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Ari's Top 5

Sometimes I'll get in the Cadillac and drive around the city or the country, kind of trying to get lost basically. Y'know, just see where roads lead.

—Frank Black

Do you know Miss Kim does catering? That’s right. You can turn your next gathering into something super special by serving the really good, repeatedly recognized on the national food scene, regional Korean cooking from Miss Kim! Reach out to misskim@zingermans.com.
On Wednesday, December 14, at 6 pm EST, we’ll be doing an online version of Ari’s Best of 2022 Tasting so you can log in from all over the world! Come learn, laugh, and taste together!
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An Ode to Taking the “Scenic Roads” at Work

How getting off the superhighway of life can make us better leaders

Writing for Architectural Digest, Nick Mafi, Jessica Cherner, and Katherine McLaughlin offer, “Between beautiful streets, stunning road trips, and mesmerizing train rides, there’s something to be said for taking the scenic route.”

Their creative writing got me thinking. While I know there’s a lot to be seen and learned by taking backroads, I hardly ever do it. Like most folks I know, I nearly always opt for the quickest route to where I’m going. That could be while driving, but it applies just as well to what we do at work—the way we skip the scenic route, moving from one activity straight to another, or go from one spot in our building to the next. It struck me that the insight from these three writers could well inspire an important frame for good leadership. We can all easily rush from email to email, meeting to meeting, phone call to phone call, from headquarters to home, then back again the next day. And yet, there are—Mafi, Cherner, and McLaughlin’s message reminded me—the organizational equivalents of roads less traveled that, when taken, can have a far more positive impact than one might at first imagine. Taking the scenic route when we’re driving often takes a little longer, but, if we’re paying attention, will likely leave our lives richer. When we practice this in our organizations, the equivalent of “beautiful streets and stunning road trips” might well await.

There is much to be gained from going this way. When we slow down enough to do it, I’ve started to see, the odds increase that levels of hope, creativity, empathy, meaning, appreciation, and more are all likely to be enhanced. Taking the scenic route when we move through our organizational ecosystems might look like this:

  • Talking to people we rarely speak with

  • Learning from a different set of sources

  • Taking on new tasks, awkward though it might well feel, for the first time

  • Making time to really see things we might otherwise have missed

  • Seeking perspectives that we would usually have passed on

  • Recognizing the wonderful work of the many people whose presence is easily missed in the hustle and bustle, but, in truth, do a lot to keep our business going every day

I’m sharing this insight both to help anyone who is interested, and at the same time to encourage myself to add another meaning to the oft-used ZCoB reference to going the extra mile. It’s a call to take a deep breath when we feel crunched for time and consider going a few minutes “out of the way” to see some of the oft-missed “sights,” to take in the beauty that could be quietly waiting around the next corner. Our “efficiency” helps us go fast, but it often comes at the expense of cultural richness, community health, and organizational excellence. Writing this piece is, in part, a reminder to myself to regularly—both in driving and in working—take a slightly more circuitous route on the way to my destination. As Tsoknyi Rinpoche, one of the great Tibetan masters of our time, says, “The Western world has a speediness problem.” I am certainly no exception. 

When I think about consistently taking time to traverse back roads, I quickly recall Charles Kuralt. Kuralt passed away nearly 25 years ago, but for much of the second half of the 20th century, On the Road with Charles Kuralt, was a mainstay of American media. Both Kuralt and the show won a wealth of awards over the years. Reporter Dan Rather declared, “What Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were to baseball, Charles Kuralt was to journalism.” 

Kuralt was born on September 10, 1934, in the coastal town of Wilmington, North Carolina, to a schoolteacher and a social worker. He majored in history at North Carolina (where he later gave a couple of compelling commencement addresses) and went on to have a long and prestigious career in journalism. Kuralt worked for CBS for nearly 40 years, doing stints on radio, television, and a series of special projects. On the Road got its start in October 1967 as a segment on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite. It ran, almost continuously, through 1988, and is what Kuralt is probably best known for, along with his long-running television series Sunday Morning. The latter started in 1979 and wrapped up in 1994, three years before Kuralt passed away at the age of 63. 

Over the years, Kuralt and his small crew drove their 28-foot-long RV over a million miles as they traversed the U.S.—pretty much all of it on scenic routes and back roads. (You can visit the RV today about 30 miles east of Ann Arbor at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.) Kuralt summed up one of the main points of this piece many years ago when he said, “Interstate highways allow you to drive coast to coast, without seeing anything.” Instead, Kuralt explained, “I did stories about unexpected encounters, back roads, small towns and ordinary folk, sometimes doing something a little extraordinary.” Steve Hartman, who has followed in Kuralt’s path, says, “The On the Road motorhome wasn’t the fastest way to find a big news story, but Charles Kuralt wasn’t really looking for fast.” To the contrary, Kuralt was all about taking his time, looking more closely to uncover interesting, inspiring, and intriguing, usually completely-off-the-beaten-path, stories. He reported about people who, he could see, deeply mattered in the country and their communities, but who had been led by mainstream society to believe they probably didn't. 

On the Road gave Kuralt a very different perspective than the point of view mainstream television reported on so regularly: “The country that I have found does not bear much resemblance to the one we read about on the front pages of newspapers or hear about on the evening news.” What Kuralt said about the country is, I believe, true as well for traveling the backroads of our businesses. What gets the headlines has value too, but there’s a lot more to Zingerman’s than sales and growth statistics or timelines and org charts or whatever Paul and I did to start the business all the way back in 1982. To the contrary, there are a host of organizational stories that are nearly always ignored by the media. The trick is to turn ourselves into the equivalent of Charles Kuralt in our companies. We don’t need the RV, but we do need to get off the equivalent of our organizational interstates.

What do we get out of traveling the scenic route? If we do our traveling mindfully and with dignity, there are a wealth of wonderful things that can happen:

Awareness of beauty, gratitude, and appreciation are increased. In the organizational ecosystem model, gratitude is the metaphorical equivalent of beauty. What first struck me about Mafi, Cherner, and McLaughlin’s suggestion that we take the scenic routes was the reminder to go out of my way to look for the beauty that’s often just a small bit off the beaten path of the workplace. Every organization has people and products that are all too easy to take for granted; in the food world, it might be dishwashers, bakers, or delivery drivers. It could be the people who process payroll or the folks who help keep the computers running properly. It might be regular customers, neighbors, or even people we’d never previously met. When we make time to pay closer attention, we will almost always marvel at what we see. Channel Charles Kuralt and take a few minutes to really hear what they have to say. I'll bet you’ll be inspired. As Kuralt said, “There’s still plenty of awe in the country.”

We actualize empathy. It’s one thing to imagine what the other person is going through. When we’re willing to get out of our daily routines, and really experience what others we work with are going through, our understanding of their challenges will, almost inevitably, increase. The world looks different—I know from experience—from the other side of the dish line.

We learn a lot. There’s so much subtle information we are likely to miss, so much insight we fail to glean when we speed from spot to spot. Taking the “scenic road” can teach us to more effectively notice many of things we would otherwise easily miss. William Least Heat-Moon writes, “Early on I learned to travel, later I traveled to learn.”

It encourages diversity. When we start to move on roads less traveled, we will likely experience new things, paving the way for new ideas to emerge and new perspectives to be put into place. We’re more likely to connect with people who are more typically left out, hear alternative angles on the issues of the day, gain insights from unexpected places, etc. Natural Law #17 reminds us that “Diverse ecosystems are healthier and more sustainable”—doing this work will help us lead our organizations to more positive places by bringing new, often ignored perspectives into play. As Kuralt said, “If you go get off the major highways and go slowly … you really do meet people and see the diversity.”

(If you’re willing to get off the highway of American history, there’s a whole lot to learn—information that is ignored or at times purposefully excised from mainstream history lessons. The scenic route in this sense isn’t always pretty, but it can be powerfully informative. The town in which Charles Kuralt was born—Wilmington, North Carolina—is most commonly known today as the place where Michael Jordan grew up. But 36 years before Kuralt was born, in 1898, the town experienced a very real, violent insurrection with eerie parallels to some of what has played out in politics in the last few years. At that time, Wilmington was the largest city in the state, and it had a majority Black population. In an effort to eliminate voting rights for Black citizens (rights that had then existed for less than 40 years), a mob of 2000 white supremacists gathered and violently overthrew the legitimately elected biracial government in a coup d’état. Black-owned businesses were destroyed, hundreds were killed and many more fled the town for good. In the years following, the North Carolina legislature passed a series of laws that restricted voting rights—nearly the same sort of struggle that is being repeated today. The same side roads will also lead you to the work of Alexander Manly, the inspiring and brave young Black editor and owner of the Wilmington Journal who was run out of town by the mob. The “highways” of high school history rarely report on stories of this sort, but these pieces of history offer insight into our modern-day challenges and opportunities. The same, I’m sure, will be true in the workplace if generally at a much smaller and less controversial scale. There’s a lot happening in the world that can’t be seen from the highway.)

It’s a return to a more natural existence. Consciously choosing to travel the scenic route encourages our natural curiosity, and it restores some of the connections that have been cut by the industrial model. In fact, I realize, I sometimes do this simply by walking around the outside of a building I’m already in just to get some fresh air and reconnect with nature. Writer Neil Gaiman reminds us, “Children … use back ways and hidden paths, while adults take roads and official paths.” In permaculture, the idea of traveling the scenic route is framed as working on the edges of the ecosystem. Permaculturist Bill Mollison explains:
Edges are places of varied ecology. Productivity increases at the boundary between two ecologies because the resources from both systems can be used. In addition, the edge often has species unique to itself.

A landscape with a complex edge is interesting and beautiful … increased edge makes for a more productive landscape.

Mollison’s observations are, metaphorically, just as true for organizations (and communities) as well. Separation can be stifling; the edge, by contrast, is enlivening. Charles Kuralt made his career by working on the edges of American society and what he found was eye-opening and wonderfully inspiring. It reminds me to try to seek out the same.

We get inspired. Insights from unexpected places can power me through many a hard day. Charles Kuralt once said, “There are sights in this country and people in this country to banish any gloom you ever may feel and to fill you instead with wonder.” To wit, the other evening, during a quiet couple minutes on shift, I asked a few folks, impromptu, what they thought about Appreciations. The quality of their completely off-the-cuff responses totally correlated with what I wrote last week about the importance of internalizing a Culture of Appreciation

Aidan: “Giving appreciation is very important to not only a good work experience but also gives you a great head space. It makes you feel better and other people feel better. It’s really not that hard at all, especially if they really deserve it.”

Holley: “Appreciation takes two seconds, and it doesn’t cost a dime out of your pocket.”

Purpose and meaning are promoted. CBS reporter Charles Osgood said of Kuralt, his close friend of many years, that he “always found the meaning in everything he reported on, and he helped us find the meaning too.” Mindfully taking the scenic route pushes us to make meaning out of pretty much everything as well, to practice what I learned from my artist-friend Patrick-Earl Barnes, whose insight encouraged me to take every action with purpose

Humility is enhanced. When completing everything as quickly as possible ceases to be our top priority, we’re far more likely to live in a state of grounded humbleness. Humility often means going out of one’s way, being willing to take time to honor humanity, both our own and that of those around us. You can see this in action, I believe, with one small part of the tragic situation with Ukraine. President Zelensky seems to commune with soldiers somewhat regularly; Vladimir Putin sits at the opposite of twenty-foot-long tables while he talks to other high-level officials. Traveling the scenic routes remind us, appropriately and accurately, just how much we depend on others for our work to work! No dishwasher, and the restaurant can’t work; no audience, and the art becomes essentially invisible; no farmer, and we have no food.

Hope goes up. By paying attention to people who would otherwise be unlikely to have garnered attention, we nearly always increase their hope. Kuralt’s longtime cameraman, Izzy Bleckman, once said “They didn’t know there was anything special about themselves until Charles held up a mirror to them.” We can do the same. Everyone needs hope—see Secret #44 and #45 for a whole lot more on hope. We all want to grow and get better and contribute back to whatever we’re meaningfully a part of. And almost everyone imagines a more positive future. As Kuralt said, “Do we not all have dreams of glory?”

Creativity goes up. Creativity is all about connection. And connections can happen with far greater frequency on the scenic route than when we’re speeding down the superhighway of organizational life. As you likely know, traveling intellectual back roads has brought me into contact with the power of Irish fairies, the 21st-century business application of anarchism, a way to work the revolution of dignity into what we do every day, etc. And that’s only a small bit of what can come from mindfully traveling the “road”—in person and/or intellectually—less traveled. 

Carl Sagan once said, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” The point of traveling, when it’s on the scenic path, becomes as much about discovery en route as it is about arriving at the destination. If you drive from Ann Arbor to Chicago what you experience will be wholly different by driving a route different from the one most of us have become accustomed to on I-94. Instead of getting on the interstate as I’ve done thousands of times, I might leave half an hour earlier and go west on the scenic route to visit the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, or drive through Dexter to appreciate the amazingness of Cornman Farms. I could divert further down the road to see some cool small towns like St. Joseph and Union Pier on Lake Michigan. Who knows what wonderful things I might discover. If we go with a curious mind, dignity in our intent, and an open heart, all sorts of things may make themselves clear. As G.K. Chesterton writes, “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” The same thing, I’ve started to see, can be said for the workplace. There are places off the beaten business track from which we can benefit in all the ways listed above. We just have to take a slightly more circuitous route to find them. 

Just to try all this out, taking a two-minute break from my writing this morning, I decided to walk well out of my way from one spot in the building to another. Lo and behold, I ran into a customer for whom I have a great deal of affection and respect, someone who’s been working to (successfully) overcome some health issues, and who I haven’t seen for probably two years! He’s a wonderful leader, and he was treating one of his mentees to lunch. Our chance meeting might not have happened had I walked the more direct path to my destination. But our reconnection most definitely made my day and I believe it enhanced his as well. It very much evidenced what Charles Kuralt once suggested:

You can't travel the back roads very long without discovering a multitude of gentle people doing good for others with no expectation of gain or recognition. The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines. Some people out there spend their whole lives selflessly.

Right around the time this piece goes out on email, I’ll be finishing a talk on dignity for ZingTrain’s Intentional Leadership session. In the spirit of On the Road, taking the scenic roads with dignity will drive us to do all six of its elements. Just to name a few, it gives us a chance to more effectively honor the humanity of people we might only rarely have spoken to, to communicate more authentically, to open a casual conversational door to let people have a meaningful say. Yes, it may take a few minutes longer, but in the long run, the “back roads” like this can benefit the organization in ways that will nearly always offset the near-term “expense” and then some. We may move slower in the moment, but in the long run, our businesses and many people’s lives will probably be better for it. 

I can see now that there are any number of approaches through which we have systematically encouraged ourselves to take the organizational equivalent of scenic routes. Open meetings, open book management, Bottom Line Change, Managing by Pouring Water, and more, all help. To a mainstream expert, they would all probably seem slow and inefficient, but I believe they’re hugely effective; each creates dozens of small opportunities to create our own versions of Charles Kuralt’s On the Road. As Kuralt once said, his work was “to meet people, listen to yarns, and feel the seasons change.”  

Making this switch from highway to scenic route consistently may not happen quickly. But if we can alter our routines and make it our day-to-day norm, we stand to gain a lot in the process. Getting in the habit of going a different way could make a big difference. To get started, maybe try the equivalent of two a day—two intentional times you take the back road rather than getting straight down to business. Take notes. Let me know what you learn. At the end of the year, I forecast you will find yourself with a wealth of new understandings, good stories, and instructive insights. Charles Kuralt turned this approach into a livelihood that he kept up with a show a week for 25 years! If we can create “scenic routines” for ourselves, really good things are likely to emerge. One of today’s most influential and thought-provoking observers of happiness and human nature, Gretchen Rubin writes,

When we change our habits, we change our lives. We can use decision making to choose the habits we want to form, we can use willpower to get the habit started; then—and this is the best part—we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits. That’s the promise of habit.

My life has been changed dramatically—for the better—by taking what would seem to most as circuitous routes. I met Paul on my first day working as a dishwasher. I met Frank Carollo, our partner of many decades at the Bakehouse, that same morning. I met Tammie unexpectedly at a cheese class in San Francisco. I met Patrick-Earl Barnes walking down the street in SoHo. So many of the products we sell were discovered by stumbling on some out of the way source for wonderful food. If you take time to reflect on what you’ve learned when you’ve “gone the long way around,” you might find this to have been true for you too. Breathe deeply, take in the landscape, travel with dignity, and see where the scenic route leads you. Remember, every time you do, that you really can make a difference. Small shifts can have a big impact. As Charles Kuralt once said, “It still amazes me that even in this big, complex society, one man or one woman can make all the difference.”

Manchán Magan, who, it’s safe to say, has taken an amazingly scenic and insightful route through Irish history and culture, and whose explication of the adventures of ancient Irish fairies informed my work last week on the Culture of Appreciation, closes out the preface of Listen to the Land Speak with an appropriate message for this subject. In Irish, it’s Go n-eiri an bothar leat; in English, “May you have success on your journey.”

Maps for the intellectual side roads

The books and pamphlets in the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading series are filled with explorations of scenic intellectual side roads that have led me—and maybe you—to some life-altering insights. Nearly every part of our process and philosophy is somewhere on the edge of, or well outside, the mainstream. If you know someone who might appreciate that sort of intellectual excursion, the books and pamphlets—all designed here and printed locally–make great gifts. I’d be happy to sign any or all of them. They make great “souvenirs” of your intellectual travels through the Zingerman’s ecosystem. If you want to really blow someone’s mind, we have these complete sets as well.

Want to learn more about the way we work? ZingTrain’s annual Seminar Sale is underway. All in-person seminars are 20% off through January 6. And people get a free seat in an online workshop with each seminar seat purchase.

A close-up view of an aged ham

A Limited-Edition Kentucky Country Ham from Nancy Newsom

Heritage pork and four years of maturing
make for a magical ham

Like this limited-edition ham, Nancy Newsom is one of a kind—someone Charles Kuralt would almost certainly have loved to talk to. For starters, she’s the only professional woman country ham curer in the country! Nancy has an amazing personality, she’s wise, witty, and deeply committed to the craft she learned from her dad, Colonel Bill Newsom, many years ago. Newsom’s is located in the small, 6500-person, western Kentucky town of Princeton. Nearly all the way to the Illinois border, the town has got a beautiful Art Deco courthouse in the center of the town square, a gem you’d never notice from the interstate.

The Newsom family came to Virginia from England in the early 18th century, and later moved west to the Kentucky territory. The smokehouse is still located right in town and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. In 1975, the Newsom’s hams caught the attention of James Beard, whose support started to get the word out to the rest of the world. Today, in 2022, Nancy Newsom is the only country ham maker I know who’s still doing only traditional seasonal curing. All her hams are started in late December or early January just as would have been done 200 years ago. She’s also the only one who does solely old-school ambient temperature curing—the hams age with natural air temperatures.

A few months back, Connor Valone at the Deli arranged for us to get our hands on a couple of extra special versions of Nancy’s ham! This one is made from Mangalitsa pork, raised on pasture in Missouri, then cured using Newsom's centuries-old process. Connor wrote to me after he’d finished prepping for last night’s “Best of 2022” tasting:

This evening, I brought down the Newsom’s country ham I’ll be opening at the class, cleaned it off a bit, and mounted it on a humble wooden stand to carve at the event. It felt like an Indiana Jones-type event, pulling back green-mottled layers of dusty paper wrappings layered with natural molds and fat. I got to see the tag placed when the ham was started. January 2019 was the month I started at Zingerman’s, and it’s incredible to think about all that has happened for me personally [he and his wife had their first child earlier this year], and globally for that matter, in that short amount of time; all while this ham was smoking and aging in the quiet, dark, and dank rooms of a 100-plus-year-old historic brick building in western Kentucky before a brief stint hanging in the rafters of a bustling, bright, and spirited room of a nearly-as-antiquated 100-plus-year-old historic brick building some 500-odd miles north. I know we’ll be focused on the Best of 2022 in these coming tastings, but I’ll be proud to present our guests with the Best of 2019 as well. 

Because you are reading this, at the earliest, on Wednesday evening, I have the chance to share from first-hand experience at the Tuesday tasting just how terrific this now nearly four-year-old ham is. Each small slice is an eating experience for the ages. Wonderfully intense, complex, concentrated smoke and pork and a lovely bit of salt to bring the flavors effectively to the fore. A quarter pound of this special long-cured, uncooked ham, carefully and thinly sliced by hand by the Deli crew, makes a terrific appetizer. Serve at room temperature with a bit of toasted True North bread. Or swing by the Roadhouse and pick up some of the fantastic buttermilk biscuits to enjoy with it. Supply is limited—Connor forecasts it’ll be sold out by Sunday—so don’t dally!

Try it for yourself

P.S. The Roadhouse has the “regular” Newsom’s Kentucky country ham on an amazing appetizer plate right now. It’s paired with the 2022 release of the equally exceptional Rogue River Blue cheese and a handful of the Piemontese hazelnuts that are featured in the wild Coho salmon dish below. The ham at the Roadhouse right now is just a bit younger than this special one at the Deli—it’s about 22 months old, made in January of 2021. You can also taste the Newsom’s ham on the Eggs Benedict for breakfast or brunch along with poached eggs and housemade Hollandaise sauce.

P.P.S. Speaking of the American South, Charles Kuralt did a great little piece on Blenheim Ginger Ale from South Carolina in 1983, which we’ve been selling at the Deli and Roadhouse for decades!

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two boxes of pfeffernüsse with a stack of the cookies next to them and a spool of red and white twine

5-Star Pfeffernüsse
from the Bakehouse

One of my favorite tastes of the holiday season

There are many things that folks look forward to this time of year at the Bakehouse. The super-tasty German Stollen, the wonderful Budapest-style Walnut Beigli, the incredibly popular Fancy Schmancy cookie classes, kits, and gift boxes. The Buche de Noel. My personal favorite though—packed in small colorful green and red Zingerman’s boxes (lovingly illustrated by Ian Nagy)—is easily missed if you stay on the “main road” of our best-known offerings: the Bakehouse version of the old German cookie known as Pfeffernüsse

The literal meaning of the name is “pepper nuts,” and they do have a wonderful texture that reminds me of the soft crunch of eating good quality nuts. The idea of seasoning sweets with pepper might sound odd today in 2022, but in ancient times pepper and assorted other spices were as likely to be used with sweets as it was with savories. Spices imported from afar, at great expense, were a way to show honor for one’s guests and to demonstrate abundance. Nearly every traditional Christmas sweet in Europe is evidence of this tradition, such as the Sienese pan pepato—an ancient, pepper-spiked version of panforte (which we have on hand at the Candy Store and Deli). At the Bakehouse we use the Balinese long pepper in the much-loved Gingerbread Cake. And Pfeffernüsse are probably my favorite of this sweet peppery tradition. By using the fantastic 5-Star Pepper blend we get from our friends at Epices de Cru, the flavor goes far beyond what one can get by using only mainstream black pepper. 

At the Bakehouse we support the black pepper with a bit of nutmeg, cloves, anise, Indonesian cinnamon, and some Muscovado sugar. A touch of sea salt brings the flavors out beautifully. The Pfeffernüsse have a lovely balance of sweet and spicy, a wonderful, palate-awakening complexity, and a really fine long finish. If you’re serving the Pfeffernüsse on a platter, I recommend a fresh bonus grinding of good black pepper over the top—it adds a nice little aroma and flavor. A box of Pfeffernüsse makes a fun stocking stuffer. A wonderful treat sandwiched with vanilla gelato. Terrific with the Holiday Blend or a shot of Espresso Blend #1

Get yourself a box

P.S. Would you like to bake Pfeffernüsse in your own oven at home, filling the air with the yummy aroma of spices? Find the recipe in the Fancy Schmancy Holiday Cookies cookbooklet.

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Wild Coho Salmon
and Hazelnuts Make for
a Magical Meal

Poetic Irish inspiration and incredible flavor
at the Roadhouse

A few weeks ago, I wrote a bunch about the importance of leaning into legacy; the belief that we will do well to be mindful—with each action we take, each thing we say, every piece of art we produce—of what impact our work will have months and years later as it “moves down the river of our organizational history.” Part of the piece was inspired by the ancient Irish story of how wisdom came to us through salmon and magic hazelnuts. Celtic philosopher Jason Kirkey shares the oft-told story of an “Otherworldly” source of a magic spring in which it originates: 

Five streams, said to be the five senses, flow from the spring. Salmon swim in that spring and eat the hazelnuts which fall, occasionally, into the water. To eat a salmon from this water is to receive poetic inspiration …

Longtime Roadhouse head chef Bob Bennett, it turns out, took some poetic culinary inspiration from the piece. He decided to put salmon and hazelnuts together in one delicious dish that will be on the menu as a special throughout the month of December. The salmon comes to us directly from Alaska—wild-caught Cohos that we’re getting from longtime friend and purveyor Marie Rose at Shoreline Salmon (you can see the poster of Marie and her partners over table 406 on the right when you enter the far room at the Roadhouse). Like all wild-caught fish, there’s just a bit more complexity, more clarity, and more depth to the flavor of the fish. It’s truly terrific and a rare treat in this part of the country. Marie Rose writes:

Coho salmon is my favorite salmon to eat. It’s a really mild flavored salmon, and has a great oil consistency that prevents it from drying out when you cook it (also packed with omega-3s!). Each label on our Coho filets is marked with the fishing vessel it was harvested from, which is pretty unique and provides total transparency to our customers as to where each piece of fish comes from. We handle every Coho salmon the same way we would if they were for our own families—with the utmost care and respect. I’m honored that you’re using our salmon for this dish.

Bob and the Roadhouse crew sauté up the salmon filets, then finish the dish with toasted hazelnuts, a touch of fresh herbs, and brown butter. The hazelnuts, from the Italian Piedmont region, are amazing. The whole thing is topped with a bit of fresh local arugula to brighten the plate. The dish is delicious—I’ve eaten it three times since the start of December! Swing by for supper soon and enjoy! Manchán Magan writes, “Eating the sacred fish or eating the cuil crimaind (the magical hazelnuts that gave the fish its wisdom), was widely accepted as a metaphor for gaining enlightenment.” Early indicators are that everyone who’s eaten the salmon special leaves just a bit wiser for it! Marie Rose adds: 

I almost feel like wild Alaska salmon ARE the “magical hazelnuts”; they provide wisdom and nourishment for all who eat them, and naturally fertilize the forests and natural surroundings of their environments. Truly, like magic.
Make a reservation at the Roadhouse
P.S. If you don’t live around Ann Arbor and want to order some fresh Coho direct from Shoreline, they have it in their online store.
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a piece of white bread on a blue plate, spread with butter and covered with chocolate sprinkles

Chocolate Sprinkles Arrive from the Netherlands

The classic way for Dutch kids to start their day

Although it’s not a combination that has historically been given much thought on this side of the Atlantic, the practice of eating bread and chocolate in tandem has long been hugely popular in Europe. The Pain au Chocolat I wrote about last week is one of the most famous French versions. Alternatively, many French folks will put a chunk of good chocolate into a piece of freshly baked baguette and eat it as is. The Chocolate Sourdough bread at the Bakehouse is one of our American adaptations, and the Roadhouse’s new pancakes made with freshly-milled spelt and laced with French Broad chocolate chips are another awesome addition. 

If you go to the Netherlands, the combo is altogether different. There you’ll see slices of buttered white bread that have been covered liberally with chocolate sprinkles. You read that right—chocolate sprinkles are the star of the morning meal. While we think of sprinkles here as something kids like to see on cupcakes, in the Netherlands, sprinkles are serious business. The formal “invention” of sprinkles in this way came in 1919. How did sprinkles show up on the Dutch culinary scene? One version (as Ted Ownby of the University of Mississippi told me 20 years ago, “All origin stories are disputed”) is that they were invented in Amsterdam by a candymaker named B.E. Dieperink. Dieperink, it seems, was inspired by bad weather. One day when it was hailing outside, he came up with the creative idea to make a confection that resembled the pellets that were falling from the stormy Dutch sky. The original version was crispy, anise-flavored sprinkles. Dieperink named them Hagelslag, meaning “hailstorm” in Dutch. 

The chocolate sprinkles seem to have followed about 15 years later. They quickly became a huge commercial and culinary success.​ Since the middle of the 20th century, Dutch kids have delighted in eating slices of generously buttered bread, covered completely with chocolate sprinkles, for breakfast. Sprinkles in the Netherlands are serious business—they take up the same sort of significant aisle space in Dutch supermarkets as tuna, anchovies, and sardines do in Spain. To illustrate the seriousness with which they’re taken, many families with kids will pack a box of them for travel abroad, in much the same way some children bring stuffed animals. For folks who grew up with them, the Hagelslag offer a sense of continuity and calm comfort. 

Unlike the kid-style sprinkles they sell here in supermarkets, the Dutch ones actually have flavor and are made from good chocolate. The Dark Chocolate are my preference. I have happily eaten them out of hand, as well as made myself a slice of buttered bread and Hagelslag to have as a snack. We also stock the Milk Chocolate version for those who are so inclined. Assembly couldn’t be easier. Stop by the Candy Store to buy a box (or two). Pick up a loaf of Bakehouse White bread (which is far more flavorful than standard supermarket white breads). When you get home, cut a thick slice. Spread on a fair bit of room-temperature butter. Cover generously with the sprinkles! Smile. Eat. Enjoy!

Go for the Dark Chocolate
And maybe the Milk Chocolate, too
You won’t see chocolate sprinkles on the Zingerman’s Mail Order site, but we’d be super happy to send some of the Hagelslag your way. Email us at service@zingermans.com soon!

Other Things on My Mind
 

Listening

I learned about Joseph Decosimo’s magical music from my friend Joe O’Connell, another amazing musician who records as Elephant Micah. Joe plays some on Decosimo’s new album which I’ve been enjoying regularly for many weeks now. Decosimo plays and sings some beautiful old Appalachian tunes. The crew at the Sleepy Cat label say the new record, While You Were Slumbering, “... reminds us that the old stuff can still do work in our world: It can still sustain us and fill us. “The amazing Alice Gerrard, who’s now 88 years old, plays and sings on three tunes—the song “Come Thou Fount” is particularly fantastic for me! Mournful, haunting, magical, and something I imagine I will be listening to for a long time to come.

Speaking of Appalachia, in 1964, Charles Kuralt aired an attention-grabbing segment called “Christmas in Kentucky” that poignantly and painfully highlighted rural American poverty in a way that few outside the region had seen or understood.

Reading

Read Dangerously by Iranian-born, American-living author Azir Nafisi (thank you Kendall).

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