Monday, February 25, 2008

Meatloaf a la Margot

Seasoned with Parsley and Pistachio Nuts

Some things are better served cold. This meatloaf is one of them. Start with the best ingredients you can find. I used fresh ground sirloin and Mazzeo's hot Italian sausage from Guido's, Jones Cherry Smoked bacon, fresh parsley and unsalted pistachio nuts. Pressing the loaves over night after they have cooled to room temperature squeezes out fat and forms bricks which can be sliced thinly.


2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds bulk sweet Italian sausage (or ground pork)
4 hot Italian sausage links
1 pound bacon
2 eggs
2-3 carrots
several garlic cloves
1 bunch parsley
1 large onion
1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1 cup cracker crumbs
½ cup brandy
½ teaspoon salt


2 bread pans
1 sheet pan
1 large mixing bowl
1 heavy pan
1 whisk
Chef’s knife
Meat thermometer
Parchment paper
Aluminum foil
Several bricks


1. Precook hot Italian sausage in heavy pan over medium heat. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

3. Chop onion finely; chop parsley finely; crush and chop garlic; set aside.

4. Peel and quarter carrots lengthwise.

5. Cover bottom and sides of bread pan with bacon.

6. Break eggs in large mixing bowl, beat lightly; mix in brandy, onion, nuts, parsley, salt and several grinds of pepper.

7. Add ground beef and pork to wet ingredients, mixing by hand. Finally add crackers; stop mixing once crackers are evenly distributed.

8. Transfer enough mixture to cover the bottom third of the bread pans; place three carrot spears lengthwise in each pan; place two precooked hot Italian links between carrot spears; fill in around links with more meat mixture; place more carrots lengthwise along top of sausage links; fill pans to ¼ inch below top of pan with remaining mixture and cover with two or three strips of bacon.

9. Place loaves in oven on sheet tray for about 40 minutes. Use meat thermometer to ensure center is cooked to 165 degrees. Remove from over and cool to room temperature.

10. Place bread pans on sheet tray, then place bricks wrapped in aluminum foil on top of meat to press out oil. More weight is better. Place in refrigerator with brick weights over night.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Delaware Tags

The big news in Delaware this week was the huge price paid for a small license plate. Frank Vassallo IV of Wilmington, bidding on behalf of his grandfather, property developer Anthony Fusco, paid $675,000 for the number 6 black and white Delaware tag. That’s a lot of money for a flat piece of steel. To put it into perspective, the same cash would buy a nineteenth century house in Lewes, educate ten kids at the University of Delaware or put a few hundred thousand pounds of RAPA scrapple on the table.

My first visit to Delaware was about thirty years ago. Driving south from Wilmington I remember seeing endless flat, green countryside. There were big farms with grand old houses. There wasn’t much in the way of development. Frank Perdue’s trucks roared up and down highway 13 but otherwise there didn’t seem to be much going on. Lewes was sleepy and Rehoboth was a cool place for kids to hang out at the beach. Now it seems highway 13 has been developed into one long strip mall; highway 1 is even more built up. Retirement communities are being raised on vast expanses of what were once rich agricultural lands. Heritage Shores, south of Bridgeville, is about 40 miles from the Atlantic or Chesapeake but apparently that is close enough to attract flocks of buyers from the snow country up north.

It is easy to snicker at the silly amount paid for the number 6 license plate, but the widespread enthusiasm for Delaware's retro black and white tags represents something deeper than keeping up with the DuPonts. For most, those tags are tangible links to a simpler past when Delaware natives did not fight traffic to get to the beach. They declare “I was here before all this.”

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Change for Good

Coins are pests. Every day, I accumulate more spare change: on counters, on top of furniture, between cushions, in drawers or on the floor and in the console, cup holder or some hard to reach spot in the car. Coins gather like dust, only dirtier and slightly more valuable. But not much. Nothing costs a penny. Even pennies cost more than one cent. Savvy merchants and restaurateurs have abandoned the 99 cent ruse and rounded up to a full dollar. Few bother to pick up pennies (unless with a vacuum); when cleaning drawers, some people would sooner dump the random coins in the trash than touch them.

Banks no longer want to handle them either. When I went to Lee Bank with a sack full of coins to run them through a coin counter and convert them to greenbacks, I was advised the bank did not provide that service. The teller recommended I make change at Stop & Shop instead. When pressed further, I was given flat coin rolls: the bank would accept full rolls of coins if I counted them myself.

Stop & Stop installed Coinstar coin counting kiosks several years ago. At first I thought they were great. Then I learned there was a catch: there is an 8% service charge. Eight percent. If I were to calculate what my time was worth, it would be an easy decision to simply dump the entire bag of coins into the hopper and give Coinstar its due. But I am too cheap. I find it galling that I am compelled to pay a retail establishment to count the cash I am willing to tender there. So I compromise: I let the machine count the pennies and I take the time to sort out and put the silver coins in their respective rolls. Now when I spend those rolls, I am asked to sign them like a check.

Recently it occurred to me that the coin changing machines could be deployed to dispense BerkShares, a scrip honored by Berkshire County merchants and restaurants. They are sold to consumers at a 10% discount to US currency but can be redeemed at the face value of US dollars. As such they offer a monetary incentive to support local enterprises. Since I shop or dine at many of the places which accept BerkShares and settle the bills in dollars, I would be happy to convert my bags of coins to BerkShares at face value. I can get rid of loose change, support business in the community and use some really cool money. The BerkShare discount could be divvied up between the BerkShare organization, the merchant housing the coin counter (Guido’s or Lee Bank, for example), and the owner of the kiosk. Balances of less than one dollar could be returned as change or donated to worthy local causes. In a small, and perhaps attractively subversive way, this puts small change to good use.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Vermeer's Hat

One of the most captivating sights at the Neka Museum in Ubud, Bali is a pair of portraits painted by Abdul Aziz called Mutual Attraction. On the left is a young man peering out; on the right is a young woman soaking up his attention. Both appear to be standing in door ways, leaning against the frames. Aziz painted his subjects’ shadows directly on to the picture frames. It was a delightful conceit. It not only added a dimension to the pictures but it also impressed upon me that paintings are both windows and doors.

Timothy Brook became enchanted with Johannes Vermeer's home town of Delft as a young man; he went on to become a specialist in Chinese history. From that "promontory" he created an immensely satisfying study not only of Vermeer's work but also the forces which began driving world trade four centuries ago. In Vermeer's Hat, Brook looked into the artist's paintings and saw objects, metaphorical doors, which opened into what he called the "global world."

The Netherlands in the seventeenth century was the most prosperous trading nation in Europe. China was thought to be "a place of power and wealth beyond any known scale." There was thus intense competition to establish trading links with East Asia. Establishing those links changed the world.

Many of the items depicted in the scenes Vermeer painted would not have existed in Delft a generation earlier. In the View of Delft, one of the roof tops belongs to the Dutch East India Company or VOC, the world's first large joint stock company. Its structure quickly enabled it to become a powerful trading company, as well as a model for modern corporations. The search for a short cut to China resulted in abundant beaver pelts being exported from North America to Europe, which, in turn, led to lavish hats seen in Soldier and a Laughing Girl. Blue and white porcelain, newly imported from China, was superior to any pottery made in Europe; demand for it was so strong that it was copied in Delft, and then was transformed to become a style synonomous with the city itself. Tobacco from North America quickly found markets everywhere, especially China. Silver mined in South America facilitated trade in all directions. African slaves provided labor. Brook cited Fernando Ortiz' process of transculturation and showed how trade changed parties on both sides of a transaction, often in ways which were totally unanticipated.

Given the level of anxiety about global trade today, it might seem like a recent development. But its cross currents have buffeted and enriched the globe for centuries. Three hundred years after the VOC began its march across Southeast Asia, Abdul Aziz joined the fight asainst the Dutch for Indonesian independence. Later he studied art in Rome. His style was deeply influenced by the European masters, Rembrandt in particular, and embodied the very "transculturation" Brook described.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Thrill on Monument Mountain

Route 7 northbound out of Great Barrington, Massachusetts is steep enough to merit two lanes going up hill on the east side of Monument Mountain. The posted speed limit is 50 miles per hour. I have been passed by guys on crotch rockets doing at least twice that. One friend who rides a Japanese wannabe Ducati claims to have done 130. He covered the mile and a half stretch to the Trustees of Reservations parking lot in about 45 seconds. If he were to complete the trip to the summit of Monument Mountain, he would be obliged to do so on foot and it would take at least another 45 minutes (longer at this time of year). I will not claim that reaching the peak on foot is as much of a rush as the high speed ride, but it is thrilling nevertheless.

Mike, my hound, is extremely indulgent. He always forgives my absences (sometimes extended) and has submitted to being spirited across oceans and continents (he was born in Taipei sixteen years ago). For the past several days, he has ridden shotgun while I have made my rounds. Long hours in the wagon with only short pit stops. And all he asks is that he be allowed to clean the dishes and go for interesting walks. Since both benefit me, you might think I would repay his kindness more often. Last night he scored some leftover steak and today we tackled a big hill. I reckon I still owe him, but I am moving in the right direction.

Hiking up and around Monument Mountain is an excellent way to spend a couple hours. The paths are challenging but well marked and maintained. The the oaks and pines form a nice canopy so undergrowth is minimal, but there is lots of mountain laurel. Outcrops of ledge are punctuated with seams of marble and flint. The views from the peak are superb, extending in all directions from several different lookouts. From the parking lot, I prefer to follow the trail north and make the steep climb up, then complete the circuit by following the gentler slope down to the west and return to the lot from the south.

Monument Mountain has been attracting visitors for hundreds of years: Nearly 200 years ago William Cullen Bryant wrote a poem about a Mohican woman who leapt from a cliff (a cairn in her memory resulted in the name of the mountain). Years later Nathanial Hawthorne and Herman Melville were introduced there; Melville was already writing Moby Dick, their mutual admiration was so strong that Melville dedicated his masterpiece to Hawthorne.

Today the mountain attracted a few hearty souls. We saw several groups of two or three hikers; one couple was accompanied by a four legged yearling blond. Mike made her acquaintance and was feeling fine. New snow had fallen so the trail was not as slick as it would become after having been packed and frozen. I followed European alpine fashion and walked with a pair of poles: they were a boon on the way up and a life saver on the way down. When we arrived around 2:30 the snow had stopped falling and there were patches of blue sky. I hoped we might have clear skies by the time we reached Squaw Peak.

We were on top by 3:30 and had fine northeasterly views of Stockbridge and Lee. Two hikers approached from the south and warned about a snow storm coming from the west. They did not stop to admire the view to the north. A wiser soul would have joined them for the trip back down. I was more interested going forward and looking out over Alford, Great Barrington and Egremont.

Mike was an intrepid hiker as long as he was convinced his footing was sound. That excluded foot bridges and rocks. Back on the leash, he was happy to follow and crossed the foot bridges and stony ledges without resistance. Now it was important to keep him on a short lead to eliminate lengthy inspections of interesting trees, boulders, nooks and cranies. The snow squall to the southwest was less than five miles away, so we had little time to get off the peak and back on to the wide gentle slope trail half way down the mountain. Hoping to avoid being caught in a white out on a trail with white blazes, we made haste. The wind came up and it started snowing soon after we began our descent. It was 4:30 when we arrived back at the car, now covered with new snow. Mike was thrilled to have spent the afternoon in the woods and I was thrilled to have seen the winter landscapes from the top of Monument Mountain and escaped a blizzard on the way down.

Berkshire Bar Burgers

Great Hamburgers in Pittsfield, Lenox and Lee

There is no better place in Berkshire County to get primed for a hamburger than the intersection of North Street and Linden in Pittsfield. Mark Papas mans the charcoal grill at The Lantern (455 North Street, 413-448-2717). His exhaust fan delivers an aromatic invitation to purchase more effectively than any billboard, print ad or radio spot. The 6 ounce burgers are formed by hand and grilled on an iron grate. They have all the appeal of the best backyard burgers, they are available year round and they can be accompanied by Bass, Blue Moon or Sam Adams on draught or about a dozen others in bottles. The Lantern Bar and Grill has been in Mark’s family for decades. It has a comfortable lived-in vibe with cool jazz on the sound system and a collection of oil paintings and photographic portraits on the walls.

The best burger in Lenox is at Bistro Zinc (56 Church Street, 413-637-8800). Chef Michael Stahler gives every bit as much attention to his burgers as he does to any of the other dishes on his eclectic menu (Shepherd’s Pie made with shredded duck confit and Pei Moules Frites are also on the lunch menu). The 8 ounce patties are made from fresh Angus beef, topped with Tillamook cheddar cheese and two strips of Jones Cherry Wood Smoked bacon and a couple of tempura batter onion rings. On the side you have a choice of either a mountain of fries or a mixed green salad. The bar at Zinc has been a hip place to hang out for the better part of a decade. True to form, it has an impressive selection of French brandies and single malt whiskies. For the burger and beer patron, there is enough on tap or in bottles to satisfy.

Further down county in Lee, you find tasty burgers at Moe’s Tavern (10 Railroad Street, 413-243-6637). But you will need to look hard for them because Moe’s is all about beer. Tavern keeper Josh Cohen’s latest tally is over sixty craft brews in bottles and five on tap (numbers he hopes to double in the near future). Moe’s has been in business for just a few months and has been bucking conventional wisdom by offering little of the ordinary (Budweiser, Miller and Sam Adams are available but move slowly; Coors never crossed the threshold) and lots of the extreme (like Stone Brewing's Arrogant Bastard and Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA). He also offers fresh burgers and locally made hotdogs. The Sliders hit the spot. There are three hand formed 2 ounce patties on potato flour buns with basic fixings. That and a bottle of Blanche de Chambly and I'm good.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beer Batter Fish at the Velvet Lips

Chef Matt Michaud at the Velvet Lips in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin makes the best fried perch anywhere; walleyed pike too. This is no small feat in a state where the Friday Night Fish Fry is a ritual. People here take their fish and their beer seriously.

Chef Matt uses Spotted Cow Farmhouse Ale from New Glarus in a nappe batter. The key is to keep the batter thin (be generous with the beer). The perch has a distinctive voice and the Spotted Cow sings harmony. The fish comes with a choice of french fries or hash browns and cole slaw. The hash browns are excellent.

So when I am sitting in Bob Langer's chair at the Trim and Style on Friday morning and Bob asks where I will be having fish tonight, I will reply "At the Lips."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Crab Cakes with Cherry Smoked Bacon

Start with great crab meat and keep the rest of your ingredients simple and you will make outstanding crab cakes. I used Phillips lump crab meat and mixed in lardons of Jones Cherry Hardwood Smoked bacon, a little horseradish, a dash of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce and a healthy shake of Old Bay as seasonings. This recipe takes about a half hour to prepare and makes eight medium size crab cakes.


1 Pound lump crab
2 Eggs
3 Strips of bacon
4 Scallions
10 Saltine crackers
1/2 teaspoon horseradish
dash of Worcestershire sauce
shake of Old Bay seasoning
fresh ground (or cracked) black pepper
olive oil


Medium mixing bowl
Heavy frying pan
Paper towels


1. Preheat pan on medium heat; add olive oil to cover surface of pan

2. Cut bacon into thin strips; fry over medium heat until cooked but almost crispy; drain bacon on paper towels; pour off fat and wipe down pan and return to heat reset to medium low

3. Slice scallions thinly

4. Break eggs into mixing bowl and scramble; add scallions, cool bacon, dash of Worcestershire sauce and horseradish; next add crab meat and mix until crab is completely coated (be careful not to break lumps of crab meat); then add crushed crackers and continue to mix; finally sprinkle Old Bay over over the whole mixture and incorporate

5. Form patties and place in preheated pan; fry on each side for 5-7 minutes (until golden brown); season to taste with freshly ground black pepper

6. Serve with a wedge of lime