needed return to tradition, and quite specifically to hand-worked, slowly fermented, naturally leavened (“sourdough”) bread baking, both at the professional level, as well as at home.  And although these concepts might seem commonplace in parts of North America, where artisanal, wood-fired bakeries and their ilk have flourished in recent years, it’s important to recognize just how far things had gone in the opposite direction, and how much work still needs to be done to right the course.  It’s important to recognize that even countries with proud baking traditions, like Germany, almost completely lost their traditions in recent years, and that an artisanal countertrend there has only just begun.  It’s important to recognize that the vast majority of people in the developed world have never actually tasted naturally leavened bread produced by hand.  

More recently leading bakers have become increasingly concerned with the flours and grains they use.  As with so many aspects of our food culture, they’ve become much more adamant when it comes to sourcing their ingredients, they’ve begun to experiment with a greater variety of grains and helped to foster an interest in reviving heirloom strains, and they’ve put more attention on not only the quality of their ingredients, but also the freshness of these ingredients.  The new frontier of baking encompasses not only the farming of grain, it’s also very much about the milling of these grains.

fig. c:  Elmore Mountain's oven*

fig. c:  Elmore Mountain's oven*

Just a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of visiting the good people at Elmore Mountain Bread in Elmore, VT, just across the valley from the majestic Elmore Mountain.  One of the leading naturally leavened, wood-fired bakeries in Vermont for well over a decade now, Blair Marvin and Andrew Heyn, the husband-and-wife team behind Elmore Mountain, have in recent years pushed their operation deep into the new frontier. 

Frustrated by the variations in the quality and the freshness of the milled grain they were working with, they decided to take things into their own hands and begin milling their own flour themselves.  In order to do so, they had to learn how to make their own mill, starting with their very own milling stone.  In order to do that, they had to dig up 19th-century texts on milling.  If this seems like an absurd amount of work, it was.  But the payoff has been enormous.  Not only has it given them complete control over the fineness of their flour, but it’s also allowed them to craft bread with the absolute freshest flour possible. 

These days, Elmore Mountain Bakery sources only the finest grains, they mill them to their exact specifications, and every single loaf they bake is made with flour that’s less than 24 hours old (!).  Having this level of control over one’s baking operation is completely unheard of, and it’s resulted in truly extraordinary loaves of bread, with a range of flavours just from their flour alone that neither of us have ever encountered.  The very best bakers in North America are all working very closely with their producers and their millers to gain optimum results.  Elmore Mountain Bread is the only bakery that I’ve encountered that handles two-thirds of this production chain in-house.

fig. d:  freshly milled Elmore Mountain Bread flour

fig. d:  freshly milled Elmore Mountain Bread flour

We left Elmore Mountain that day with a freshly milled bag of Magog flour from Maine Seed Company in Mapleton, ME, one of a handful of producers Blair and Andrew work with closely.  Two days later, after I’d made sure that my leaven was properly fed, I baked a couple of country sourdough loaves using my Elmore Mountain flour.  This means less than 72 hours had elapsed between the time the grain was milled and the time I pulled my loaves from the oven.  This may not sound all that special, but most home bakers are working with flour that’s been sitting on a shelf for at least months, and often years. 

fig. e:  Magog country loaf proofing

fig. e:  Magog country loaf proofing

fig. f:  Magog country loaf finished

fig. f:  Magog country loaf finished

Not only did my loaves turn out beautifully, but they were extraordinarily flavourful—quite likely the tastiest country loaves I’d ever made.  Thank you, Elmore Mountain Bread!

fig. g:  Magog country loaf with butter

fig. g:  Magog country loaf with butter

And that's saying something, because that Tartine country loaf recipe is perfect and I always try to source the best flour I can find.  

In case you need a quick refresher, here's the breakdown for Tartine's Basic Country Loaf:

Tartine Basic Country Sourdough

700 g water (70%)

200 g leaven (20%)

900 g white flour (90%)

100 g whole wheat flour (10%)


20 g salt

50 g water

total hydration:  75%

While baking country sourdoughs remains unbelievably satisfying (especially when I have a brand-new type of flour to work with), it can be especially rewarding to improvise something new.  Not long ago I picked up some phenomenal rolled oats from Rogers Farmstead in Berlin, VT.  

fig. h:  raw oats

fig. h:  raw oats

Those oats made the best porridge ever, but as soon as I tasted them I was eager to bake with them, too.  I didn't know it at the time that I bought my oats, but it turns out that Rogers Farmstead is one of the producers Elmore Mountain Bread works with the closest.  They've been using their wheat and other grains for years.

Anyway, this is the recipe I devised to take advantage of the deep flavour of those oats:

AEB Honey-Oat Sourdough

600 g water (60%)

200 g leaven (20%)

100 g honey (10%)

750 g white flour (75%)

250 g whole wheat flour (25%)

1 cup rolled oats, par-cooked (roughly 250 g)


22 g salt

50 g water

total hydration:  65%

It took about 10-15 minutes to par-cook the oats.

fig. i:  cooked oats

fig. i:  cooked oats

When I first formed my loaves after the bulk fermentation, they looked like this:

fig. j:  first shaping

fig. j:  first shaping

Then they got tucked in for 30 minutes.

fig. k:  two peas in a pod

fig. k:  two peas in a pod

And a few hours later, when those loaves emerged from the oven, they looked like this:

fig. l:  honey-oat loaf

fig. l:  honey-oat loaf

About an hour later, I couldn't take the torture any longer, so I cut off a slice and slathered it with butter.  

fig. m:  honey-oat loaf with butter

fig. m:  honey-oat loaf with butter

Are you picking up on a pattern?

Long live real bread!  Long live grain therapy!


* photo courtesy Blair Marvin

Top Ten #62

sourdough cover.jpeg

1.  Ruth Allman, Alaska Sourdough:  The Real Stuff By a Real Alaskan 


2.  Heron Oblivion, s/t (Sub Pop)

sample track:  "Beneath Fields"

3.  Meg Baird, Don’t Weigh Down the Light

sample track:  "Back To You"

4.  45 Years (2015), dir. Haigh

5.  Ben McGrath, "The Wayfarer:  A Solitary Canoeist Meets His Fate," The New Yorker, December 14, 2015

6.  Bob Dylan, John Birch Society Blues

sample track:  "I'll Keep It With Mine"

7.  Mustang (2015), dir. Ergüven

8.  The FeeliesTime For a Witness (Bar None)

sample track:  "Doin' It Again" (don't be a fool--watch this video!)

10.  DIIVIs The Is Are (Captured Tracks)

sample track:  "Mire (Grant's Song)"

p.s.  R.I.P.  Jim Harrison*


* My favourite part of the New York Times obituary:  "All these ingredients [eating, drinking, drugging, and hobnobbing] were titanically encapsulated in a dinner Mr. Harrison once shared with Orson Welles, which involved, he wrote, 'a half-pound of beluga with a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a miniature leg of lamb (the whole thing) with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports' and a chaser of cocaine."

Out of the Archives 6: DIY Cabane à sucre

This post first appeared in March 2008, during a much more typical transition from winter to spring.  You can see that we were already fantasizing about establishing some kind of homestead in the northern woods.  Little did we know...  This is one of my favourite posts from this period--one based on a particularly successful dinner party that we threw for Michelle's birthday.

fig. a:  maple sugaring in the northern woods

fig. a:  maple sugaring in the northern woods

Those of you who've been reading AEB over the last few years will know that we've long had an affection for scenes such as the one above: old prints of homesteaders practicing the alchemy of turning maple sap into maple syrup and maple sugar. You'll also know that we're big fans of the cuisine--yes,cuisine--of the traditional Québécois cabane à sucre: the beans, the ham, thecretons, and all the other assorted pork dishes, the ketchup aux fruits, the tire d'érable, and so on. You might also have noticed that Michelle's birthday is around this time of year, right in the thick of sugaring-off season. What you might not know, however--especially if you don't live in this region--is that if you wanted to take a sugar shack fanatic out to celebrate her birthday with a group of people at a traditional cabane à sucre, you'd have literally dozens upon dozens of establishments to choose from within a 100-150 km radius, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one of exceptional quality (top-notch ingredients + top-notch technique). Believe me, we've tried, and though we've found some good cabanes à sucre, ones worthy of a casual, slightly kitschy weekend outing, we've yet to find one that's worthy of a birthday party. Which means that as much as the idea of taking a group of people out to a traditional, rustic, intimate, backwoods sugar shack for Michelle's birthday appeals to us, it's never really been in the cards.

Now, rewind, if you will, for just a moment or two, to about three weeks ago. We were strolling down Ste-Catherine W. on our way to a movie when we looked in the window at Westcott Books and saw this handsome book:

fig. b:  the title says it all

fig. b:  the title says it all

The store was closed at the time, but the cover left such an impression on us that the very next day we made a special trip back to that part of town to take a closer look. And when we did, we liked what we saw, so we took that first edition of Helen & Scott Nearing's The Maple Sugar Book (1950) up to the front counter, chatted up the owner about his numerous bookstore cats, paid for the book, and took it home with us. 

The Nearings' book is divided into three parts--roughly, the history of maple sugaring, the practice of maple sugaring, and the philosophy of life that goes along with maple sugaring--plus an appendix on maple recipes of all sorts (from candied sweet potatoes to maple divinity fudge), and it starts off with the kind of bang you might expect from the people who more or less pioneered the 20th century back-to-the-land movement:


We had three things in mind when we set ourselves to write this book. The first was to describe in detail the process of maple sugaring. The second was to present some interesting aspects of maple history. The third was to relate our experiments in homesteading and making a living from maple to the larger problem faced by so many people nowadays: how should one live?


What we have been developing here in the Green Mountains is a source of livelihood that leaves us time and room to live life simply and surely and worthily. Henry Thoreau wrote in his journal on February 18, 1850: "There is little or nothing to be remembered written on the subject of getting an honest living. Neither the New Testament nor Poor Richard speaks to our condition. I cannot think of a single page which entertains, much less answers, the questions which I put to myself on this subject. How to make the getting our living poetic! for if it is not poetic, it is not life but death that we get." Sugaring can bring one an honest living. And anyone who has ever sugared remembers the poesy of it to the end of his days...

We haven't exactly packed up our city-living ways, found ourselves a tract of hardscrabble land, and started homesteading (yet),* but the Nearings' The Maple Sugar Book is definitely a great read for a book that devotes so much type to discussions of buckets, pipes, and evaporators, and we've been talking about it off and on for weeks.

In fact, it became such an important of our lives that when we started thinking about our annual sugar shack pilgrimage this year, perversely, the book actually inspired us to stay in the city and stage a full-blown cabane à sucreextravaganza ourselves. We'd be missing out on the fresh air and the woods, of course, but we'd be saving on car rental fees and gas, there'd be little risk of kitsch, we'd be able to guarantee that our food would be both tasty and of a high quality, we'd be able to control the stereo (i.e. we'd be able to play our La Bolduc records if we so desired, but we could just as easily play a Brigitte Fontaine & Areski record) and therefore the ambiance, and, who knows, maybe we'd be able to create some small-scale poesy right at home. We got so excited about the idea, that we decided to throw this sugar shack party for Michelle's birthday.

Now, before you get all hot and bothered because we left out the pea soup, the oreilles de crisse, and the pets de soeur, you should know that our menu was our own personal Dream Team: a few classics, like baked beans and ketchup aux fruits, alongside some dishes that you'd probably never find at a cabane à sucre but you'd be happier if you did (or, rather, we'd be happier if we did). The spread went as follows: two tourtières, two maple-braised pork shanks, two batches of baked beans (one with yellow eye beans, the other with soldier beans), a massive batch of cole slaw, ketchup aux fruitscornichons, cheddar cheese with crackers and jerusalem artichoke relish, and a can of maple syrup for all those willing to add a little magic to the mix, plus apple crumble with maple frappé for dessert. The tablecloth was of the red & white checked variety, and Michelle had decorated the table with hay to give things a countrified feel (okay, so we threw in a little kitsch). The view from our specially designed AEB Tablecam looked like this:

fig. c:  tourtière, ketchup aux fruits, and maple syrup by Tablecam

fig. c:  tourtière, ketchup aux fruits, and maple syrup by Tablecam

Tourtière, of course, is the classic French-Canadian meat pie. It might even be the classic French-Canadian dish. Its roots stretch back to the days before the settlement of New France, but this is a dish which, in all of its varieties, became as French-Canadian as they come. The version we've been making since the fall of 2006 is a variation on the one found in Martin Picard & Co.'s Au Pied de Cochon: The Album, and it's the best tourtière recipe I've ever encountered. If you've ever had your typical modern, disappointing, bone-dry tourtière, this is not one of them. The PDC recipe is unorthodox but ingenious, using mushrooms, white wine, and a grated potato to keep the filling moist and flavourful. The PDC original calls for braised pork shank meat and 1 braised pig's knuckle because when they make them at the restaurant they've got a lot of braised pork shanks and braised pigs' knuckles on-hand and available. We've replaced the 200 g / 7 oz of braised pork shank meat with the same amount of ground veal for simplicity's sake, and it turns out famously every time. However, you could use some of the braised pork shank meat from the maple pigs' feet / maple pork shanks recipe you see below, if you so desired, and I'm sure your tourtière would turn out even more hallucinant. Note: when it comes to the ground pork, don't get it too lean--no need to go overboard, but you want a bit of extra fat content for tourtière. If that kind of thing concerns you, just go for a long walk or chop a little wood beforehand, but don't sell your tourtière short. Note #2: the added nutmeg is my touch. Again, this is very unorthodox, so go ahead and leave it out if you like, but I think it really makes a difference. Just remember to go easy on the spices. They should definitely be present, but you don't want to overpower the filling with either clove or cinnamon (or nutmeg, for that matter).

tourtière de ville

1 pie dough recipe
500 g / 1 lb ground pork
250 g / 1/2 lb ground veal
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
100 g / 4 oz mushrooms, chopped
100 ml / 1/2 cup white wine
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter
1 small potato, grated
1 small pinch ground cloves
1 small pinch ground cinnamon
1 small pinch ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot, sweat the onions and the garlic in the butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until the liquid released by the vegetables has evaporated. Add the white wine and continue cooking until the wine has evaporated as well. Add the ground pork, the ground veal, and the spices to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to break up the chunks of meat. Add the grated potato and cook for another 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning, remove from the heat, and allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat your oven to 230º C / 450º F.

Roll out the pie dough and line a pie plate with half of it. Fill this with the ground meat mixture. Cover with the top half of the pie crust, brush it with the egg yolk, and poke or cut some holes in the top crust to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

Bake the pie in the oven for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 175º C / 350º F and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Serve with ketchup aux fruits.

Two pork shanks from our friends at Porc Meilleur came in at under $5 and they looked and tasted great. This recipe is straight out of the PDC cookbook and it's typical of PDC's genius: take one of the lowliest cuts off one of the lowliest meats and redeem it with a cup of maple syrup and a lot of love.


maple pigs' feet / pork shanks

2 pigs' trotters or pork shanks
2 carrots, peeled
1 head of garlic, whole
1 sprig thyme
6 boiler onions
2 l / 8 cups pork stock
250 ml / 1 cup maple syrup
100 ml / 7 tbsp vinaigrette
15 g / 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

brine: 2 cups of salt dissolved in 4.5 l / 1.2 gallons of water

Soak the pigs' feet or pork shanks in the brine for 4-6 hours.

Put the meat, the onions, the carrots, the garlic and the thyme in an ovenproof casserole. Pour the stock and the maple syrup over the meat (ideally, the liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the feet/shanks). Bake uncovered in the oven at 160º C / 325º F, basting the meat with the broth every 30 minutes until they are well-glazed and have developed a nice crust. Bake for a total of four hours; the meat should be extremely tender and come easilly off the bone. Remove the meat, the carrots, and the onions from the broth and set aside.

Strain the stock and drippings into a saucepan; you should have approximately 2 cups total. Dice the carrots finely and add them and the onions to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce by half. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vinaigrette. Add the parsley and correct the seasoning as needed.

Serve the meat with a generous amount of the sauce poured overtop.


1 cup vegetable oil
50 ml Dijon mustard
50 ml red wine vinegar

Whisk together the mustard, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, stirring constantly to create a proper emulsion.

If you're all out of last summer's homemade canned ketchup aux fruits, here's a quick and easy off-season version.


ketchup aux fruits (winter version)

1 28-oz / 786 ml can of whole tomatoes & their liquid
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 pinch of ground cloves
1 small pinch cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a saucepan, bring the whole tomatoes, the onion, the garlic, and the celery to a boil and then simmer them gently for about 15-20 minutes, and gently break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and using an immersion blender or a conventional blender, blend half the mixture, then return it to the saucepan. Add the apples, the maple syrup, the vinegar and the spices and simmer for another 30-45 minutes. Makes plenty enough for a DIY sugar shack bash, and you'll be happy to have the leftovers.

This last recipe is of the WWMD variety: "what would Maurice do." We considered a whole host of maple syrup-laden desserts--backwoods-style crêpes, pouding chômeur, etc.--before settling on something we'd never ever had before because a) we have a lot of faith in Maurice and b) how can you argue with a recipe that gets this kind of write-up?


Once in a while Hettie [the Brockways' Irish "hired girl"] would make what she called Maple Frappe. I was delighted to help chop the ice which Tommy, the handyman, would get out of the big icehouse located out beyond the vegetable garden under a huge maple tree. Every winter, when the river was frozen, Grandfather hired a local man and his son to cut the large blocks of ice and haul them on a sleigh up the long hill to the icehouse. They were packed in sawdust from the lumber mill, and there they lasted all through the long hot summer. Each morning a large piece was dug out of the sawdust--which served as perfect insulation--washed with the hose, then put into the icebox in the summer kitchen. We were extremely advanced as we had a drain from the ice chest instead of the large pan everyone else seemed to use to catch the drippings.

I was delighted also to turn the freezer crank for the privilege of "licking" the ladle. Try this, and soon: 6 eggs beaten until creamy, 1 cup of pure maple syrup, 1 can of condensed milk, 1 can of evaporated milk, 1 pint of heavy cream whipped, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix together and freeze in an old-fashioned ice-cream freezer--not in the refrigerator ice trays. This makes 3 pints of frappe which, by itself is pure nectar, but atop warm apple pie is a delicacy that must be tasted to be believed.

We made an apple crumble instead of the apple pie recommended by Maurice, but it still ranked as "a delicacy that must be tasted to be believed." I don't know if I'm ready to wax poetic about maple frappé the way Maurice does--of course, we don't have an icehouse or a "hired girl" name Hettie, so maybe we didn't get the full experience--but it's got a really lovely, mellow maple flavor to it and I definitely have never had anything like it.

All in all: A+



* Oh, how things have changed!  If the Nearings only knew how much influence they'd had on us.