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Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. —Mary Oliver

 
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Dealing With Despair in Day-to-Day Leadership Life

Befriending the occasional dark reality that can open creative doors

Intellectually, I knew it was likely to happen. And still, I was emotionally caught off guard. My morning had gone great—teaching about ecosystems at ZingTrain’s ZingPosium. Then, later that afternoon I looked at the news. My stomach sank. My spirits went into the tank. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you know the feeling. It’s called despair. Unlike joy or sadness, it’s not a feeling I experience regularly, but in my efforts over the years to embrace and honor the full, meaningful, range of my emotions, I’ve come to accept that despair does show up in my life here and there. Two weeks ago, it hit me hard.

What triggered my emotional downturn were the four days of significant Supreme Court decisions that were released at the end of last month. As someone wrote in the wake of the news, the announcements were not really surprising, but were still shocking. I’m not suggesting that those days need to have been dark for everyone. Politics and policy demand personal points of view, and of course, some folks reading right now will have felt very differently about the Court’s decisions than I did. Diversity dictates there will be different views. I decided to share this story not to convince anyone to change their views about guns, women’s rights, reproductive freedoms, or government, but to focus on the feelings—everyone in leadership will almost certainly have experienced despairing days of their own, and we will again in the future. Despair comes quietly in our heads, hearts, and bodies, but if we don’t handle it well, it can have negative impacts on our entire organization.

One person who has spent a lifetime studying the subject of despair is existential psychiatrist and author Irwin Yalom. Yalom was born to Jewish immigrants who came from what’s now Belarus (as did my grandfather). The Yaloms arrived in Washington, D.C. during WWI, where they went on to open a grocery, above which Irwin Yalom grew up. Yalom, who turned 91 ten days before the Supreme Court’s series of decisions, has written seventeen books, many of which have helped me and millions of others to manage ourselves in more caring ways. In his 1992 book of historical fiction, When Nietzsche Wept, Yalom writes about an imagined connection between 19th century Austrian psychologist Joseph Breuer and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It includes this snippet of conversation, which, in a sense, sums up much of the struggle most all of us might have with despair:

Breuer: “... I ask you to heal me of despair.”

Nietzsche: “Despair? ... What kind of despair? I see no despair.”

Breuer: “Not on the surface. There I seem to be living a satisfying life. But, underneath the surface, despair reigns ...”

Nietzsche: 
No, no, Doctor Breuer, this is impossible. I cannot do this, I've no training. Consider the risks—everything might be made worse.

Breuer: "... Who is trained? ... Aren’t your books entire treatises on despair?”

Nietzsche: “I can’t cure despair, Doctor Breuer. I study it. Despair is the price one pays for self-awareness. Look deeply into life and you will always find despair.”

What Yalom writes resonates with me. There is no way, I’ve come to see, to live a considered, mindful life and not experience despair many times. Denial won’t do the trick; pretending—to ourselves or others—that we don’t feel it just makes things worse. As Brené Brown reminds us, “Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts and behaviors work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other.” There is likely no one we look up to or admire who has not dealt with despair regularly throughout their life. Despair can be caused by any number of things: deep loss, seemingly impossible financial circumstances, paths forward blocked by systemic bias, the unexpected departure of a partner or key coworker, a series of critical customer comments … Sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above. When it hits—which, even with all the advantages I have going for me, it does—despair is hard to handle.

Although it’s difficult for me to remember when I’m in the middle of it, despair, dealt with caringly, can lead to positive and creative outcomes. Psychologist Mary Pipher says:
What despair often does is crack open your heart. When your heart cracks open, it begins to feel joy again. You wake up. You start feeling pain first. You feel the pain first, but then you feel the joy. You start to experience being alive again.
My hope in writing this piece is that naming despair, owning my own, and being real about a topic that’s only rarely talked about in leadership circles, might help others to deal more effectively with their own days of despair. If we don’t know how to deal with it, we go into denial, act out in anger, launch into destructive rage, or withdraw suddenly from the world. Denial about despair can, it seems, lead to long-term depression.

Although I know the word, and I’ve grown familiar with the feeling over the years, I’m not sure I could describe despair with any degree of meaningful clarity. David Whyte writes:
Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.
For me, despair comes when hope is blocked; if “hope” in the organizational ecosystem is the sun, maybe despair is like an eclipse—the sun is completely blocked out. Unlike in nature, that eclipse can last a lot longer than just a few minutes. Despair, as I’ve experienced it, is a loss of belief in the future. It’s the sense that all the existential exits have been blocked, making a path to a more positive future impossible. At best, despair is difficult. At an extreme, the depths of despair is a place in which we wish that our lives would end. It would be disingenuous to say I’ve never had that feeling. Søren Kierkegaard says that in dark times, “Despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die.”

In damaged, unhealthy, organizational ecosystems, Charles Blow reminds us, indignity and inequity can reach unmanageable levels of despair. Writing a week after the killing of George Floyd, Blow says:
Despair has an incredible power to initiate destruction. It is exceedingly dangerous to assume that oppression and pain can be inflicted without consequence, to believe that the victim will silently absorb the injury and the wound will fade. No, the injuries compound, particularly when there is no effort to alter the system doing the wounding, no avenue by which the aggrieved can seek justice. This all breeds despair, simmering below the surface, a building up in need of release, to be let out, to lash out, to explode.
What Blow describes isn’t just what makes the national news—you can see these small explosions in badly run businesses where pressure, sadness, abuse, and frustration build up over the years. Eventually, things blow up. By contrast, if we deal with despair well when it happens by owning it and moving through it with some modicum of authentic effectiveness, we can probably keep those explosions from happening.

We need to honor despair to create the kind of healthy lives we want to lead—individually and collectively. Here are some ways that have helped me, and I hope, will help you and yours as well:

Feel it – This may sound obvious, but it’s not the norm. So many of us have learned to respond to despair with distraction, drama, blaming, aggressive anger, drinking, or drugs. Raging at others, of course, simply makes things worse. As Ukrainian writer, lawyer, and women’s rights activist Larysa Denysenko reminds us, “It is always easier to bully and tyrannize someone who is smaller in order to feel that you are bigger.” Others (like me) might try denial or shutting down, but that doesn’t work well either. Nor does shaming ourselves for what we are going through. Uncomfortable as it is, learning to feel the feeling is, I’ve learned, the right thing to do. As Sam Keen says, “Despair is a primal emotion that is rooted in the honest awareness of our true helplessness to change the cosmic drama.”

Embrace that despair will eventually end – Despair is in great part what it is because, when we’re in it, it feels as if there’s no way forward. But if we work with it, despair does eventually depart. In the spirit of this, Anzia Yezierska arrived in New York as a young girl with her parents in 1893. They came from a region of Poland that was then part of the Russian Empire, leaving behind a time and place in which Jews dealt with a great deal of discrimination and despair. Yezierska became a chronicler of the Jewish American immigrant experience—sharing the story of people, very much like her parents, who came here with hope but found out quickly that America was not the panacea they had imagined. Yezierska became quite successful—Hollywood sought her out to make films of her books, but she was so uncomfortable with its inauthentic culture that she moved back to New York. Her 1925 book The Bread Givers is a great book, but working on it, it turns out, was not easy: “It took all morning to write one page—sometimes only a paragraph or a sentence. Many times the morning passed with nothing but despair for my labors.” Still, Yezierska saw, as so many of us have, that her period of despair would pass, and better things would follow. It was “in my darkest moments of despair,” she wrote, that “hope clamored loudest.”

Actively work at increasing hope – Despair comes when hope goes dark. Which means that one antidote is to gently work at growing hope. There’s a lot in Secret #45 about how to use the “Six-Pointed Hope Star” to make this happen—for others around us, and, importantly, even for ourselves.

Get curious – Writer Joe Cardillo says, “Curiosity is an antidote to despair. … curiosity disrupts despair, insisting that tomorrow will not be a repeat of today. Curiosity whispers to you, ‘You’re just getting started.’” One way to get curious is to explore the feeling. Studying the facts of the situation can help as well. Reading about Ukraine in the last four months has been one of the most interesting, inspiring, and insight-providing parts of my life. My studies have given me great understanding and a much deeper appreciation of the diversity, complexity, and creativity of Ukrainian culture. In the last week I’ve learned more about the history of the Supreme Court than I had learned in my whole life. From that learning, I’ve already had half a dozen realizations that can help us to be more caring and constructively run our organization (one good reminder—use Bottom Line Change when you want to make a big organizational change).

Work with dignity – If dignity is the way we show up in our ecosystems, then the frequency of despair will be diminished. Certainly, the destruction that Charles Blow described will be far less likely to happen. And when despair does happen, we can work together in dignified ways to deal with it. For more on dignity check out this post, or look at the current print issue of Zingerman’s News.

The first element of the revolution of dignity work is to “Honor the essential humanity of every person we interact with.” In the context of despair, it’s particularly important to help those around us to be seen and heard for who they are. Michigan State professor of English Kathleen Fitzpatrick writes in Generous Thinking; A Radical Approach to Saving the University about her struggles earlier in the 21st century to respond to the state of society and in her work in education. She was hit hard emotionally, much as I was a few weeks ago. Kathleen, who I met in one of the ZingTrain Master Classes, shares, “It’s hard to imagine paths forward at a moment of such profound despair.” Supporting her students, showing them positive paths forward, in turn helped her to gain purpose, reminding herself in the process, “... certainty that even in the midst of despair there was work to be done, and that it was my job to do some small part of it.”

Getting stuck down in despair will do nothing good; feeling it, honoring it, and working through it can quietly help change the world. This is the work, in a way, of the “Three and Out Exercise”—by authentically appreciating three individuals, one at a time. I started the practice to improve my energy, but it’s well suited to dealing with despair as well. In that same vein, listening to Briony Greenhill’s beautiful music while working on this piece reminds me that when I’m down in despair, pushing myself to honor others helps them, and also me at the same time. In Greenhill’s lovely song, “I see you, I love you,” she sings:
Is there a dream in your heart that wants to live but it doesn’t live yet?
What seed do you have in there that wants to grow, but it hasn’t been sown yet?
What would it be like to take that seed in the palm of your hand and say
“I see you, I love you, I believe in you, and I’m gonna give you some time”?
Watch for joy – While it’s true that joy can appear on its own, I’ve learned the hard way that no matter how deeply I feel despair, the reality is that there are joyous things happening all around me—the “butterflies” of joy are there, we just have to be mindful enough to notice them. I see coworkers do amazing things every hour. As you can probably tell, it’s a rare week that I don’t stumble on some new music or read a few pages of a great book. And, I am fortunate to work with fantastic food and drink every day. And later in the same week in which I felt like I was hitting bottom, Lisa Schultz from the Roadhouse taught the “No Drama” session for ZingTrain that I wrote about last month. Both the content and her presentation were terrific!

Get going – Most often, we take action in our lives because we’re motivated to move forward. There are times though—like when we’re experiencing despair in which the inverse is true: getting moving can help us get motivated. Even small steps in a good direction can help me make my way through despair. This isn’t about running away, it’s about moving one mental foot in front of the other to do something. Joan Baez is the daughter of an immigrant—her father, Albert Baez, was born in Mexico, came to New York, and went on to be a physicist who invented the x-ray microscope. Joan, who gained global acclaim for her music and her activism, once famously said: “Action is the antidote to despair.” (Baez, I’ve been told, once played a house concert in the living room where Tammie and I spend a lot of our time, perhaps in the fall of 1961 when Baez was in town doing a show at what was then called Ann Arbor High School.) Small positive actions (like the “Three and Out” exercise, taking on some small thing on an action list, reaching out to a long-lost friend, studying the history of Joan Baez’s appearances in Ann Arbor, etc.) can help move me—and maybe you—into a better mental space.

Make art – In “The Roots and Impact of African American Blues Music,” published through Whitworth University, Emily Weiler writes, “The earliest forms of blues reflected feelings of despair, sorrow and many other moods of the singers.” Listen to Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” to get a taste of what that despairing resolve sounds like in action. For me, art helps me deal with despair through writing; the appropriately titled “Working Through Hard Times” pamphlet is all about it. Throughout human history people have painted, written poetry, played music, etc. as a way to work through pain and despair. Rather than doom-scrolling or other routes of avoidance, it’s productive to engage with our emotions in creative ways.

Be actively grateful – Paying attention to the positives even when—or maybe, especially when—the problems feel overwhelming makes a difference. As Sam Keen writes,
Make a ritual of pausing frequently to appreciate and be thankful. ... Notice that the more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are the victim of resentment, depression and despair. Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego—your need to possess and control—transform you into a generous being. The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual alchemy, makes us magnanimous—large souled. … For no particular reason you can detect, depression lifts, despair is replaced with an undefinable sense of hope, and enthusiasm returns.
It’s always a good time for gratitude. I’m grateful to you for reading, I feel fortunate to be around so many great people and so much amazing artisan food and drink every day, and I’m appreciative of being part of an organization in which writing about despair is considered a healthy act of leadership. I’m grateful for my girlfriend, her big heart, and good work to farm and to rescue dogs, and all our own loving pups. Though I’ve never met her, I am very grateful for Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson. Her nearly nightly enews, “Letters from an American,” gives me insight, understanding, and great historical perspective on an array of issues, including the situation with the Supreme Court. Once a week or thereabouts Richardson takes a “night off”—even then she sends a short note to say so. Far more often than not, her writing brings me hope. This one from last week felt right for what I was writing here:
It’s been a long, hard week. Going to call an early night.

Before I do, though. ... Thank you all for being here. I have heard people this week despair of this country, but I look around at you all and I have faith.

And so ... I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

P.S. Want to explore more about caring self-management?
Maggie Bayless from ZingTrain and I will be leading a 5-session online Master Class next month.
 
More About The Master Class

100% Dark Chocolate from the Philippines

Shawn Askinosie’s awesome work continues with this cacao-only bar

Speaking of finding positive things in darkness, let me introduce you to this very special new chocolate bar from my longtime friend Shawn Askinosie. Going back to what I wrote last week, everything about Askinosie’s marketing work, long managed by Shawn’s daughter (and co-author of Meaningful Work) Lawren, speaks to dignity. Remembering—and tasting—their good work helps me to reground in times when despair is dominating my days. And, of course, I don’t need to wait to feel down to eat it. The chocolate (which I eat regularly) is terrific and the way the organization works is wonderfully inspiring!

Unlike everything else we get from Shawn, this one has zero sugar. It’s chocolate, but it is not sweet! It’s completely cacao-solids along with a bit of very high quality cocoa butter made with the same beans that go into the bar. The bar is, quite simply, a very different experience of chocolate. If you’ve never had chocolate sans sugar, it does require reorienting your brain a bit. Allison Schraf, longtime manager of the Candy Store where this new bar is out for sale, suggests: “Approach it like one does a great cup of black coffee or shot of espresso, or even a very dry red wine. Thinking of it as food rather than candy was helpful to me in learning to embrace it.” Once you do, it gives a whole new eating experience!

Of this new offering, Shawn says:

We released this bar on January 11, 2022, but it was a very long time in the making. We first attempted making a 100% bar about 5 years ago. What took so long? The fermented and dried beans have to be perfect to start with. There is no room for error as they have nowhere to hide behind other ingredients, sugar or other additions. This bar has one ingredient—cacao beans. And technically maybe two because we make cocoa butter with those same beans. The cocoa butter gives the chocolate a smooth taste profile. To make the bar this good we needed to make sure we roasted those beans just right, with the understanding that the acidity we tasted in the roasted bean will in fact be the acidity that we taste when this becomes chocolate.
The bar is made with cacao beans that come from Davao in the Philippines. It’s one of a trio of terrific cacao origins with which Shawn works (Tanzania and Ecuador are the other two). About 7000 miles east of Los Angeles, and 1000 miles due south of Shanghai, the Philippines are an archipelago made up of over 7500 islands! Spaniards arrived during the rule of Philip II in the middle of the 16th century (hence the name of the country), and cacao came from the Spanish colonies in the Americas about a century later. It has been grown in the Philippines ever since, but only lately has it taken on a significant role in the economy and in the chocolate world. Askinosie was the first chocolate maker to bring high quality cacao out of the Davao region to make a single-origin bar for nearly half a century. Shawn has been working with farmer Peter Cruz in the Philippines since 2008. For years, they’ve been making a 77% dark bar and a 65% dark milk bar with fleur de sel. The Askinosie folks share:
Davao farmers harvest a subvariety of the Trinitario bean, which is considered a fine bean used in high-quality dark chocolate. Less than 10% of the world’s cocoa bean supply is from Trinitario beans. The small cooperative of farmers with whom we work, led by Cruz, produce top-notch beans that, when roasted, elicit the warm, earthy flavors of brown sugar and vanilla with a clean, caramel finish.
The dark bar is delicious. It’s got an intense (not sweet) fudginess and a good bit of lovely tannins. Shawn says it has a compelling “raw cocoa sharpness.” The Davao beans, he says, “have always had a fudge note, and so it dominates in this bar.” Allison recommends pairing it with cheese “like aged gouda and Parmigiano Reggiano, or all the way in the other direction with a sweet, milky triple cream or cream cheese.”

If you want your chocolate without the sugar—and you want to get a taste of what dignity can do to make a quality difference—pick up a bar or two at the Candy Store soon. As Shawn says, “It's not for the faint of heart, but for those who love chocolate and not sugar or sugar substitutes this is a great choice. A little bit goes a long way with this chocolate.”
 
Get Your Hands On 100%
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westside farmers' market coffee bag, sign, Zingerman's coffeecup
Photo courtesy of @coffeeannarbor

Westside Farmers’ Market Blend Coffee

A special summertime blend from the Coffee Company

A new offering from the Coffee Company done in honor of the start of the summer season for our little Westside Farmers’ Market. We’ve been hosting the market in the Roadhouse’s parking lot for over 15 years now. You can get the coffee at the Coffee Company, and the Roadshow is brewing it up every Thursday, the same day we host the market. You can also buy the beans at the Roadhouse, Bakehouse, and Coffee Company every day for the next few months (the blend isn’t on the Mail Order site, but we’re happy to ship it—email us at service@zingermans.com).

The initial vision for the Westside Farmers’ Market is in Secret #6 in Part 1 of the Guide to Good Leading. I have read it aloud from the stage to visioning classes so many times now I’ve long since lost track. (Of late, though, I’ve switched to reading the vision for “The Story of Visioning,” which is in the first few pages of the pamphlet.) If you want the Westside Market vision and you don’t have the book, drop me an email and I’ll send it to you. It’s an excellent example of bringing together facts, feelings, inspiration, and innovation in a couple of compelling paragraphs. Better still, swing by the Market, and maybe even read it while you’re there. At the least, you’ll leave with some good stuff—last week I bought some blueberries, a bunch of small new season potatoes, and squash, as well as some artisan soap for our house!

Of the new WFM Blend, Matthew Bodary from the Coffee Company says,

The blend is equal parts Brazil, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. These beans all have traditional, approachable flavors that "play nice" with each other. The profile we were going for is all about balance and easy sippin' for any time of day. You might taste cocoas, caramels, or subtle dried fruit flavors. More than any single note or nuance, what is most memorable for me is how it's velvety smooth, not bitter or sharp at all.
Light, delicate, lovely, the Westside Farmers’ Market blend is great for warm weather drinking. If you go to the Coffee Company, you can try it in a whole range of brew methods—I love it in a pourover. However you drink it, consider gifting yourself a few extra minutes to sit outside, take in the aromas, sip the coffee, rest, and reflect. Maybe nibble one of those terrific Townie Brownies made with the bean-to-bar 65% Nicaragua chocolate from French Broad in Asheville. You could do a bit of reading, journaling, or just sit at the tables outside by the Coffee Company and give yourself a brief respite from the pressures of the world.

Even if you’re not a coffee drinker, come by and visit the farmers and artisans at the market. It’s small. It’s intimate. It’s relaxing. You can come without fighting traffic. We donate the parking lot space at the Roadhouse, and there’s often a bit of free music! Your dogs are welcome, the coffee is good, and the weather this week looks to be wonderful. Hope to see you there!
 
Visit The Roadshow & Bag The Blend
P.S. The Cold Brew I wrote up a few weeks ago is on special as part of the Summer Sale.
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Raye’s Yellow Mustard from Maine

The primary color of mustard makes its mark in Ann Arbor

Given all of the really great goings on in the food world these days, something as seemingly simple as yellow mustard would be easy to miss. However, given that here at Zingerman’s we work hard not to miss too much that has to do with food, and given that we serve as many corned beef and pastrami sandwiches as we do, not to mention all those ground-fresh-daily, hand-pattied burgers we grill up at the Roadhouse, we don’t take yellow mustard for granted. Which is why we’re so devoted to what we get from Raye’s.

Located in the tiny town of Eastport, Maine—almost as far north up the coast as one could go without actually crossing the border into Canada—Raye’s is the only traditional stone mustard mill left in the U.S. The mill was built back at the turn of the previous century by Karen Raye’s husband’s great-great uncle, J.W. “If he were here today,” Karen told me, “J.W. would see the mill pretty much as it was working when he built it. We’re still using the original stones,” she said, referring to the eight, 2000-pound, quartz wheels that were quarried, carved, and carted over from France in 1900. The milling and mixing started up back then in great part to provide mustard for Maine’s booming sardine industry (check out the handmade chapbook I did about them, Sardines!), right at about the same in the first few years after the turn of the 20th century that the Disderide’s built the Deli’s building. The sardine trade in Maine is no more, but the mustard milling is happily still going strong.

The Rayes' work, and their mustard, is all about dignity, and the results are delicious. They treat the mustard seed, the milling, their community and their customers with grace. As they share:

While most modern mustards are either cooked or ground by high-speed technology, only Raye’s maintains the traditional cold grind process using the original stones from France and made in the same mill since 1900. No one else can make that claim. The cold grind process preserves the volatile taste qualities of the whole seeds.
The mustard-making process at Raye’s starts with whole mustard seed. By contrast, most other commercial products these days start with already-processed mustard powder. The Raye’s work is all based on cold-stone milling of that mustard seed. As the seed passes through each of the four sets of stones, the resulting paste gets ever creamier, which explains why the finished product you and I get out of the Raye’s jar is so smooth. To protect the cold-milled seed, the Rayes use cold water from their 400-foot well—same idea as mixing the bread dough out at the Bakehouse. Cooler water takes longer, but protects the flavor of the seed. (Most commercial producers today use heat in the production process to speed production and increase yields.) The mustard is then allowed to age for a few weeks before it gets packed up. It’s won multiple awards at the Napa Valley World-Wide Mustard Competition as the “World’s Best Classic Yellow Mustard.”

The Raye’s mustard really is darned creamy, with a mellow but mouth-filling flavor. Try Raye's yellow mustard on a sandwich at the Deli, on a burger at the Roadhouse, or add it to a grilled cheese. It’s also in the South Carolina Mustard BBQ sauce at the Roadhouse. Put it in potato salads, egg salads, sandwiches, or sauces. It’s great with hard cheese, salami, or fresh salmon. And, in the spirit of its historical origins, put some great sardines on a plate, and spoon on a bit of the Raye’s. With a few crackers or a slice of toasted Rye bread from the Bakehouse, you’ll have a world class lunch that comes together in under two minutes! 
 
Mail some mustard to Muskegon
Grab a jar at the Deli
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A.A.A.—Terrific Toast with Almond Butter, Apricot Jam, and Almonds

A great little dish you can make at home in minutes!

One of the unexpected outcomes of my study of Ukrainian history and culture over the last couple months has been a much deeper appreciation of apricots. I had no idea that apricots were such an essential element of Ukrainian culture and cooking. Writer and poet Volodomyr Rafeenko, who was born in Donbas, the region which Russian artillery has devastated in recent months, relates a bit of context:

If you have never visited Donbas in Spring, you probably have no idea what an apricot ocean looks like. One of the first memories of my childhood is an apricot tree, the queen of fruit trees of Eastern Ukraine, with its wild fragrance where you cannot tell what taste prevails: bitter or intoxicating sweet. Sadness was part of the very essence of this fragrance, gentle and bitter. Apricot trees were in abundance: both growing wildly and domestically. When the blooming time would come, paths of my childhood … were covered with a carpet of pink-white petals that were slowly circulating in the air during quiet days of falling on the ground under currents of the first warm Spring thunderstorms.
Putting the importance of apricots in Eastern Ukraine together with what I wrote last week about American Spoon foods fabulous work got me thinking about creative culinary combinations. In this case, it was to turn the everyday peanut butter and jelly into a set of lovely flavors that would appropriately honor the culture and history of the region.

To make the dish, toast a Bakehouse Zinglish Muffin, some Rustic Italian bread, or Paesano. When it’s golden brown, take it out and drizzle with really nice extra virgin olive oil. Then spread on a good bit of that Georgia Grinders amazing almond butter. Follow that with a generous spoonful of the copper-kettle cooked American Spoon Apricot Jam made with apricots from the Leelanau Peninsula (along with a touch of orange juice, orange flower water, and honey). We also have great apricot jam from Agrimontana in the Piemonte region of Italy or from Il Molino near Viterbo in central Italy. All are excellent! Last, but not least, put some toasted almonds atop the toast—they add crunch as swell as flavor. If you like black pepper like I do, add a sprinkle of that too!

This small bit of beauty can brighten one’s day in surprisingly wonderful ways. Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk, who fled the region with her family back when Russia invaded in 2014 (in what became the Revolution of Dignity), wrote in one of her poems in her book Apricots of Donbas,
Where no more apricots grow, Russia starts.

With that in mind, I’m inspired to eat and pay far more attention to apricots than I ever have in the past. When I eat this toast, it helps move through whatever emotional difficulties—even on dark days of despair—that I’m struggling with. It’s terrific and delicious!

Other Things on My Mind


Reading/learning
Ukraine in Histories and Stories: Essays by Ukrainian Intellectuals with a foreword by Peter Pomerantsev is an amazing book! I have learned so much about Ukraine—I have a much deeper appreciation of the history and culture and language of the country that goes far beyond the current war; to understand its long-standing diversity, its richness, its complexity. The parallels with the US are remarkable! If you want to understand more about what’s happening in Ukraine—and at the same time be prompted to reflect on struggles around race, language, politics and culture here in the U.S., read this book!

Listening
I first started listening to Nina Nastasia’s dark, sad, beautiful music for over two decades now. Her last album was released in 2010 but she has a new release, Riderless Horse, coming out next week. Her story and her music are both touching and compelling.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this enews and you know someone else who might like it, please pass it along. Have questions about Zingerman’s? Write us at info@zingermans.com.
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