Ari's Top 5

“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

– W.B. Yeats

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ZingTrain Bottom Line Training Toolkit cover

Maggie Bayless’s Bottom Line Training Trainer’s Toolkit

An easy-to-use, organization-altering set of ZingTrain tools you don’t want your business (or non-profit) to be without!

Award-winning Turkish author Elif Shafak, who I originally met one day at the Deli many years ago, wrote that, “Books change us. Books save us. I know this because it happened to me.” This newly released eToolkit from ZingTrain can do exactly what Ms. Shafak says for your organization. It’s true—if you use the techniques Maggie has made available, they will change your business for the better. If you’re having trouble with training or turnover, or just want to take things to the next level, the tips in here can save you from hours, months, years of struggle. I know this to be true, because as Ms. Shafak says, “it happened to me”—the training techniques that Maggie shares with you in this toolkit have played an enormous, behind-the-scenes role in making Zingerman’s what it is today. Without them, we would be a very different place!

Can effective training make that much of a difference? Bo Burlingham, nationally known author of Small Giants, Finish Big and The Great Game of Business, told me nearly 20 years ago that most of our organization would probably never fully appreciate the value that ZingTrain has contributed to what we do here at Zingerman’s. ZingTrain’s impact on the way we work, he said, was so big and so deeply embedded in how we approached our work every single day, that most of us would take it for granted much of the time. But he added, “You’re very fortunate to have ZingTrain—it’s really had a big, big impact on Zingerman’s.”

What Bo said back then made sense at the time; it makes even more sense to me today. This new Bottom Line Training Trainer’s Toolkit may seem small when you judge it by page count, but as Bo pointed out, the impact that the ideas in it can have on your organization is huge. If you weigh value by the number of impactful ideas per page, this is one seriously high-value volume!

Maggie recently shared, “What makes me most excited about the Bottom-Line Training Trainer’s Toolkit is that we finally have all the resources to help managers develop training gathered together in one place. I believe this will be incredibly useful for Zingerman’s managers and partners, as well as for all of the other organizations out there who know that developing or improving their staff training is important, but just aren’t really sure where or how to start.”

In the spirit of what Bo said on the subject of ZingTrain, I try to honor and appreciate the training work that Maggie has shared with us every single day. Its impact is so deeply integrated into our daily life at Zingerman’s that really, no sandwich, bread, shot of espresso, nor box packing would have taken place the way it does, without these training tools. I’m honestly in awe of how much her contribution and the impact of these training approaches, has on every single interaction here. In fact, I’m about to go online right now and order copies for the Roadhouse management team! The Trainer’s Toolkit is such a terrifically concise, well-compiled, easy to coordinate resource that I can’t wait to share.

In the spirit of sampling that’s been so central to the Zingerman’s Experience since we opened in 1982, you can download the first chapter and start testing the tools in the kit for free at!

Improve your business with a different kind of BLT!
A slice of mandelbread

Marvelous Mandelbread

Delicious traditional Jewish almond biscuits from the Bakehouse

Speaking of Maggie, many years ago, she and I were teaching ZingTrain’s Open Book Management seminar at the Hanover Co-op in New Hampshire, when she told me that she thought our mandelbread were the single best pastry we make at the Bakehouse. This reminded me to go taste and appreciate it all over again. She was right—the mandelbread really are marvelous. This time of year, during the Jewish holidays, I think of mandelbread often—while they have no particular religious significance, they do have an emotional connection for me to the cooking of my grandmother and my Jewish childhood.

Mandelbread are very much out of the baking of my Eastern European grandparents’ generation. “Mandel” means almonds in Yiddish, and these little “biscotti” are loaded—not just laced—with toasted almonds. Mandelbread were probably to that Jewish generation what chocolate chip cookies are to American kids—so common as to be almost unremarkable, yet so much a part of the culture and  everyday cooking as to be extremely comforting, grounding. (I often think about some of the anarchists of European Jewish origin—Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Gustav Landauer—sipping tea and nibbling on a bit of mandelbread. For more on the anarchists and their impact on my work, see Secret #43.5 from Part 4 of the Guide to Good Leading series.)

Like everything else from the Bakehouse, the ingredient list for these is pretty impressive—sweet butter, fresh eggs, lots of fresh orange and lemon zest, and real vanilla. You can smell the citrus as soon as you break one open. No shortcuts taken here. These are mandelbread made the old-fashioned way: long “loaves” are baked once, then sliced and re-baked. This technique, combined with the great ingredients, makes them more flavorful as any mandelbread I’ve ever had. They are great with tea, coffee, or a glass of the classic Tuscan dessert wine Vin Santo.

Rediscover Mandelbread!
Pecorino Cheese Aged in Walnut Leaves

Pecorino Cheese Aged in Walnut Leaves

A near-perfect pairing of aged Italian sheep’s milk cheese with ripe pears

My favorite thing about the farmers’ market in the fall is the arrival of ripe, local pears. In part, I look forward to it because I love pears. But in truth, I’m equally excited because this is the time of year that I get to eat this superb sheep’s milk cheese in the way I love best: paired with pears! This cheese is delicious in its own right, but eating it with pears takes it to a whole new level of wonderful.

Despite its prestige, there are only a handful of cheesemakers left producing this traditional cheese in the region. The real thing is made into small, one-pound wheels that are set into earthenware orci (four-foot-high “crocks” usually used to store olive oil), surrounded by layers of walnut leaves, then left to age that way for nearly a year. This is a typical maturing method. As the cheeses age, they develop a wonderfully smooth, succulent, notably sheepy flavor and a texture that toes the line between firm and crumbly, subtle and strong. It’s also great with a good honey or grated over pasta or vegetable soup.

Pecorino in walnut leaves is excellent cut into thin slices then set atop a green salad dressed with Tuscan olive oil and good wine vinegar. The people in the area are adamant that their cheese is at its ultimate served with slices of ripe pear, a sublime combination. Take a bed of mixed salad greens, grate on plenty of pecorino, and add on some slices of ripe pear, a few toasted walnuts, and maybe a handful of high-quality black olives, or a chopped red roasted pepper. Dress with peppery Tuscan olive oil and a little wine vinegar. Add some freshly ground black pepper. You can also just cut small slices of each and layer them for a snack or serve for an hors-d’oeuvre. The sweetness of the pear plays off the earthy, big rustic, meaty flavor of the cheese. Production is limited, flavor is big, and the time is now!

Find it at the Deli!
A bowl of tomato soup

Pappa al Pomodoro

Tuscan tomato and bread soup

Calvin Trillin once wrote “…pappa al pomodoro, (is) the bread-and-tomato soup that is somehow missing from most of the supposedly Tuscan restaurants in America.” I agree! It’s also missing from most home kitchens, which is too bad, because it’s one of the most delicious and easiest things you can make.

In my continuing effort to eat as many ripe heirloom tomatoes as I can before the season winds up, pappa al pomodoro, a traditional Tuscan tomato soup, is a great way to do it. Like most of the foods I love, it relies on great ingredients, like great tomatoes, excellent Tuscan olive oil, fresh garlic, and good bread. It comes out of the kitchens of poverty—the Tuscan countryside was typically very poor up until modern times—and used leftover bread, tomatoes that might be ready to turn, or even scraps that were left over from other dishes, and the olive oil which has long been produced in such prodigious quantities in the countryside.

Like all good country recipes, there are hundreds of variations, but if you’ve never made it, here’s the simple overview:

  1. Chop a couple cloves of fresh garlic and sauté in a lot of olive oil slowly ‘til soft (you can also add some chopped onion).
  2. Lightly seed four or five good-sized tomatoes and then cut into chunks.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the oil and garlic for 10 or 15 minutes, enough to cook the tomatoes but not so much that you turn them into a dense paste.
  4. Then, cut about the same amount of leftover bread as you did tomatoes (Rustic Italian, Paesano or Farm bread would all work well). Add it to the pot along with a bit of broth or water. Simmer for another fifteen minutes.
  5. The soup should be pretty thick, the texture of a hearty bean soup. Add a good dose of chopped fresh basil, some sea salt, and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let stand for about 10 or 15 minutes so that the bread absorbs the liquid.

When you’re ready to serve, give the soup a quick, but gentle, stir so that the bread maintains its shape and texture—there should be chunks of bread in the soup, not breadcrumbs. The texture of the soup should sort of resemble a very loose bread pudding. Ladle it into warm bowls then pour on a very generous ribbon of really good Tuscan olive—the Poggio Lamentano or Valgiano oils would be perfect—or any full-flavored, green and fruity oil. If you want, you can make a “cross” on the soup with the oil on each bowl before serving as they do in Tuscany. To my taste, the more oil, the better. Serve with sea salt and pepper, a nice green salad, and a glass of red wine. Terrific meal for an early autumn evening.  

P.S.: My good friend Elizabeth Minchilli has a more formal recipe on her highly-recommended website! 

Oil you ready?
A close up of celery salad

Salad of Celery, Endive and Parmigiano Reggiano®

Easy to make, easy to eat, and really excellent!

While tomatoes, rightly, get the glamour at the market, one of the other things that shows up this time of year gets me almost as excited. I might be one of the few folks who appreciate it as much as I do, but, if you’ve never tried organic, local celery, I urge you to give it a try. Expect a night and day difference from the commercial stuff. At first, you might be put off by its appearance—compared to the “fat” straight stalks of commercial celery, this stuff looks sort of spindly and inconsistent—but once you taste it, you’ll have a hard time going back to the mass-market version. Farm-grown celery is a serious revelation. When I tasted it for the first time years ago, I was shocked—it was significantly more flavorful, intense, and exceptional than any celery I’d ever eaten.  

This flavorful celery can be used in really simple dishes, like Zingerman’s pimento cheese served with celery sticks or celery with great peanut butter. Cream of celery soup (with cream from Calder or Guernsey) would be fantastic, too. Oven-roasted celery is excellent, and its also great braised and served on the side with most any meat or roasted chicken. Or try the Lex’s Chicken recipe in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating—celery is already one of the key ingredients, and if you use the good stuff from the farmers’ market you’re going to get an even more flavorful dish to enjoy.  

This salad, though, is one of my all-time favorites. Simply slice the celery fairly thin, and do the same with a Belgian endive. Toss the slices with a sprinkling of good sea salt (fleur de sel is good here because of its delicate texture). Toss on a bunch of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and if you like, add chopped, toasted walnuts, as well (that’s what I do). Toss the whole thing with a touch of white wine vinegar and then plenty fruity olive oil (try the Tondo oil I wrote about recently). The zip of the celery and the delicate bitterness of the endive are an excellent contrast to the richness of the Parmigiano Reggiano. The olive oil pulls the whole thing together very nicely. Get a glass of good white wine, a big chunk of Farm or Paesano bread from the Bakehouse and enjoy!

With the wonderful Parmigiano Reggiano offerings we’ve got on hand right now, this salad is a staple in my house. We did a great dinner at the Roadhouse last week with guest star chef, writer and public-radio personality Evan Kleiman, featuring heirloom tomatoes and Parmigiano Reggiano. All four of the cheeses got great response from Evan and all who attended. Any of the four would be great in this salad. but right now I’d go with either the youngest of the four—the 16-month old cheese from the Borgotaro dairy in the mountains, or the 26-month old beauty from the Roncadella dairy. I confess I nibble a lot on the cheese while composing the salad.

P.S.: A bit of little known historical info—in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, Kalamazoo was actually known as the celery capital of the country. Vendors used to board trains when they stopped there and hawk celery to travelers who regularly brought it back home as a culinary souvenir, much as we might now bring back olive oil or cheese from France. In fact, celery was mail ordered from the area as early as the late 19th century!

Visit the West Side Farmer's Market Thursday!
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