12 Years Without Christmas

 By Kristen Davis 

The first lesson in the restaurant business: Weekends and holidays are for chumps. It’s a guarantee that Friday night, when the world is celebrating the weekend, you’ll be working. Mother’s Day, working. Easter, working. Christmas? It’s not fair, but that’s the job, and the sooner you let go of your beloved holidays the less disappointed you’ll be when another can’t-be-missed celebration comes around—and you miss it.

I had an easier time letting go of the holidays, because I set off to travel the world when I was 19. As a chef, often working at remote island resorts, there’s no time for the holidays. Besides, it’s hard to get into ye olde Christmas spirit when you’re sweating it up in 90° tropical heat.

My third Christmas in Thailand, I was single, sad, and missing home. The closest thing to Christmas dinner I could find was a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I snagged a rather suspect bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that looked more like a rosé and tasted like cider vinegar. I sat on the beach and ate my burger and fries while washing away my tears with a bottle of questionable life choices. The bottle was done by noon and so was I.

Some years the holidays were more joyous than that one, but the traditions I’d grown up with had long been forgotten. Christmas dinner was more likely to be a barbecue and game of beach volleyball than presents under the tree. These days, paradise is just a daydream and the start of another chilly New England winter brings the promise of the holidays. I have a young son now, so I’ve started a few new traditions to share with my family.

The First: Close the restaurant on Thanksgiving and Christmas. For a restaurant owner, there are never enough days off, so I’ll take this excuse and leave the business to the Chinese delivery joint down the street.

The Second: We MAKE Christmas magical. But I spent a decade with all of my worldly possessions strapped to my back, so walking into a store and paying for Christmas really isn’t my style. We make our decorations, presents, and traditions. Each year the family strolls around the neighborhood foraging for materials: twigs and branches, holly snipped from a neighbor’s yard, a few dried flowers and leaves. After a trip to the grocery store for some popcorn, oranges, cinnamon sticks, and other aromatics, it’s time to decorate the tree. Armed with a hot glue gun and delectable bottle of red wine for the grownups, we laugh and sing as we craft our ornaments. We dehydrate orange wheels; bake simple, indestructible gingerbread cookies (cinnamon, water, and seasonal spices); glue popcorn kernels to sparkly gold ribbon, and tie cinnamon sticks alongside twigs and berries to create a tree that is truly magical.

The Third: The holidays are all about the food … I mean family. Let’s face it, chefs are really in it for the food. I’m not RSVPing to Thanksgiving dinner to see my second cousins, I’m coming for my second helping of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and pie. Oh, pie. The best part of the holidays is eating food we don’t have to cook. Feast of the Seven Fishes? Make it 11 and you can guarantee I’ll be back next year.

As my family grows, we add new traditions and borrow some from my wild adventures. Maybe next year we’ll break out the water balloons to ring in the New Year.

Kristen Davis is an award-winning chef, international restaurateur, and entrepreneur. Her current project, The Platinum Pony, in Easthampton, showcases her craft cocktails, creative snacks, and eclectic nightly entertainment. For more info visit ThePlatinumPony.com or find them on Facebook here.

Kristen's Indestructible Gingerbread recipe

Get Chopping!

By Mary Reilly | Photographs by Dominic Perri

Now that you have a rack full of sharp knives, use them to master these traditional knife cuts.

Read about sharpening your knives here

get chopping

get chopping

Batonnet (Top Left)

Cut ½-inch-thick slices, then cut them again into ½-inch-wide strips

Medium dice (Top Right)

Cut batonnet into ½-inch cubes

Julienne (Middle Left) 

Cut ¼-inch-thick slices, then cut the slices into ¼-inch-wide strips

Brunoise (Middle Right)

Cut julienne into ¼-inch cubes

Roll-cut (Bottom)

Cut an angled slice off the carrot, roll the carrot ¼ turn and slice again. Keep rolling and cutting (See? Roll-cut!) until the vegetable is cut up.

Scallions or green onions can be a workhorse in your  kitchen. These different cuts are used for different purposes.



Fish-eyes (Top)

Hold a bunch of scallions parallel to the edge of your work surface. Cut them straight across.

This cut is best for scallions that will be cooked or stirred into a dish.

For a flashier presentation, cut your scallions into:

Diagonals or horse-ears (2nd from Top)

Hold the bunch on an angle and cut tapered slices.

Fine diagonals (3rd from Top)

Cut as for horse-ears but angle the scallions even more, so the cuts form longer pieces. Cut these as fine as you can.

Threads (Bottom)

Working with one scallion at a time, cut off the root end. Hold the scallion almost perpendicular to you and cut fine shavings off the side.

On the Cutting Edge

By Chris Figge as told to Mary Reilly | Photographs by Georgia Teensma


No matter what’s on the menu, a knife is usually the first kitchen tool I reach for. A dull knife, however, can be a danger to your ingredients and to your fingers.

There are several ways to keep your knives in shape, and one of the easiest, most convenient, and least expensive is the use of a water or oil stone.

Most stones are two-sided and for most of us a 400/1000 stone will do the job. knife_3

The first step is to lubricate the stone. If you want to use water, it’s easiest to soak the stone in water for five minutes before you start sharpening. If you want to use oil, make sure you are using a non-petroleum-based food-grade oil. Squirt or brush a layer of oil over the top of your stone. (The stone manufacturer may specify oil or water. If not, you may use either, but  know that while you can oil a stone than has been used with water, you can’t do the reverse.)

Place the stone (coarse grit side up) on a dishtowel or mat so it doesn’t slide around while you’re sharpening.

With both hands, hold the knife on the spine (the dull edge). Use your index and middle fingers on the top side and your thumb underneath.

Hold the knife at a 22° angle and gently but firmly, push it away from you and across the stone—it should feel like you’re trying to scrape a thin layer off the top of the stone. Do not use a lot of pressure, the weight of your hands should be enough.

You can sharpen the entire length of the knife by sliding it sideways across the stone as you push forward. (You can also sharpen in sections the width of whetstone. As each section is sharpened, move to the next section, overlapping sections slightly.)

After 10–20 passes on one side of the knife, turn it over and repeat the process with the other side. When the edge is sharp, flip over the stone and repeat the process with the fine grit side of your stone. Stop when your knife is sharp.

To keep the edge sharp, use a steel. A steel does not sharpen a knife; it simply realigns the knife edge after it’s started to go dull. Working at a 22° angle, run your blade along your steel, gliding it down and across the steel to make contact with the entire edge of the knife. For best results, “steel” your knife each time you use it.


Store your sharp knives in a knife block, on a magnetic strip mounted to the wall, or in a knife roll. Never store knives loose in a drawer.



Chris Figge is an artisanal baker, practical joker, herbalist, and handyman. He co-founded The Haberdashery in March 2014 with wife, Melody.

Georgia Teensma (photographs) is a freelance photographer and a second-year student at Hampshire College.

The Haberdashery
Goods & Guidance for Crafty Homesteaders
52 Union St., Easthampton ◆ 413-527-1638


Thank you always to Ed Jones for the knives we used in this story.


New Orleans Favorite Translates Well Up North

greens for gumbo

greens for gumbo

By Don Lesser | Photographs by Dominic Perri

Gumbo z’herbes, or green gumbo, was originally a meat-free dish served on the Thursday before Good Friday. Gumbo z’herbes combines as many greens as are available (but always an odd number) with New Orleans seasonings. These days it is as likely to have meat and sausage as it is to be served when the mood strikes. Best of all, you can make a version of it in the dead of a New England winter from farmers’ market produce or supermarket greens.

To those who say it isn’t authentic, I ask, “Just what is authentic gumbo z’herbes anyway?”

The variables are myriad: Ingredients that are readily available in New Orleans—pickled pork, Tasso ham, peppergrass—are not easy to come by in Western Mass. Roux or no roux? Meatless or meaty (and just what kinds of meat)? Grind, chop, or blend the cooked greens? Water or stock? Older recipes call for mace and allspice, which newer ones omit. New Orleans legend Leah Chase uses multiple meats including chicken.

No, the question is not whether it’s authentic. It’s whether you can interpret the essence of the dish in your neck of the woods using the ingredients that are available to you.

The master recipe lets you create your green gumbo: meaty or vegetarian, roux-based or gluten-free. One of these versions should suit your audience’s needs. The only non-negotiable requirement is that you use an odd number of greens. Even numbers are unlucky and tradition says that the number of greens in your z’herbes is the number of new friends you’ll make this year. In a pinch, parsley can count as either a seasoning or a green.

For greens, you can use collards, kale, chard, cabbage, spinach, beet greens, mustard greens, amaranth, romaine lettuce, parsley, celery tops, etc. The key is variety. Remove the stems from the greens by sliding a knife along the stem to separate the leaves. 15 cups of rough-chopped greens will cook down to four to five cups of cooked greens. In my kitchen this works out to five small bunches of greens and half a small green cabbage.

If you can get genuine tasso ham or andouille sausage, use them by all means. Tasso is hard to come by in New England and most andouille in New England doesn’t taste the same. So I prefer to use kielbasa for its garlicky taste and pork short ribs or thick-cut pork chops for the meat. You could also use a smoked pork hock, but too much smoked meat will overpower the dish.

If you omit the roux, brown your onions and meat well. If you omit the meat, you might use vegetable stock instead of water. I’ve seen one recipe that uses dried mushrooms for that umami flavor.

By definition, gumbo contains okra or filé powder. Filé becomes black and stringy if you reheat it. If you’re not planning on serving all the gumbo in one go, add the filé to the individual bowls just before serving. Laissez bon temps rouler!

Born in Queens, New York, Don Lesser came to the Pioneer Valley for an MFA in fiction in 1977. He has spent the last 30+ years living, cooking, and writing here. He currently lives in Amherst. He can be contacted via RusselNod.com.

Recipe for Cumbo Z'Herbes Massachusetts Style

Turners Falls: A Small Village Feeds Big Appetites

By Erin MacLean and John McNamara as told to Marykate Smith Despres | Photographs by Dominic Perri

The village of Turners Falls, one of five villages comprising the town of Montague, is located in Franklin County, just off Route 2.

Our tour guides are Erin MacLean and John McNamara. Seven-year residents of Turners Falls, they were attracted to the town’s commitment to arts and culture, which they saw flourishing through local businesses and the initiatives developed by RiverCulture. Their love for Turners Falls inspired them to open their own shop, Loot, three years ago.

When it comes to food, Erin is a vegan and John prefers fish to red meat, so their dining suggestions reflect restaurants that cater to these preferences.

The Rendezvous

78 3rd St. 413-863-2866 RendezvousTFMA.com Open daily

Patrons of The Rendezvous can get comfortable at the bar, on the patio, or at a booth inside, and enjoy drinks, snacks, meals, and entertainment. “The Voo,” as locals affectionately call it, has monthly Quizznite, Bingo, and movies; open mics and karaoke twice a month; plus live music, dance parties, art openings, and a full calendar of other events in between. The expansive, eclectic menu includes small plates, entrées, burgers, panini, and pizza.

Great Falls Harvest

50 3rd St. 413-863-0023 GreatFallsHarvest.com Open Thursday–Sunday

Great Falls Harvest is true farm-to-table dining. They have created organic, locally sourced menus for dinner, Sunday brunch, and feature a thoughtful, complete menu for vegetarians and vegans. With offerings like gorgonzola fig salad and maple-brined pork tenderloin, and a special three-course Thursday menu, Harvest provides fine dining in a comfortable atmosphere. Appetizers and drinks are also available for those wanting to relax at the bar.

Jake’s Tavern

66 Ave. A 413-863-8938 Find them on facebook here  Open daily

Jake’s is the place for fish sandwiches and Friday night raffles. This neighborhood bar and restaurant is known for its seafood, chowder, and its ability to make you feel like you are home. If you are not in the mood for seafood, there is a full menu of sandwiches, burgers, and sides. Jake’s is open for lunch, dinner, and takeout.

2nd Street Baking Co.

104 4th St. 413-863-4455 ◆ Find them on facebook here ◆ Closed Monday

Whether you’re looking to sit down for soup and a sandwich on house-made bread, grab a locally roasted coffee and a pastry to go, or order an intricately decorated fondant cake for a special occasion, 2nd Street Baking Co. has you covered. Despite its name, the bakery has made its permanent home on 4th Street, right across from one of Turners Falls’ abundant community gardens.

Black Cow Burger Bar

125 Ave. A 413-863-5183 ◆ Find them on facebook  here ◆ Closed Sunday

Build your own burger with house-made sauces, cheese, and toppings on one of Black Cow’s Angus beef, black bean, or salmon burgers. Wash down your burger with a cold draft, a glass of wine, or a frosty milkshake. In honor of the space’s former resident, Equi’s Candy Shop, Black Cow even makes handcrafted chocolates.

RiverCulture’s Third Thursdays


RiverCulture is a community partnership promoting the arts and cultural programming in Turners Falls. Third Thursdays manifest this mission through monthly events featuring the work of local artists and performers and by showcasing the community’s diversity of culture and industry, both past and present.

Great Falls Discovery Center

2 Ave. A 413-863-3221 ◆ GreatFallsDiscoveryCenter.org 

Open Friday and Saturday in winter, daily in summer

In addition to their permanent exhibits on the history, culture, and ecology of the Connecticut River watershed, the Great Falls Discovery Center hosts weekly children’s storytimes, monthly live-music coffeehouses, lectures, art shows, and other special events. Admission is free.

The Shea Theater

71 Ave. A 413-863-2281 TheShea.org

Converted from a 1920s movie theater, The Shea is a performance space that houses community theater, live music, comedy, and film screenings. The Shea is home to several theater groups including the New Renaissance Players, Ja’Duke Productions, and The Young Shakespeare Players East.

Old Depot Gardens Farm Stand

504 Turners Falls Rd., Montague RedFireFarm.com

Open daily: May 1–November 1

Granby’s Red Fire Farm offers the folks of Franklin County and visitors a chance to get their fill of fresh, organic produce, flowers, plants, and other local products like jam, pickles, and kombucha at this charming roadside farm stand (though closed for the season at the time of this printing). Their hearty bundles of kale come especially well recommended.

The Lady Killigrew Café

440 Greenfield Rd., Montague 413-367-9666

Find them on facebook here  Open daily

Nestled just outside of Turners Falls alongside the Sawmill River, The Lady Killigrew offers local beer and wine, coffee, baked goods, and a small but perfectly and consistently executed menu of sandwiches and salads. Their peanut noodles are a favorite and the apple and brie sandwich alone is enough to warrant a visit. Ingredients are sourced from local farms and bakeries, seating is indoors or out, and The Bookmill is right next door.


Also Worth A Visit


62 Ave. A 413-863-9500 LootTheShop.com Open Wednesday–Sunday

Erin and John’s shop Loot is nothing short of a menagerie of useful industrial artifacts, multiples, and handcrafted items and jewelry from local artists. From vintage typewriter tables, to milk crates, to notepads salvaged from old mills, visitors can find objects that function as furniture, storage, or the raw materials for making art.



38 3rd Street, Turners Falls 

Find them on facebook here


Nina's Nook

125A Avenue A, Turners Falls

Find them on facebook here


Five Eyed Fox

37 3rd Street, Turners Falls

Find them on facebook here

(opened Oct 4)


Evoke Liquid Glass Collective

149 3rd Street, Turners Falls

Find them on facebook here


The Wagon Wheel

39 French King Highway, Gill

Find them on facebook here


Marykate Smith Despres writes about food, art, and knitting for various blogs and publications. She has worked as a baker, but learned how to cook from her mom, who taught her that everything good starts with a little butter and onions in a pan. Marykate is the program manager at Whole Children in Hadley, a recreation program for people of all abilities. She lives in Turners Falls, where she bakes lots of cookies and grows a small, edible garden with her family.


School Celebrations: Maintaining Tradition Far From Home



By Ryan Cashman | Photographs by Dominic Perri

Over the river and through the wood, to Grandfather’s house we go …”

Over 170 years ago Lydia Maria Child perfectly expressed the excitement of an impending family celebration (in her case, Thanksgiving at her grandfather’s home in Medford). The spirit of this poem continues to resonate with many of us and going home for the holidays is a key part of many family traditions.

Each year, thousands of international students call the Pioneer Valley’s colleges and universities home. Ryan Cashman, a student at Westfield State University, visited with members of the international community at three different schools and shares their stories with us.

For Max Saito food is more than just sustenance.

“Food is important to relationships and friendships and being together, and is important to your health,” he says. “It’s essential.”

Max was born and raised in Japan, in the Yamagata Prefecture. He came to America in 1989 and is now an associate professor in the communications department at Westfield State University. Max and his family embrace the traditions and foods associated with the New Year celebration. He explains that “It’s really about celebrating good luck, good health, good fortune, safety.”

The foods on the table play a role larger than simple nourishment. Beans and mochi (glutinous rice), for instance: “Beans bring good health and good luck. Mochi gives you strength and longevity,” Max explains while miming stretching out the rice with his hands. “Mochi also gives you a lot of energy.”

Soba noodles are another dish that represents long life and are also a very important dish in the Japanese New Year tradition.

New Year Soba (Toshikoshi Soba

Dashi is a seasoned stock made with kombu (dried kelp) and bonito flakes (shaved skipjack tuna). It’s the base of many Japanese noodle dishes and miso soup. Yields 4 servings.

6 cups dashi (Recipe here)

⅔ cup soy sauce

⅓ cup mirin

1 tablespoon sugar

8 ounces soba noodles (buckwheat noodles)

Garnishes: 1 bunch scallions, green parts sliced very thin, fish cakes, tempura flakes, nori (seaweed)

Simmer together the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Keep warm for serving.

Cook soba noodles in a large pot of boiling water, according to package directions. Drain the noodles and rinse in cool water, gently rubbing them to remove any excess starch on the surface of the noodle.

Pour the hot dashi broth into soup bowls. Distribute the soba noodles equally. Add garnishes of your choice.

Nay Paing is a sophomore majoring in political economy and third world development at Hampshire College. When the winter winds start to blow he thinks fondly of the warm weather in his home country. Burma, officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is a country in Southeastern Asia and is bordered by Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand. The country sits between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, giving it a tropical climate with yearly monsoons and humid summers.

The Burmese celebrate the full moon on Tabodwe (which usually occurs in February). Paing says the traditional celebration dish is htamanè. Tradition requires that this snack be prepared in large quantities by several people (usually men) working together.

“I don’t know how to make any of this stuff,” Paing confesses. But, he said, it tastes good.


Our version of htamanè is nontraditional in that it’s made in a fairly small quantity. If you’re feeding a crowd, it doubles easily. The traditional dish is also kneaded together by several cooks to form a rice dough or paste. A simple way to knead the rice is in a stand mixer with paddle attachment. (Htamanè is pictured on page 1.) Yields about 4 cups.

¼ cup oil

1½ cups glutinous rice (also called sweet rice), soaked overnight in water and drained well

2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine slivers

¾ cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1 banana leaf, cut to fit the top of your cooking vessel, optional (you can find banana leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets)

½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped

½ cup sesame seeds

½ cup shredded coconut

In a wok or wide skillet (12-inch) heat oil until very hot and nearly smoking.

Add soaked rice (be careful: The liquid in the rice may cause a fair amount of spattering) and ginger and sauté for 5 minutes. Add water, salt, bring to boil.

Lay the banana leaf over the top of the rice, if using. Cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let rice steam for another 10 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and stir into the rice. Drain off any excess oil. Serve.

Sidonio “Sid” Ferreira, director of enrollment services and instructional support, is the founder of the Cape Verdean Student Alliance at UMass Amherst. Christmas is the biggest celebration of the year in the culture of Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa.

“It was never hard for me or any of us to bring our traditions over to America,” he says. “When we immigrated we went to New Bedford … everything we needed in terms of food was available and everyone was celebrating. It was pretty easy to bring our traditions and keep them alive.

“On Christmas Eve we all have a boiled codfish dinner.” Salted cod, or bacalhau, is a traditional Portuguese ingredient and it was introduced to Cape Verde when the islands were still a Portuguese colony. In Sid’s home, bacalhau is soaked in a tub of water to draw out all of the salt and is then boiled with potatoes, carrots, yams, and kale.

“We serve it with lots of oil and vinegar,” says Sid.

And of course, “desserts are very important!” Sid exclaims. The most important dessert is the pudim de queijo (milk pudding), a baked goat’s cheese dessert similar to flan.



Pudim de Queijo (Milk Pudding) 

You may also bake this in individual custard cups or ramekins if you prefer. They will take less time, about 15–20 minutes.

1 cup (240 grams) sugar

1 cup water

8 ounces soft goat cheese (chevre), crumbled

2 eggs

4 egg yolks

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8-inch glass pie pan with butter or pan spray.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is the consistency of a thick syrup. Add the cheese and mix well. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Beat in eggs and yolks.

Pour in the cheese mixture. Place the pie into a roasting pan large enough to hold it and pour boiling water into the roasting pan to about halfway up the pie pan’s sides.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pudim jiggles just slightly when you jostle the pie pan. Cool before unmolding and serving.

Ryan Cashman is a junior communications major at Westfield State University. He writes for the campus newspaper.

Lying Lovingly: Sneak "Healthy" Into Your Desserts



Story by Christine Burns Rudalevige | Photographs by Dominic Perri

The cacao is one evergreen tree not likely to be at home in the Pioneer Valley anytime soon. It greatly prefers the warmer climes of Central and South America and West Africa, which don’t experience Western Massachusetts wintertime weather.

But that is not to say that cocoa powder and full-blown chocolate bars, chips, chunks, and shavings can’t be paired up with a host of local ingredients in heartwarming chocolate treats exchanged between lovers, family members, and friends.

Fresh local eggs and dairy are two obvious inclusions in chocolate-heavy baked goods. But fruits like apples, pears, and dried plums (previously known as prunes) and hearty vegetables like beets and winter squash can be cooked, puréed, and stirred into batters and bases to add both moisture and nutrition to cakes, muffins, and brownies without changing the rich chocolaty flavor. These additives also allow bakers to cut back a little bit of the fat, if that is a goal, without much notice taken by the eater.

Baker Laura Puchalski, owner of the 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls, says that when you are looking to slip a little extra nutritional love into a chocolate treat, it is imperative that the cocoa powder and chocolate you use be of high quality. She routinely turns to many of the Fair Trade options widely available in both health food and grocery stores in the Pioneer Valley.

Cookbook author Virginia Willis, who splits her time between homes in Hatfield and Atlanta, says adding buttermilk to chocolate desserts tends to heighten their flavor due to buttermilk’s slightly acidic demeanor. The constitution of buttermilk has changed: Once simply the liquid left over when butter was made from cultured cream, today’s store-bought version is low-fat milk infused with a culture that sours and slightly thickens it.

Many baking recipes call for only a cup of buttermilk, which is typically sold in quart containers. To make a quick buttermilk substitute from local milk you’ve already bought from market, simply add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of low-fat or whole milk.

Each of the following recipes—contributed by Puchalski; Willis; Vermont-based food writer, recipe developer, and photographer Katie Webster; and myself—introduces an ingredient or two—some local, some a bit more foreign, but all to help address dietary issues—that can help you put just a little bit more love into this year’s holiday treats along with the chocolate.

redvelvet copy

redvelvet copy

Cream Cheese Kissed Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes 

Chef, food stylist, and cookbook author (and part-time Hatfield resident) Virginia Willis is a recent convert to using vibrant local beets as the coloring agent for her Red Velvet cakes and cupcakes. They also

contribute to the very moist crumb on these little sweets. 



Avocado Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Coconut Cream 

Baker Laura Puchalski, owner of the 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls, developed this recipe to provide vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free eaters with a little chocolate love. Bakers can adapt the type of milk, sweetener, and flavoring to their dietary needs and tastes. She recommends using high-quality Fair Trade cocoa powder for the pudding, and suggests getting the can of coconut milk––as well as the bowl you’ll be whipping it up in––as cold as possible in order to get the best whipped coconut cream. 



Claire’s Cream Cheese Brownies

In Virginia Willis’s new cookbook called Lighten Up, Y’all (Ten Speed Press, March 2015), she gives credit to French-trained pastry chef Claire Perez for helping her build the recipe for these dark, rich, knock-your-socks-off chocolate brownies. Willis likes to call these “grown woman” brownies, and advises to make them for yourself and your loved ones rather than the next PTA meeting. The secret ingredients are local applesauce and buttermilk. 



Fiber-Filled Flourless Chocolate Torte

Katie Webster is a food writer, recipe developer, and photographer who focuses on seasonal, healthy eating in the Burlington, Vermont, area. She eats chocolate every single day. With this recipe, she sneaks in a cup of pitted prunes to add both moisture and fiber to this dense torte. You really only notice the chocolate. Webster blogs at HealthySeasonalRecipes.com and is working on her first cookbook: It’s about cooking sweet and savory dishes with maple syrup. 



Triple Chocolate Winter Squash Muffins

When I ask my 16-year-old son if he liked the newest version of chocolate chip muffins I’d made him and his sister for breakfast, he typically grunts, “Yes.” But that affirmation is always followed by an accusation: “Why? What did you slip into them this time?”

He knows me well. There is a cup of puréed winter squash in these. You can use butternut, acorn or blue Hubbard. I prefer the latter, and my son doesn’t even notice, really. 

Christine Burns Rudalevige grew up in Berkshire County but currently calls Maine home. There, she writes about sustainably sourced foods and develops and tests recipes that use them. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.

In Season: Values, Dedication Flourish at Taproot Commons Farm

By Leslie Lynn Lucio | Photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio and Dominic Perri

High in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts there is a raw-milk dairy farm in the small town of Cummington. Taproot Commons Farm was established by Sarah Fournier-Scanlon, then 23 years old, and her father. Though they choose to live differently in many ways, they share many of the same values, and so it made sense to farm together rather than apart.

Sarah didn’t grow up in Cummington, but spent time on the same land as a child. Her father, who is a pastor, used to spend time with the family on the same very spot when the land belonged to the United Church of Christ.

While walking around the farm, you can’t help but notice the serene beauty and peaceful sounds that embrace it. As Sarah herself says, “I came to this farm all the time as a kid; it’s one of those weird full circle things. I used to come to these wetlands and think how crazy would it be to live in a place this beautiful ... and here we are!”

Sharing this space with others, including her father, has felt good to her, as she believes in intergenerational living, and has intentionally chosen to live this way. At the age of 20, Sarah suffered the painful loss of her mother. Sarah and her father were determined to make the most meaningful use of life insurance funds her mother left them. Though people told Sarah to use the money to finish college, she and her father chose to purchase the land that is now Taproot Commons Farm.

“It was all our money, people thought it was stupid because I had to hustle and I couldn’t just let things float” said Sarah. It’s clear when speaking with Sarah, that her heart belongs to this special place. “I wanted to do this and learn from the land, I wanted to give back to the community.”

Visitors can immediately see how much appreciation is given back to the land. The farm encompasses 130 acres, but it’s mostly wetlands and woodlands. After establishing the farm, the first thing Sarah and her father did was put the land under a conservation restriction, so it would always be protected. Part of this includes a public access waterfall trail and trout fishing near the wetlands.

It’s clear that Sarah is committed to her community and the farm.


“I am kind of thrown by how specialized everything is in our society today and I really wanted to learn how to farm in a way that didn’t hurt the planet. I wanted to learn about all these things, but I couldn’t really find another way to do it. It just seemed the best way was to get into it and just figure it out.”

Sarah began working in her late teens, when she became passionate about dairying. Sarah has done thousands of milkings: She keeps Swiss and Jersey cows for their protein- and butterfat-rich milk.


“We calve all year round because we have to keep the milk flow steady. We’re not a seasonal dairy because I really believe in giving my community good milk all year round. Winters are really hard because we do the exact same thing that we do in the summer, but it takes 18,000 times as long!” She treats her animals well, even taking them on long walks with the help of others.

Sarah is excited for the future growth of Taproot Commons Farm. Plans are underway for a small folk school that will offer affordable classes on traditional farming and foodways.

“The folk school is where my heart is. I’ve wanted this for forever and just really want people to feel empowered, to think differently about what they want to be doing with their time, and to free people up.” In addition to the school, Sarah is restoring a barn on the farm as a home for community gatherings and celebrations.

For six weeks of the year, Sarah and a few others plan on hosting weddings back to back, each weekend. As Sarah says, “If you look at when you can have a true local-foods wedding in our area, it’s August through September. We’ll facelift the barn for those weeks and make it really pretty and just host a wedding every weekend!”

It’s easy to see the dedication that is being put into Taproot Commons Farm, either as a CSA member or farm stand visitor. Sarah Fournier-Scanlon knows she was given an opportunity and wants to give back as much as she can.

Walking around this piece of land and seeing what is being built for the community, there is no doubt this is an exceptional place. As Sarah says, “I want people to be able to think about livelihoods connected to the land, which builds community and serves community and to look at this tricky time as opportunity. It’s an exciting time ... it’s unprecedented, there’s nothing to lose anymore.”

Taproot Commons Farm

11 Porter Hill Rd., Cummington ◆ 413-634-5452


Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child, as well as being an involved member of the local community. She can found running Beets & Barley Catering (BeetsAndBarley.com) and at LeslieLynnLucio.com. She can be reached at info@beetsandbarley.com.

Cheers! Festive Toasts Show Off Local Ingredients

By Mary Reilly | Photographs by Dominic Perri

What’s a celebration without a toast … or two? We contacted four of our favorite bartenders and asked them to come up with a festive cocktail featuring local ingredients and something fizzy (bubbles make every drink more fun, yes?).

Kristen at the Platinum Pony channels the spirit of a slightly-boozy Thanksgiving with sweet potatoes and bourbon. Jim from Hope & Olive pours us a drink for one or many. Lincoln at The Alvah Stone pours a cocktail that combines the creamy mouthfeel of eggnog with the high-stakes-cocktail-cred of  amari. And with its ginger and turmeric-laced infusion, Bart’s Medicinal Mule may be just what the doctor ordered!

The Alvah Stone Flip
The Alvah Stone Flip
Spiced Pear Punch made with Spiced Pear Purée
Spiced Pear Punch made with Spiced Pear Purée


Sweet Satisfaction made with Sweet Potato Simple Syrup
Sweet Satisfaction made with Sweet Potato Simple Syrup
Dr. Mario's Medicinal Mule made with Ginger Turmeric Vodka
Dr. Mario's Medicinal Mule made with Ginger Turmeric Vodka


Glam up your holiday table with vintage glassware and bar tools. But there’s no reason to break the bank: Thrift shops have an abundance of fun glassware and punchbowls that can be yours for pennies.

Provisions in Northampton carries the mole bitters called for in The Alvah Stone’s recipe.

The Boston Shaker (www.TheBostonShaker.com) carries specialty bitters, as well as all the tools you need to shake up your drink.

Many area liquor stores carry the unusual liqueurs called for in a few of these recipes. 


Tricks of the Trade ...

What’s the secret to a silky smooth cocktail? Great technique, of course. For an ultra smooth drink, bartenders will “double strain.” Simply put, strain the drink twice: once through the strainer on your shaker and second time through a fine-mesh strainer.

It’s a good technique to use when making a drink that contains a lot of pulp, and always when making a drink that contains eggs.



A Bountiful Bookshelf: New England Chefs Inspire Seasonal Cooking

By Louisa Kasdon

Other people get rowdy and riled at the start of football season. For me, it’s the harvest of new cookbooks that arrive in time for holiday giving and winter hunkering. This year, it’s a bumper crop.

book_1The New England Kitchen, Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes

By Jeremy Sewall and Erin Byers Murray (Rizzoli)

When you get a new cookbook and instantly start prepping the first three entrées you come across, you know you’ve got your nose in a new classic. I hadn’t even read the introduction before I started rummaging in my fridge, freezer, and pantry to see if I could make the Steamed Mussels with Pilsener, Garlic and Fresno Peppers. I moved on to the Mushroom Ragout and the English Pea Soup before I admitted that I was getting very excited about ingredients that wouldn’t truly be available until early spring. So I thumbed deeper into the book and made Sewall’s recipe for Seared Sea Scallops with Creamy Turnip Purée and Crisp Shiitake Mushrooms. That held me for a while.

Jeremy Sewall, a prodigiously talented and remarkably humble New England chef, teamed up with writer Erin Byers Murray, the author of Shucked. The two, who share a connection to Island Creek Oysters, seamlessly present a voice that is warm, confident, and so infused with New England roots that you can hear the broad vowels as you read. But there’s nothing provincial or backward-looking in The New England Kitchen. It is stocked with food you want to eat because you are in New England in this century. Razor clams. Pot roast. Fried clams. Lemon tart with lavender cream. Pan-roasted hake. Roasted duck confit. You sense our local bounty and want to make the most of it. Each recipe is illustrated with a gorgeous photo by Michael Harlan Turkell that makes you believe you can deliver on the promise of a perfect meal. Need a new cookbook to get you through the Ne
w England winter? This is the one.


Kale, Glorious Kale

By Catherine Walthers (Countryman Press)book_3

This is a book to make you joyful that there is so much kale in your world. It’s in your CSA, in your smoothies, and always in the news. For some of us, it’s the vegetable we wish would take a breather from its minute of fame. But this book made me excited about kale again.

Did you know that there are 50 different varieties of kale, according to Seed Savers? There is so m
uch demand for kale that there is now a worldwide shortage of seeds for some varieties. Three years ago, kale was the overwhelming vegetable in your CSA share, and now kale has gone Hollywood. And after leafing (hah!) through this book, you’ll know it’s only a matter of time before superstar kale gets its own star on the sidewalk.

Martha’s Vineyard–based Catherine Walthers has written a definitive and fun book about kale. You’ll learn how to discern the difference between the crinkly, the curly, and the downright “frilly,” and which kind ofkale works best for which recipe preparations. The first section of the book is a sort of kale user’s manual—tips for shopping, prep, and cooking, and kale fun facts. Like the origin of the “kale chip,” and how best to “massage” kale with olive oil to make uncooked kale edible. Early on in the book, I discovered I’d been stripping the kale leaves from the kale stalks all wrong. And there are the recipes. Lots of them. From kale margaritas to kale latkes, kale pizzas, main dishes, soups, and salads. Beautifully photographed by Alison Shaw, they make you want to snap up a few sheaves of late fall and winter kale and get to work.


Soup of the Daybook

By Ellen Brown (Running Press)

Winter is soup season. I know there are cold soups. I even make some of them with delight. But it’s the hot, bubbling, bursting with aroma soup that makes a straight shot to my comfort zone. Ellen Brown’s new book of 150 soup recipes is a page-turner-cum-travel-book for the soup lover. Based in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown souped it u
p across the country, perfecting for the home cook recipes from the nation’s top restaurants. There’s a curried cauliflower and fennel soup from Slurp in Santa Fe, a squash blossom soup from Haven in Houston, a corn zupetta with lobster and buffalo mozzarella from Osteria in Philadelphia, an Old Charleston she-crab soup from South City Kitchen in Atlanta and chicken soup with matzoh balls from Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. There’s even Senate Bean Soup that has been on menu in the United States Senate dining room for over a century. Brown’s own recipes for soups are great too, written with enough spunk to make you want to haul out your favorite pot and check what’s in your pantry. Truly this is a book that you will use. Full of recipes, some familiar, some bracingly new, encouraging in terms of time and prep, and levels above the tomato-stained old soup book on your shelf.


book_4The National Geographic Kids Cookbook; A Year Round Fun Food Adventure

By Barton Seaver (National Geographic Books)

The book was in a stack on the counter in my kitchen when Ben, my favorite 11-year-old, came by to pester me. Within minutes he was reading me the recipe for “Ghoulish Guacamole” (green goo for Halloween!) and wondering why I didn’t have a few ripe avocados around so he could begin. His eye moved across the page to the “Edible Weather Report” and he shared with me the fact (new to me) that Chile is the largest blueberry producer in South America. He flipped next to the Refrigerator Pickles and thought they might be a good project for the afternoon. Did I know that salt was once used as currency? (I did.) And then he read me the column on the opposite page, “The Truth About Food Waste.” Think about that, Ben said sagely.

Barton Seaver, a newly Maine-based chef, activist and National Geographic Explorer has written and edited a terrific and very green cookbook for school-age kids. It’s full of recipes they can make with minimal supervision and a zeal for a project. But it’s more than that. Green consciousness is front and center and presented in kid-sized bites. Fun “factlets” about food, farming, fishing, sustainability, and gardening bounce onto every page so the book is fun rather than righteous. It’s very much in the style of Nat Geo Kids. Perfect for the grade school crowd. Colorful, full of smart graphics, oddball but interesting facts, and projects that might not occur to the typical overwhelmed parent. Who wouldn’t want to make an edible birdbath? Or start a reality TV-show-like family chef competition to ward off summer boredom? “Huh,” says Ben again. “You can make your own hummus. Who knew that?”


The Tastes of Gloucester; A Fisherman’s Wife Cook

Written and Compiled by the Fishermen’s Wives of Gloucester (The Cape Ann League of Women Voters)

Here’s what I love about this delightful community cookbook: There is not one single ingredient that you won’t find at your local grocery store. Outside of Tabasco and mustard, the most exotic flavors come from fresh parsley and garlic. The fish recipes are like the casseroles of my youth—lots of Parmesan and breadcrumbs, eggs, noodles, and sour cream. All made with fish from the local fleet so there’s lots of sole, scrod and flounder, clams and lobsters, scallops, perch and halibut. I love the homey simplicity of these recipes. And the names: Friday Casserole, Mariner’s Stew, Shrimp and Scallop Skillet. This is the eighth edition of the cookbook; it was first published in 1976 and lists all the names of the Captains of the Gloucester Fleet, then and now. For this edition, the wives have contributed a few recipes for under-utilized fish. Note Grilled Marinated Herring Filets, Cape Shark Soup a la Lovasco, Squid over Pasta with Chunky Tomato Sauce, and Minted Grilled Mackerel. All sound interesting but my next meal from this book will be the Fish Sticks on a Raft or the super easy, super fast Cioppino.

 Woodman’s of Essex; Five Generations of Stories, 100 Years of Recipes

By Winslow Pettingell (www.woodmans.com)

As a kid growing up in Boston, a visit to Woodman’s was an annual family pilgrimage. Up to the North Shore to a rustic, noisy “clam shack” (well, it was a lot bigger than a shack but that’s what we called it), bursting with the briny aroma of lobsters and that special flavor sense—after salty, sweet, and umami—of fried.

Fried clams were my weakness, and I was not alone up there in Essex, scrounging the last golden nuggets from my tray. And voila! In this charming keepsake cookbook, full of Woodman family lore, here is the original recipe for Chubby and Bessie’s Fried Clams, a dish invented at Woodman’s, and the story of its happenstance evolution from a corn fritter. The ingredients: 26 ounces of belly clams, 12 ounces of evaporated milk, 4 cups of corn flour, and some lard or Crisco for frying. For the rest of the recipe, you’ll have to buy the book. The book is full of New England classics, from Lobster Newburg, baked beans, and Auntie Mad’s baked stuffed lobster (secret ingredient: Ritz Crackers), to coleslaw (secret ingredient: Red Hot Sauce) and Grape-Nut Custard, which was my grandfather’s absolute favorite dessert, right after Boston Cream Pie.


book_2The New Charcuterie Cookbook; Exceptional Cured Meats to Make And Serve at Home

By Jamie Bissonnette (Page Street Books)

A home-run for Jamie Bissonnette, superstar chef of Toro and Coppa.

This just might be the perfect DIY book for any serious, gutsy home cook. Although I am betting that a fair number of young professional chefs will buy it too to see if they can add charcuterie to their repertoire. Jamie Bissonnette has put together an invitingly, yes-kids-you-can-try-this-at-home book about making cured meats. Given that I thought you had to be Italian or possibly German to do this, and live in a house with a damp cellar of a cave, I am suddenly finding myself toying with the idea of making saucisson sec chez moi.

Bissonnette makes charcuterie sound ridiculously easy, and maybe it is. You don’t need any fancy equipment, he says, just a good scale, some measuring cups and a good pair of rubber gloves. He’s not suggesting that you make your own casings (he buys his from www.sausagemaker.com). So with a little adventurous shopping and an afternoon or two to spare, you could be making “house-made” charcuterie instead of watching the snow pile up.

He’s divided the projects into Cooked Charcuterie (lemongrass and green curry sausages, Lebanese lamb sausages, slab bacon, goat merguez with cheese, habanero and maple breakfast sausages, rabbit mortadella). Then, there’s a section on Offal-y Good Charcuterie (using all the weird stuff that we don’t buy plastic wrapped at the grocery store, like beef heart pastrami, headcheese, smoked tongue bocadillo, sweetbread, and tripe sausages). And on to Hide the Salami, a section on cured meats, including duck prosciutto, coppa, classic saucisson sec, miso cured pork tenderloin, foie gras torchon—and even an arctic char gravlax and tuna bottarga. Bissonnette cautions that preparing cured charcuterie is a little more complex than using cooking as a preservative. But he makes it all sound do-able. Chapter four is Confit and Fat. Wouldn’t anyone want to make a rockin’ version of foie gras at home? Or a stellar cockscomb? Chapter five, titled Hoof and Snout Mafia, is the whole animal story. The tripe, and pig’s foot, bone marrow and oxtail, BBQ kidney and pig ear terrine. As he says in his introduction, “we go through so many pork loins and chicken breasts, where’s the rest of the animal?” And here it is, for your dining pleasure.

This is the holiday gift for every foodie guy on your list. Though why do I say that? I’m already thinking about a weekend of making merguez and saucisson sec. Heck, I’ve got a big basement and an extra refrigerator.


Get Back, Stay Back; 2nd Generation Back-to-the-Landers

by Joseph F. Conway (www.getbackstayback.comProlific Group, Winnipeg, www.prolific.ca)

Moving to Maine as a young man, Joseph Conway became curious about how the New England back-to-earth movement that began in the 1970s found its epicenter in Maine. Beginning with Scott and Helen Nearing, deepened by Eliot Coleman, Maine has become a place where young, idealistic ex-city folk have come to live and make a living that is intimately threaded with the land.

But not all the young people farming in Maine  are newcomers to the soil. Conway decided to chronicle a special phenomenon: the second generation of back-to-the-landers, the children of the original flower children and Whole Earth Catalogue-carrying pioneers of the ‘70s and ‘80s. He has done a marvelous job of it. He profiles 12 young farmers and their families who were raised on the land, studied it hard, went to ag schools and universities, and decided to make a go of rural life rather than reject the choices of the counterculturists who raised them. The introduction to the book is an excellent personal narrative that captures in a very personal way how the back-to-the-land movement began, grew, and changed the entire demography of rural New England.

Louisa Kasdon is the author of more than 500 published articles about food, restaurants, health, and business and the winner of the M.F.K. Fisher award for Excellence in Culinary Writing. She was the food editor for the Boston Phoenix/Stuff Magazine and a regular contributor to ZesterDaily.com. Kasdon is the founder and CEO of Let’s Talk About Food, an events-based organization that brings community and the public together around issues in our food system. She can be reached at Louisa@letstalkaboutfood.com.

Food for the Soul: Maintain Winter Health with Local Ginger and Turmeric


By Samantha Marsh | Photographs by Dominic Perri and Samantha Marsh

The cold weather has arrived. Although it can be a bit hard to cope with at times, I try to remind myself that winter is a time for relaxation—a time to stop doing quite as much and savor the hours spent swaddled up in sweaters and blankets.

I also try to embrace the change in the foods that we eat during this colder season. Winter foods tend to be richer and heavier than the lighter, brighter foods that are so abundant in the summer.

While very nourishing, these heavy foods, perhaps coupled with a few too many festive cocktails and sweets during the holiday season, can make anyone feel bogged down. Cooking with ginger and turmeric, both of which are grown locally at Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA, is a wonderful way to lessen the impact of too many eggnogs or third helpings of Thanksgiving turkey.

We are lucky here in the Pioneer Valley to have access to fresh, local ginger and turmeric, crops that are typically grown in much warmer climates. Old Friends Farm pioneered ginger production in this part of the country about 10 years ago. Co-owner Casey Steinberg says the farm began growing ginger when they realized that one of their greenhouses got too hot during the peak of summer to grow much of anything. When thinking about what could grow in that type of climate, they asked themselves, “What do we love to eat? What is there good demand for?” And so, Old Friends Farm began growing ginger.

Old Friends Farm ginger is harvested when it is still young (the growing season lasts from about early September through mid-November) so it is less fibrous and tough than much of the ginger sold in supermarkets. The farm has grown quite a reputation around their ginger production, and Casey and co-owner Missy Bahret are continually seen as the authorities on the subject.

“We’ve made a very conscious decision not to grow everything and sort of specialize in a handful of things. It feels good to be able to choose to do a few crops well instead of spread ourselves really thin,” Casey explains.

“There’s something that’s kind of magical about [growing ginger],” Casey says. “It’s not something that we’re used to seeing every day.”

Casey describes that he loves watching people that are in their 80s or 90s see his young ginger for the first time at the farmers’ markets. “It’s not often that someone who has seen so much in this world sees something they’ve never seen before.”

The farm started growing turmeric about five years ago, and it is a popular item at the farmers’ markets during its growing season (September through November). Both ginger and turmeric freeze very well and can be enjoyed throughout the year. Casey’s favorite way to use ginger is to make homemade ginger beer, and he enjoys eating turmeric as an ingredient in curries or grated raw in salads.

Brittany Nickerson, herbalist and owner of Thyme Herbal in Amherst, uses ginger and turmeric in many of her winter health recipes and remedies. Brittany describes ginger as a “warming digestive aid that can increase metabolism and the absorption of nutrients.” She explains that ginger stimulates digestion, allowing us to consume heavy foods with more ease. Ginger can also help with digestive upsets such as stomach aches and nausea.

“I like to start the day with ginger tea or chai,” Brittany explains. Consuming ginger first thing in the morning is a great way to boost metabolism and rev up the digestive system. Brittany explains that turmeric is a great food to include in winter diets because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. She describes the bright orange root as being excellent for the liver as it eases some of the “damage caused by stress and exposure to toxins,” and explains that it helps break down fats and oils.

I am grateful to have ginger and turmeric, both wonderful winter health aids, grown just down the road. I buy in bulk and store it in the freezer to enjoy all winter long!

Old Friends Farm ginger and turmeric can be found at the Amherst Farmers’ Market, River Valley Market, Greenfield Market, the Brattleboro Co-op, and Whole Foods Market during the growing season (September–November).

Old Friends Farm
413-253-9182 ◆ OldFriendsFarm.com

Samantha is a writer and food lover based in the Pioneer Valley. She holds a BA in journalism and anthropology from UMass Amherst and works as a literary associate at The Lisa Ekus Group in Hatfield, where she spends her days obsessing over cookbooks and working with authors to bring their book ideas to life. When she is not writing about food, Samantha can be found teaching dance, practicing yoga, or testing out new baking recipes at her home in North Amherst.

Recipe for Homemade Turmeric Fire Cider 

Recipe for Ginger Chai

Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hungry Ghost



By Nikki Gardner

Best known for their signature sourdough breads and sweet and savory pastries, Hungry Ghost Bread also dishes out Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizzas. Five nights a week, pizza maker Chris Figge feeds another log into the wood-fired Llopis brick oven.

On busy nights, Figge turns out 75 to 80 pizzas from their take-out menu. Made with organic unbleached flour (Champlain Valley Milling in Westport, NY) and seasonally sourced ingredients, each pie begins as a humble sourdough ball.

Dough prep starts the previous day: It’s mixed and then proofed overnight in a refrigerator; 12 hours later, Figge weighs and shapes dough rounds that rest for an hour or so before he forms them into 12- or 16-inch pies to order.

The sought-after Margherita pizza goes into the oven with a layer of seasoned tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont. Ten minutes later, it comes out bubbling and charred. A sprinkling of fresh chopped basil and a drizzle of olive oil completes the pie. The hardest part is choosing which one of their 15 (meat, vegetarian, and vegan) pizzas to try.

Recipe: Hungry Ghost Bread’s Margherita Pizza Recipe

Hungry Ghost Bread bakes pizzas to order Wednesday through Sunday starting at 5pm.
62 State St., Northampton
413-582-9009 ◆ HungryGhostBread.com

Nikki Gardner is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Artful Blogging, The Huffington Post, Smithsonian’s Food & Think, and The Daily Meal. She shares seasonal recipes on WWLP’s Mass Appeal and in her cooking classes at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton. Find her online at Art & Lemons (ArtAndLemons.com).



Pop Culture

By Sanford D’Amato

As a baby boomer I was a witness to the first generation of convenience foods. Not just a witness, actually—I had a front row seat from the age of five, from behind the counter of my dad’s grocery store.

It started in the freezer, with Swanson’s turkey TV dinners. Once the floodgates were opened, they would never close.

Up to this time all our meals were “Leave It To Beaver”-like, with my mother making everything from scratch. But when convenience foods slowly crept onto our dinner table, there was no shame—just the opposite, as each new product was unveiled with the excitement of a Broadway opening!

Somewhere between the time I was waiting for the Sara Lee Cheesecake to defrost and the Pepperidge Farm Raspberry Turnovers to rise in the oven, the coolest thing happened: It was 1964, the year that the Beatles invaded the United States, the first Mustang was released, and the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. And in the food world, the first Pop-Tart was unleashed on the public.

I couldn’t wait as my dad brought in the case from the wholesaler. We extracted a box and pulled out the 1960s-appropriate foil packaging—almost Tang-like—which held two flat toaster-ready strawberry-jam-filled rectangles. Within seconds the toaster in the store’s back room set off its Pavlovian “cha-chink” and we were both juggling and blowing on the hot pastries at the same time.

This was a magical moment—until the first bite: kind of dry with really mediocre gluey, friend-of-strawberry filling! That may sound harsh but I’ll admit it: I’m a candy/dessert snob. My credentials? 1955–1968: Official Candy Taster, D’Amato’s Grocery. I tasted every one of the 80+ types of candy that would cross our counter to be purchased by the salivating crowds. My self-appointed duties also included tasting every new sweet or savory product that was introduced over the years.

Even though the taste of the Pop-Tart made it a “NOT-Tart” for me, I still thought the idea was absolutely brilliant. So on the 50th anniversary of the Pop-Tart, I’m making a tart influenced by both the original and my dad.

At this time of year at the winter markets, it’s a toss-up which is the quintessential late-season fruit. Apple is the undisputed leader, being synonymous with cider. But even though I will consume almost my body weight in fresh-picked apples through the season, I still crave the perfectly ripe pear.

My first, and still favorite, pear is the Bartlett. When its skin turns that beautiful warm yellow, that is the day I take a bite and know there is no better fruit. With the rugged Bosc pear it is trickier to capture that perfect moment, as they are a drier sort. But when you do, they are full of deep, assertive, complex flavors.

My dad was a pear whisperer. He would pick one out of the large case when he was stocking the store shelves and set it aside. Some 14 to 53 hours later, he would pick it up, cut it in half, remove the core, and slice it into wedges. He would then muscle out the half wheel of Pecorino Romano from the unrefrigerated case in the back and cut a mess of finger-sized pieces of the pungent, slightly salty cheese. As fragrant as the cheese was, the ripe pear gave it right back, a yin-yang combo that influenced how I ate from that point on.

This recipe is based on the flavor profile I learned at an early age. It affected how I make desserts as I always try to balance on the savory side of the sweet. I feel the combination of the fragrant rosemary in the dough and the slightly spicy candied ginger in the filling balance off the sharp Tomme from Robinson Farm over in Hardwick and sautéed pears.

Don’t be afraid to pop them in the toaster to reheat, as almost every pastry is better when warm. After 50 years, it’s still a brilliant idea!


Changing Times, Changing Toasts: A Valley Beer, Mead, and Cider Tasting

By Christopher Peter Ehnstrom | Photographs by Dominic Perri and Carole Topalian


The Pioneer Valley is home to a wealth of locally produced, lovingly fermented beverages. It wasn’t always so. When I first came to the Valley, the microbrew movement was just getting under way. Very few craft brews existed and those of us with an adventurous palate turned to homebrew. A toast with local beer, cider, or mead featured beverages we brewed ourselves, with results that ranged from comic to tragic.

Times change. Now when I raise a glass with friends it’s more likely to be filled with an offering from one of the Valley’s professional fermenteers.

My cohort back then consisted of a ragtag band of twenty-somethings—our relationships ranging from housemates to coworkers to partners-in-crime. We liked to grow, gather, hunt, cook, can, and ferment many of the things we consumed. These days, my rounds of good cheer happen with a collection of fairly new fathers. One evening—after tucking in the toddlers—we gathered to sample some of the Valley’s fermented offerings.

We tasted a few hard ciders to start. I remember the days when hard cider was, to me, something spontaneously created in the walk-in refrigerator at one restaurant or another. Whenever autumn was winding down, there were inevitably a few plastic jugs of apple cider forgotten in some corner. On a slow evening, someone would discover them, inflated and ready to explode. By the end of the shift most of the staff would be in a festive mood—fueled by clandestine trips to the cooler to sneak a belt or two of the sharp, boozy beverage.

These days, the Valley’s cider makers offer more intentional fermentations.


West County Cider (Colrain)

McIntosh Pura Vida

This single-varietal cider is a wonderfully drinkable bottle. The color is a pale straw and the aroma straight McIntosh. A light body, good carbonation, and a clean finish make it quite refreshing. Its flavor is crisp and bright, capturing the quality of the apple perfectly.

Headwater Cider (Hawley)

New England Dry Cider

This somewhat heartier offering has a floral, fruity nose that hints at its nicely complex taste. A light body spreads slowly across the palate and a long finish delivers ever changing tones of sweet, sour, and tangy apple.

Bear Swamp Orchard (Ashfield)

Sparkling Hard Cider

This certified organic cider sparkled nicely out of the bottle, though it had gone a bit flat by the end of the glass. Its wild yeast fermentation gives it a musky nose and an earthy flavor overall. Dry and lightly acidic, with a sour note, this cider delivers an untamed, meaty essence.

Back in the day, a few of the guys kept bees. Trying our hand at making mead seemed like a good idea. It was a fun project for a midsummer day. Honey, water, yeast—what could be simpler? It turned out that mead was, in fact, a bit more complicated. One evening as we were sitting around the living room, we became aware of an intermittent rumble. There were bursts of quiet drumming coming from somewhere in the house. About every half hour, at first, but then their frequency increased until a muted drumroll was heard every few minutes. We finally tracked down the source—it was coming from behind the door where the mead was aging. Unchecked bacteria had run amok, and one by one the bottles were ejecting their corks to ricochet about the closet. Filtering your backyard honey is important, we learned.

Our recent tasting included a pair of local meads. By virtue of still being contained in the bottle, they started out with a distinct advantage over any I’d tried before.


Green River Ambrosia (Greenfield)

Liquid Sunshine Mead

True to its name, Liquid Sunshine pours with a deep, clear, golden color. Similarly, its flavor is pure and simple. It is not overly sweet, yet has a full body that accentuates the taste of honey. This straightforward honey essence makes it a great candidate for midwinter mulling with one’s favorite spices.

Green River Ambrosia (Greenfield)

Bourbon Barrel Cyzer

In contrast to the simplicity of Liquid Sunshine, Bourbon Barrel Cyzer is remarkably complex for a mead. Combined with local cider and aged in bourbon barrels, this pale amber mead’s depth is evident immediately in the nose. The fruit flavor is quite forward, with floral, honeyed notes and a heady edge of bourbon.

Beer is the one beverage with which I can claim a modicum of success—though the homebrewing victories are still outweighed by the defeats. One early effort to make a porter ran into a snag when (due to ongoing prank warfare) it was discovered that someone’s hat had been boiled, unseen, in the tar-black wort. After some grumbling and temple rubbing, it was decided to go ahead and finish the batch. Months later, with great trepidation, we ventured to taste the finished product. Surprisingly, beer made with hat tasted remarkably like feet.

Nowadays, I’m happy to leave the brewing to others, and there are plenty of Valley professionals brewing on our behalf.

Element Brewing Company (Millers Falls)

Interval Ale: Altoberfest

This seasonal selection opens up with a thick, persistent head above a clear amber-brown ale. Toasted malt is prominent in the nose. The grain flavors are balanced by a hint of bitterness without being too hoppy. Element delivers as billed: the mellow profile of an Altbier with the fuller body of an Oktoberfest.

Lefty’s Brewing Company (Greenfield)


Lefty’s Oktoberfest can only be described as a true representative of the style. The ale’s ruby brown hue tints its thick head, and its many malts are evident in its aroma. The flavors of smoky malt and caramel are very forward without being too sweet. A bit lighter on the palate than many Oktoberfests, this a very drinkable ale if the plan is to share a few rounds. 


Paper City Brewing Company (Holyoke)

Fogbuster Coffee House Ale

A robust beer for a cold winter’s evening (or morning), Paper City’s Fogbuster Ale is a standout for those who love the darker side of the brewing world. Inky black to the point of opacity, it pours with a full, heavy head that clings doggedly to the sides of the glass. Rich coffee smells precede each opulent swig. Dark roasts of malt and coffee hang around on the tongue with notes of chocolate for a good, long while at the finish of this one.

The People People’s Pint (Greenfield)

Shortnose Stout

Brownish-black and turbid beneath a short, brown cap, a glass of Shortnose Stout looks dressed for the winter. There is sweet licorice in the nose, which closed off a bit as the head receded to the rim of the glass. Hints of raisin, fig, and prune blend with the sweet malt. The body is on the thin side for a stout, but it finishes with a pleasant nuttiness.

Brewmaster Jack (Northampton)

Hop Essence Series: Hallertau Blanc

A single-hop brew is always fun for the hop lovers, and the latest in Brewmaster Jack’s series doesn’t disappoint. The name “blanc” belies the deep amber hue of the beer, which pours with a fine, lively head. One can spend a while with their nose stuck in the glass. There’s a lot going on in that one hop. Fresh, grassy resin, citrus tones, a tiny floral note, a bit of pepper—the longer one smells the more one finds. A subtle malt complements the single hop nicely, and the long finish leaves a pleasant bitterness.

Howler Brewery (Hatfield)

Billy’s Pale Ale

From one hop to two, Billy’s promises Cascade and Nugget hops in this pale ale. It pours a slightly cloudy, copper color with a good head. The Nuggets dominate the nose, giving a perfumy, lavender bouquet. Light on the tongue, the sweet, bready flavor of the malts and a slight yeastiness outweigh the hops more than one would expect in a pale ale.

Scantic River Brewery (Hampden)

Totally Massachusetts Ale

Scantic takes “local” up a level by sourcing this ale’s ingredients exclusively from Massachusetts. Misty and golden in the glass, with an aroma that suggests a Wiesen’s yeast along with lemon notes. The biscuity Vienna malt is evident, along with very earthy overtones.

Berkshire Brewing Company (S. Deerfield)

Czech Style Pilsner

For those who prefer lighter beers, BBC has perfected a Pilsner. It is crystal clear amber in the glass, with a dense, fluffy head and refreshing carbonation. The clean, zesty bitterness of Saaz hops is unmistakable in the nose. With a crisp, simple balance of light malt and grassy hops and a dry, refreshing finish, many consider this more a beer for summer. But if your holiday revelers include “macrobrew” drinkers, this is a great one to ease them over toward beer with flavor.

Times change. Back then, after a tasting like this, the gang would fall asleep on chairs, sofas, perhaps the floor. Some would rise bleary eyed, a few hours later, and drag themselves off to kitchens and bakeries to suffer through a shift. Others would wake and forego coffee for another pint—fortification against the coming winter’s chill.

Back to the present. By the time we reach the final bottle, the group has slowly dwindled away—“early lecture”, “baby has a cold”, “promised the wife 11 o’clock” ... There’s no razzing, no teasing; we share similar situations. Times have changed. Still, those changes have brought many new reasons to raise a glass, and many local offerings to fill it with.

We did, however, throw a homebrew into the evening’s mix… hope springs eternal.

Christopher Peter Ehnstrom is a Cape Cod native who was transplanted to the Valley in 1992. He is a former chef and bread baker, a current daddy and tech geek, and an eternal lover of all things fermented.