Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ravioli and Truffled Pea Puree

Variation on Chef Marcel Lavalle's Dish

When an Atworth At Large reader suggested a variation to a dish made by Chef Marcel Lavalle at the Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, I was intrigued and thought it was worth a try. Instead of peas seasoned with porcini mushrooms, the reader suggested a puree of peas. The results were encouraging. My compliments to Chef Marcel and to the curious reader for inspiring this dish.

Three separate steps are required: First, making the ravioli filling; second, making the pasta; third, making the puree of peas. The ravioli filling was portabella mushroom and Parmesan Reggiano cheese. I used Bob's Red Mill Semolina Flour. Since fresh peas were not in season, I used one box of frozen peas for the puree. Prep time was about an hour for all three steps. The ingredients here will be enough for 12 ravioli and serve four to six.


Ravioli filling

1 large portabella mushroom
1 large shallot
1 large garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Chardonnay
1 pinch salt
1 grind pepper
1/2 shredded Parmesan Reggiano


1 cup flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch of salt

Puree of peas

1 pound fresh or frozen peas
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil


Ravioli filling

chopping knife
10" saute pan
cheese shredder


medium mixing bowl
rolling pin or pasta maker
tea towel
glass tumbler
6 quart pot
slotted spoon

Puree of peas

2 quart sauce pan
food processor or food mill


I. Ravioli filling

1. Mince shallot

2. Chop mushroom into small pieces

3. Mince garlic (I like to flatten it with the knife, then chop it)

4. Saute shallot in olive oil over medium heat until translucent; stir in garlic

5. Stir in chopped mushroom, cover completely in oil; cook for several minutes; add salt and pepper to taste

6. Add wine, cook until liquid evaporates; then remove from heat

II. Pasta

1. Mix salt and flour, mound up flour and make a well in the middle

2. Whisk egg, water and oil in mixing bowl

3. Pour mixture into well in flour

4. Mix ingredients by and until wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated

5. Knead for about 10 minutes; then form a ball of dough

6. Spread thin layer of flour on clean, dry, flat surface

7. Flatten dough with rolling pin; rotate dough a quarter turn occasionally and continue to flatten until the dough is thin; add flour if the dough sticks to the work surface

8. Transfer dough to tea towel, use tumbler to cut dough

9. Cover with tea towel to prevent drying

10. Note: Allow torn scraps of pastas to dry and add to soup

III. Ravioli

1. Dip pasta rounds in water one piece at a time, scoop up mushroom filling with spoon and place on pasta, add shredded cheese on top of mushroom; keep filling in; center of pasta, do not allow it to reach the edge; place a second moistened pasta round on top of the filling and seal the edges with a fork; set ravioli aside

2. Bring salted water in large pot to a rolling boil, add a dash of olive oil; cook ravioli for 3 to 4 minutes right before serving

IV. Puree of Peas

1. Bring salted water in sauce pan to a rolling boil and cook peas al dente (be careful not to overcook); pour off water, saving some to add back into the puree later if necessary

2. Puree peas in food processor or food mill

3. Heat chicken stock in sauce pan and add pureed peas; salt to taste; add truffle oil to taste (a little goes a long way)

Serve on hot plates, garnish with shredded Parmesan Reggiano, add ground pepper to taste.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ella's Rye Cookies

Ella made great cookies. Our favorites were her rye cookies. They were about the size of a quarters; they had delightful nuttiness and melted in your mouth. Nobody ever ate just one.

It's been about thirty years since Ella died. As far as I know, no one has been able to recreate those rye cookies. Clearly Ella did not follow the recipe which was handed down to us: one cup of rye flour, one cup of sugar, and one cup of butter. Try that and you'll end up with one nasty cookie the size of your sheet tray.

Today I made another attempt at recreating the recipe. I doubled the proportion of flour. I was happy with the results. They aren't identical to Ella's, but they are close.


1 cup rye flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 pinch of salt


1 mixing bowl
1 spoon or fork
1 sharp knife
1 spatula
1 commercial sheet tray
parchment paper
paper towels or drying rack


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees

2. Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl, mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed (omit the salt if you are using salted butter)

3. Cut butter into small pieces (butter should be cold), add to dry ingredients; then incorporate all the ingredients (can be done either by hand or Kitchen Aid mixer) until evenly distributed and the dough forms a large ball (if you have lard, substitute it for one or two tablespoons of butter)

4. Sprinkle small amount of flour on counter then roll dough into a rope the diameter of a quarter; place dough in refrigerator; leaving the dough in the refrigerator over night may improve the texture of the cookies; dough can be frozen

5. Grease sheet tray or use parchment paper

6. Use sharp knife to cut rope in 1/8" disks, place on sheet tray allowing 1/4" between disks

7. Bake for 20 minutes at 325 degrees

8. When cookies are golden brown, remove from oven and use spatula to transfer to paper towels or drying rack and allow them to cool

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Berkshire Blue

Barbara Kingsolver has written a new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She has followed up on a theme her friend, Gary Paul Nabhan, developed several years earlier in Coming Home to Eat, namely eating foods which are produced locally. This comes naturally to some. For most, however, the idea is so novel that Nabhan and Kingsolver find wide audiences for their observations on the challenges faced and lessons learned when they committed to eating local.

Nowadays most places which produce food specialize: they make a lot of one thing and little or nothing of everything else. Almost everyone takes this for granted. Organizations like Berkshire Grown are doing their best to raise awareness and promote the benefits of locally produced foods. But they face huge challenges when markets like Guido’s and the customers who shop there, very sympathetic audiences indeed, demand a much wider variety of products than can be supplied locally.

The truth is we want both. We want the local producers to succeed because it makes us feel good. But what we really want is a huge assortment of choices and year round availability. And we assume what we want is not local.

Perhaps this explains why when Guido’s has a dozen blue cheeses, among at least 100 other cheeses, they don't bother to point out the obvious: that Berkshire Blue is "Berkshire Grown." Stilton gets a detailed placard, as do many other notable cheeses. Hidden among them is Berkshire Blue. No introduction necessary, apparently.

Berkshire Blue is made two miles from Guido’s Fresh Market in Great Barrington; the dozen Jerseys cows which produce the milk it is made from graze eight miles up the road at a farm in Alford. You can’t get much more local than that.

Michael Miller started making blue cheese in 1999, after learning how at the Willett Dairy in Somerset, England. For the past nine years, each week he has been aiding and abetting nature in transforming hundreds of gallons of raw, unpasteurized milk into wheels of blue cheese.

It is a hands on, time consuming process, beginning with the cows. They are milked one at a time. Michael is licensed to transport milk: he collects it early in the morning, transports it to the dairy and starts making cheese immediately. Once at the dairy, however, nothing is rushed. On the first day, Michael brings the milk to temperature slowly, then adds starter cultures followed by two blue moulds and finally rennet, an enzyme which causes the milk to solidify. Before the day is done, he will separate the whey (which is returned to the farm and fed to pigs) and transfer the curds to 66 molds. Over the next two days the molds will flipped regularly. When the molds are removed, the wheels of cheese are transferred to a brine tank where they will soak for 12 hours. Michael calls this "giving the girls a bath." The "girls" are allowed to dry for several days and then placed on pine planks where they will age for the better part of two months.

Wine makers talk about "terroir" and their desire to allow the wines to express the characteristics of soil on which the grapes are grown. Some cheese makers have also adopted the word. Michael doesn't believe terroir plays a significant role in Berkshire Blue. More important than the land are the quality of the cows, the grass they eat and the milk they produce. He recognizes that the cows' diet changes with the seasons and this will change the consistency of the cheese. But as an artisan cheese maker, he adheres to the same recipe and adjusts only time and temperature to achieve optimal consistency.

Michael recommends serving any cheese at room temperature. The wedge I had for dessert tonight was a deep yellow punctuated with pockets of sage colored mould. It was firm, the flavor was very mild and fit perfectly with a glass of Hardy's 2002 Botrytis Semillon.

I suspect when he embarked on this adventure, Michael would have been happy to sell all of his cheese in Berkshire County. But there wasn’t enough demand. So, like all ambitious cheeses, Berkshire Blue headed to the big city. In 2001, she (after all, Michael does refer his wheels of cheese as "the girls") was awarded a silver medal at the World Cheese Competition in London and the following year she won the gold there. Since then she received many other awards. Now Berkshire Blue is distributed nationally. She alao maintains a discreet presence in the Berkshires.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Made to Stick

Enthymemes are elusive prey. Aristotle spoke of them in Rhetoric. Owen Jenkins made them the focus of his writing seminar at Carleton College. And I have been stalking them ever since I took that class 25 years ago. Now the Heath brothers have captured and tamed them in Made to Stick.

At first glance, I thought the book was going to be a history of duct tape. That was enough to grab my attention. The subtitle, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, put me back on the right track and kept me interested. Inside, Chip and Dan Heath, dissect ideas which capture the imagination.

They call these "sticky" ideas. And the anatomy of sticky ideas is summed up in SUCCESs: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. Instead of a Joe Friday "Just the facts, ma'am" approach to communication, the Heaths demonstrate the most effective communication is through simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories. Their research is backed with plenty of case studies. This is an excellent book for marketers and anyone interested improving communication skills.

Aristotle never appears in Made to Stick. And the stories which resonate and amplify are never called enthymemes. But that's what sticky ideas are. They are still elusive. The Heaths have written an excellent guide book to help identify and propogate them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

No Victory No Peace

This mousetrap does not deliver. It tortures.

When the leaves turned brown and the mice moved in, I went to Carr Hardware. The staff at Carr's quickly directed me to right aisle. I picked up a pack of the old wooden mousetraps but was persuaded to to try the new plastic model. It promised to be easy: easy to bait, easy to catch mice, easy to kill and easy to unload and reload.

The packaging was clever enough to allow a simulation in the store. I set the trap and tripped it with my finger. I wondered if the jaws would be strong enough to kill immediately: they had nothing approaching the force of the old fashioned mousetraps. Safe around children, I suppose. I was assured the new model would be very effective on mice. It wasn't.

The trap was indeed easy to load but its performance was dismal. Escapes, live catches, slow messy deaths. If you don't object to torture, use glue boards: they are more effective. Otherwise, use the old spring loaded wooden traps. All are manufactured by Woodstream.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Home Exercise Kit for the Noggin

The Intellectual Devotional is great for tuckpointing the foundation of an education. Apparently some of the holiday elves were concerned about the condition of my education. And justifiably too. After reading the first 28 lessons of The Intellectual Devotional, I am reminded of how little I know and how much I have forgotten.

David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim have compiled 365 one page lessons drawn from history, literature, visual arts, science, music, philosophy and religion. The format is perfect for a quick read before turning the lights out. There is more than enough information on each page to illuminate and intrigue. Typically, I find myself jumping ahead to see what the next few lessons hold.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dinner at the Dogfish Head in Rehoboth

Chef Marcel makes the best peas I have had in a very long time. Bright green, al dente, seasoned with porcini mushrooms and black pepper; served hot hot with oyster mushroom ravioli.

Stripped to its essentials, Dinner with Marcel, the chef's prix fixe menu, might have been read from the chalk board in an English pub: peas, steak, and pudding. Even the setting might make an Englishman nostalgic: an alehouse in a seaside town off season. Chefs across the Atlantic might want to take advantage of the strong pound and inexpensive air fares to see how pub fare is being prepared at the Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Chef Marcel Lavalle and Sous Chef Marc Jordan are doing very good things with food. The peas were followed by a grass fed t-bone steak. (The beef grazed locally in Sussex County and fed on grain used at the Dogfish Head Brewery.) The steaks were served with thinly sliced roast potatoes and chunked carrots prepared in a DFH Indian Brown Ale reduction (a pint of the IBA accompanied this course). We finished the meal with creme caramel in a white chocolate rum sauce.

For fun, we sampled several of the Dogfish draughts: Shelter Pale Ale (an excellent starter), Raison d'Etre (a good reason to lodge nearby), 120 Minute IPA (a massive beer) and Fort (a potent second dessert). There are a couple dozen more specialty brews to look foward to on future visits.

Come on over, lads; learn a thing or two from the dudes in Delaware. It is easy to imagine what I would miss were I in the UK.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Winter's Tales

Every small town used to have a dime store. Now convenience and big box stores have taken their places. Five years ago, Lee, Massachusetts still had Johansson’s. When I was growing up, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin had Ben Franklin’s. Somebody attempted to resuscitate Johansson’s under a new name but it was gone within a year. The old name and an updated concept might have had a chance. Now that building is vacant. The dime store in Fort Atkinson turned into a carpet and tile showroom.

At first glance, there appears to be a Ben Franklin dime store in Oberlin, Ohio. There is and there isn’t. I suspect the familiar Ben Franklin sign is still on the building because everyone in town expects it to be there. It doesn’t resonate as loudly as a vintage Woolworth’s sign might, but it works. Inside, instead of finding tired variety store stuff, there are several independent retailers sharing the space to market their wares. That's where I found MindFair Books.

Used book stores seem to be headed in the same direction as dime stores, victims of more efficient business models. My friend Neill Cameron has suggested an enterprise should be as inefficient as it can afford to be. Since the new bookstore model maximizes efficiency, I reckon the old model still has a fighting chance if the proprietors embrace their most useful inefficiencies: know where all the books are and then encourage Serendipity to make herself at home in the stacks. I am happy to be directed to the books I am looking for and positively delighted to find books I didn’t know I wanted. And I will go back to the places which surprise me.

Winter's Tales by Isak Dinesen was great find. In it she draws the reader close and then heads into timeless lands. The stories it contains are perfect for winter evenings with a warm hearth as a companion.

Winter's Tales was Dinesen's third book published in the US. This edition was printed in 1942 and contains some interesting notes. Some things do change.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

No Coors Light at Moe's

For years, the WNOF group in Taipei met at the Mariner’s Pub after dinner on Wednesdays. We arrived around nine, enjoyed a happy hour which lasted until we ventured out into the Zone and went our separate ways. A change of ownership and attitude at the Mariner’s persuaded us to move our party to the Manila, another bar a few doors down the same alley. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but it seemed that before our crew started hanging out at the Manila on a weekly basis, it was not a regular stop for anyone. It was always empty. Then Jackie reserved a table for us up front in the window and when we were there the place looked packed. Later we noticed business at the Manila improved and not just on Wednesdays. You couldn’t see in the windows at the Mariner’s and since none of our crew ever went back, I can’t say what happened to their business.

When Josh Cohen rehabilitated a bar on Railroad Street in Lee, he removed the curtains from the windows. Good call. Now you can see what is going inside from across the parking lot. A couple months ago, I was looking for a place to watch a football game and I could see the flat screens before I was out of the car. The place looked alright, so I went in.

Josh calls the place Moe’s Tavern. While Homer Simpson would feel right at home (it's all about the beer), it is not a typical neighborhood joint, at least not around here. There are three or four decent screens usually tuned to some sporting event, but the volume is off and satellite radio is on. There is a full bar and a very short menu featuring fresh hand formed hamburgers, Wohrle’s hot dogs and a couple different fries. The main attraction, however, is the assortment of craft brews. The latest list had over fifty and the number keeps growing.

Josh went to school with the founder of Dogfish Head, so those beers are featured prominently on draught and in bottles. He brought in my favorite Canadian beer, Fin du Monde, after I asked for it (a great way to make a customer loyal). So far, the discovery I like best is Lagunitas from Sonoma County; try their Czech Pilsner. The biggest miss was Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice: it took courage to drink past the aroma which assaulted my nose when I first lifted the glass (it was an experience akin to eating durian).

There is no Coors Light at Moe’s (but next season Yankees fans may be able to watch their team on an old black and white tube).

Friday, January 11, 2008


Turning the corner into the gallery where Rembrandt's Night Watch hangs in the Rijksmuseum and seeing the picture for the first time must be one of the greatest surprises at any museum anywhere. It is massive. Rembrandt was paid 1,600 guilders for his masterpiece in 1642 (about the same amount a well to do merchant would earn in a year). Just a few years earlier, on February 5, 1637, at an auction in Alkmaar, 70 superb tulip specimens were sold and raised over 90,000 guilders, with a single tulip bulb, Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen, commanding 5,200 guilders. Mike Dash asked why.

He traced the journey the tulip made from the Tien Shan mountains in Asia through Turkey to Europe and, at least symbolically, back again. He described how the bulbs became prized first by Dutch connoisseurs and later by speculators. He put the legendary tulip speculative mania into context and in doing so, made it easier to understand how speculative manias develop.

One of the great ironies of the tulip mania was that the most coveted bulbs, those which produced flowers with the most striking colors, were diseased. (The mosaic virus was later eradicated and consequently the great colors and unique varieties were lost). He showed how the crash had little impact on the Dutch economy at the time but a lasting influence over the centuries, most notably the continuing importance of the flower trade. He also recounted later flower manias in France, Turkey and most recently in China (spider lilies for RMB 200,000 each in 1985).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Late December Christmas Trees

Chet has been growing Christmas trees for a long time. For the past five years I have driven by his place on Route 20 on the outskirts of Lee but never stopped. He has a small brown house with a field stone fireplace which, at this time of year, always has a plume of silver smoke rising from it. Before Christmas he sets up several easels with lots of Christmas trees leaning against them; near the house there is a stand with a roof over it displaying Christmas trees. It never occured to me that Chet grew the trees on his own land or made the wreaths at home.

As a rule, I ignore the trappings of Christmas until the weekend before the holiday. No shopping, no seasonal music, no tree. Sometime around the winter solstice, however, I am ready for Christmas cheer (which I like to carry well into the New Year). For the past several years I have found trees at Whitney's in Cheshire. They have a good selection but the real attraction is the nifty jig which allows them to bore a 3/4 hole in the trunk. Together with a plastic reservoir base with a large spike in the center (which Whitney also sells), setting up the tree is a cinch. This year by December 22, the remaining trees at Whitney's were yellow. I suppose they had been shipped in from afar weeks before and their shelf life had expired. Plan B: The dogs and I hunted for a tree behind the house. The trees were still green but even Charlie Brown would have been reluctant to cut one. On to Plan C: We went to see Chet.

His selection was slim but there still some good looking trees. What really impressed me was the fact that they were grown right behind his house. Chet has planted several thousand trees on the western face of the Pinnacle and has more at a farm in Tyringham. His son made excellent wreathes, both single and double thickness. Next fall we will tag a tree and then harvest it close to Christmas and drag it home through the woods.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Arb, the Apollo and Tooo Chinoise in Oberlin

Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway system shrank driving times and boosted economies along its path. While the topography changes dramatically from East to West, the human developments along the I-roads are completely reassuring: the same Mc Donalds, Marriotts, and Mobils everywhere. I have often thought about driving cross country on US 20 instead of I 90, taking time to see the towns change along with the landscape, but I am always seduced by the fast route. This time the travel genies conspired to slow us down and encouraged us to spend a day looking around.

The VW required new brakes around 40,000 miles, so I was not surprised that it would need new brakes again now that the car had 75,000 miles. I usually have the car serviced before an extended road trip but this time I was unable to schedule an appointment. So we hit the road anyway. When we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Elyria, Ohio the rear brakes made a hideous noise. Spitzer VW in Amherst agreed to look at the car immediately. As chance would have it, the necessary parts would not be in stock until the following day and we were only 8 miles from Oberlin.

While it is only a few miles south of I 90, the approach to Oberlin bears the signs of a town which has very much been passed by. There are no strip malls. The slate roofs of barns and farm houses sag, threatening collapse, the cows long gone and most of the farmers gone with them, their lands committed to row crops but no livestock. The houses on the outskirts are in better shape but most of have seen better days. Oberlin proper, however, appears to be healthy and not much changed from Eisenhower’s time. The college and commercial establishments are centered on a very large square populated with mature trees, a few random students and a professor or two.

We had lunch at Tooo Chinoise. I expected to find some cool restaurants in a college town. This menu caught my eye with Zajiang Mien and Shrtz Tou, two dishes I hadn’t seen since I lived in Taiwan. I over ordered and loved each bite. Our waitress recommended a walk in the arboretum on the outside of town (but only a few minutes walk from the center). The temperature was in the sixties and all the snow and most of the ice had melted. Shorts and tee shirts for the students; no leashes for the dogs. We hung out there until dusk. Later we went to the flicks.

The Apollo Theatre is a classic: lights from the marquee cascade over the ticket booth. Shows cost $3 and a large popcorn is only $2.50. The place seats around 900 and I suspect there were about 100 there on a Monday while most students were still away for winter vacation. I am Legend with Will Smith was not legendary material (Night of the Living Dead crossed with Twelve Monkeys), but it was perfect for that old movie house. If I lived near Oberlin, I would be a regular.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rosemary Pecans

Some memories are like migrating birds and only return at a certain time of year. When Christmas approaches, I remember the excellent rosemary pecans served by friends in Lincoln, Nebraska. Thoroughly mashed fresh rosemary and cooking at low heat are the keys to success. Try them with vanilla ice cream.


2 pounds pecan halves
¼ pound unsalted butter
1 heaping tablespoon of coarse sea salt
1 branch of fresh rosemary
1/3 cup brown sugar


1 heavy 5 quart sauté pan
1 commercial sheet tray
1 mortar and pestle
1 chopping knife
1 wooden spoon
Paper towels


1. Preheat oven to 225 F

2. Melt butter in pan over low heat; do not allow butter to burn

3. Strip rosemary leaves from branch, remove stalks or dry leaves; chop leaves

4. Mix chopped rosemary leaves and salt in mortar and pestle; mash into a green powder/paste

5. After butter is completely melted and pan is an even heat, dump pecans in pan and slowly stir until all nuts are completed covered with butter; keep nuts evenly distributed in the pan; continuing stirring slowly for several minutes; all nuts should be hot

6. Sprinkle rosemary salt over all the nuts; then continue to stir until the salt is distributed thoroughly

7. Sprinkle sugar very slowly over nuts, stirring continuously to distribute the sugar evenly; continue to stir for 1 minute after all the sugar has been added to ensure it is mixed in thoroughly; WARNING: after adding sugar, do NOT leave the pan on the heat without stirring because the sugar will melt and burn

8. Transfer nuts to sheet tray and bake at low heat for 20 minutes

9. Remove nuts from oven and let cool on paper towels