Ari's Top 5
We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.

Carl Rogers
Black and white photo of an ear, close up, with an earring.

Learning to Lead Through Better Listening

Meaningfully taking in the sounds that surround us

Last week I wrote about the power of language in our organizational ecosystems, and how the words we choose to use impact everything around us, both for better, and/or for worse. What follows is a continuation of the conversation—a look at the importance of good listening skills in our workplaces. After all, even the most eloquently composed and carefully chosen language is only of minimal value without another person to take in and process what is being said. As David Whyte writes, “For poetry to be poetry there must be a listener as well as a speaker.” Like compassion, kindness, and collaboration, the concept of better listening is hardly controversial, and yet, effective listening remains a remarkably uncommon skill. The late George Orwell, whose writing I referenced a lot last week on the subject of language, said, “Our job is to make life worth living on this earth, which is the only earth we have.” And the better we learn to listen, the more effectively we can make Orwell’s charge into our everyday reality.

Being a better listener is, like so many things in life, much easier advocated than it is accomplished. Like any other skill, it’s easier to do when we grow up practicing it. I admire the mother of writer Jason Reynolds who, as Reynolds shares his story, seems to have done such a wonderful job of encouraging him to share his thoughts and feelings as a young boy. She taught him to first find the right language to constructively speak his mind (even when he disagreed with her), and then to listen well. I grew up with any number of middle-class advantages, but good listening practices were not one of them. While it was certainly intellectually encouraged, effective listening was only minimally practiced in daily life.

In fact, I can see now, we learned all the things good listeners are advised against: don’t hesitate to start speaking your mind while others are still sharing their thoughts, intersperse an abundance of eye rolls, and liberally insert sarcasm to spice up the conversation. If the volume went up over dinner, we learned to just talk louder. Arguments were being formed the minute the other person opened their mouth (or maybe even before). None of this was done out of malice—it was the way people showed that they were “paying attention” to you. In fact, in my family, the only time people weren’t cutting you off was probably when they weren’t listening. It is, I’m sure, simply how my parents and grandparents were also raised. I know from listening to others’ origin stories over the years, I’m hardly the only one who grew up this way.

Ineffective listening—and its corollary, ineffective language—are so much the norm in the world, that their absences are easily missed. John O’Donohue, as he so often does, asks the poignant question, one that we might all ask ourselves regularly:

When is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn’t just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture? But when had you last a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew, that you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you that you’d thought you had lost, and a sense of an event of a conversation that brought the two of you onto a different plane, and then, fourthly, a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards?

While my family’s pattern of “conversation” was well accepted by us, it’s anything but effective in most group settings. I will be “in recovery” from this style of conversation for the rest of my life. In the meantime, I try to apologize, as I have many times over the years, to everyone I’ve unthinkingly cut off in conversation. My intentions are positive, even though when I slip, I can still cause problems. When I get impatient with my seeming inability to self-manage, I try to take a couple deep breaths and go back to Edgar Schein’s wise observation that “Learning new things is easy when there is no unlearning involved.” I guess the good news is that a) I know full well that I still fall short, and b) I continue to try to get better anyway! And as Jason Reynolds writes, “You can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”

Part of my (and maybe your) challenge is summed up well by Dr. Harriet Lerner, whose work on anger, apology, and forgiveness has been so hugely helpful to me:

It’s easy to listen if we like what the other person is saying. However, we don’t listen well when we’re under fire because we are hard wired for defensiveness. … When we listen defensively, we automatically listen for what we don’t agree with. We listen for the exaggerations, errors and distortions that will inevitably be there. … Let’s face it. Almost all of us are more invested in improving our talking skills than in improving our listening skills. Our desire to be understood is far stronger than our desire to understand the other person.

Brenda Ueland is someone who seems to have moved effectively past those problems. Born in the fall of 1891 in Minneapolis, she was the third of seven kids in a family with roots in Norway. (Next week marks the 37th anniversary of Ueland’s death at the age of 93, in 1985.) Ueland’s father was a progressive attorney and her mother a suffragette, and Ueland herself was actively engaged with the cause of women’s rights throughout her life. Ueland graduated from Barnard in 1913, then lived in Greenwich Village, where she hung out with folks like Emma Goldman, Louise Bryant, and John Reed. In 1930, Ueland moved back to Minneapolis, where she worked as a columnist, was an advocate for animal rights, and became an avid walker—“For me,” she said, “a long five- or six-mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.” In 1938, Ueland published If You Want to Write, which I read nearly half a century later, early in my own writing work. Ueland’s lessons changed my life.

Although it’s much less well known, Ueland also published a hugely helpful essay, entitled, “Tell Me More: The Fine Art of Listening.” Like her book on writing, it’s an inspiration, filled with practical tips on how to listen attentively. Ueland states the case for listening quite well:

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force … When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. … It makes people happy and free when they are listened to.

Learning to listen, I’ve come to understand from Brenda Ueland and others who are patient enough to teach me, is something that all of us are capable of doing. Like so many other things that we know are good for us but don’t take time to practice, few of us consistently get it right. As Krista Tippett says, “Listening is not something that we do all the time. It’s work. It’s a commitment.” There are a thousand easily available resources on how to effectively make that commitment, and then practice good listening skills. We could, if we want, take to heart the example set for us by acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton who had a life changing crisis of conscience in his late 20s, from which he emerged with a new career path and a life’s purpose: “To become a better listener.”

To help me organize my approach to being a more effective listener, I’ve broken things out into six broad categories. All are of importance, and each overlaps, and feeds into, the others.

Listening to others

Learning to sit quietly, and to pay close attention, is something I know I will be working to get better at for the rest of my life. Allowing myself time for reflection gives me the mental space to respond with appropriate attention. Getting myself into a good, grounded place before the conversation/meeting begins can be helpful. Setting my intention—knowing how I would like to impact the other person, as I learned from my friend Anese Cavanaugh—makes a big difference. It’s also about managing my energy and having a grounded, supportive, presence (of the sort Jason Reynolds seems to have gotten from his mother) as well. And, over time, learning the style in which different people want to be listened to—each of us has our own way of wanting to be heard.

To increase my own focus at times where I feel myself getting argumentative in a meeting, I will put myself into what I think of as “writer mode,” taking careful notes so that I can later go back and describe with feeling what happened. Asking to “take five” when I feel myself getting reactive also helps. I like to remind myself of the lesson historian Robin D.G. Kelley shared from his conversations with musician Thelonious Monk:

What he was trying to tell me was first of all, don’t be judgmental of anybody else, just listen and pay attention and look for the beauty. And then when you find the beauty, study that and don’t bother with the rest of it.

Starting with positive beliefs helps a lot; if I assume from the start that everyone is trying to do their best and has good intentions, it helps me to notice the nuance, to listen for emotional openings in the conversation that can help me bring empathy, compassion, and kindness. When all else is said and done, at its simplest and most straightforward, I will try to stick with what Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen recommends: “Listen generously.”

Brenda Ueland offers some additional advice:

In order to listen, here are some suggestions: Try to learn tranquility, to live in the present a part of the time every day. Sometimes say to yourself: “Now. What is happening now? This friend is talking. I am quiet. There is endless time. I hear it, every word.” Then suddenly you begin to hear not only what people are saying, but also what they are trying to say, and you sense the whole truth about them. And you sense existence, not piecemeal, not this object and that, but as a translucent whole. … Then watch your self-assertiveness. And give it up. Remember, it is not enough just to will to listen to people. One must really listen. Only then does the magic begin.

Listening to our soul

I wrote a bunch about the importance of soul—both organizationally and individually—a few weeks back, equating it in the ecosystem metaphor to the moon. It quietly pulls at us, often when we’re barely even paying attention. Learning to intuit our life’s path, to find our long-term vocation, and to envision and live a meaningful future for ourselves happens when we honor the pull of our spirit. As John O’Donohue writes, “All holiness is about learning to hear the voice of your soul. It is always there and the more deeply you listen, the greater the surprises and discoveries that will unfold.”

I was reminded of this driving home the other evening looking at the magnificence of the moon rising in the east. I’d been working on this essay all day—the connection was a clear reminder: we need to learn to listen closely to what’s in our soul. The “hot pen” technique for writing a vision is a very effective way to access this. It helps us avoid the tendency to overthink our options, and instead to tap into a more soulful existence. As natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka says, “In the end, the true essence of the moon is more clearly seen through the eyes of a child.”

Listening to ourselves

While our soul may guide us towards big picture clarity, we are also experiencing daily swings in emotions, the challenge of difficult decisions, struggles in our relationships, lack of resources, and much more. Listening to ourselves—understanding what causes us anxiety, what increases joy, what angers us, etc.—is an essential component of being able to listen to other people. When we’re not in tune with ourselves, more often than not, we will eventually tune out others around us. As Masanobu Fukuoka writes, “Just as human beings do not know themselves, they cannot know the other.” Part 3 of the Guide to Good Leading series is all about this work of self-understanding and more effective self-management. So too are Secrets #40-43 about beliefs in Part 4. Additionally, the “This I Believe” exercise at the end of Secret #40 in Part 4, the essays about journaling and solitude in “Working Through Hard Times” would all be helpful as well!

Another piece of this work, one that I was raised with almost no understanding of, is learning to listen to our bodies. Lama Rod Owens writes, ​​“The body will always tell the story of our woundedness.” I’m still working to notice the signs that alert me to fear, the early onset of anger, and joyfulness, to name a few.

Listening to the silence

Silence is anything but the norm in modern society. Gordon Hempton describes it as a “think tank of the soul.” Therapy, as well as coaching on facilitation from folks like Stas’ Kazmierski, taught me to gradually get better at sitting with silence—those awkward pauses, after which, I learned, the “good stuff” often emerges. I’ve tried to train myself, too, to be better at listening to the pauses and hesitations, to listen “between the lines.”

Someone pointed out to me many years ago that the word “listen” is an anagram for “silent.” John O’Donohue says, “One of the tasks of true friendship is to listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences. Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people.”

Tuhunnu and Pesio, a pair of creative musicians from the Solomon Islands, who are quoted in the beautiful book IR9 Indigenous & Black Wisdubs, say:

When you are quiet you are connected
Your silence brings out
Your self understanding that
You are part of the sacred world

It’s your silence that connects you to the sacred world.

Listening to nature

I would never have understood this growing up in Chicago; we had an urban existence in which expressways and asphalt were the norm, and nature was essentially an afterthought—related to weather forecasts, its impact on football games, and occasional trips to a “Forest Preserve.” I found a bit of comfort knowing I wasn’t alone in this; Masanobu Fukuoka shares, “The sad truth is that for much of my youth, I, too, felt estranged from nature. But now I just take a single flower in my hand and converse with it. I have finally learned that, although nature does not reach out to people directly, people can always approach nature and seek salvation that way.”

The crisis around climate change tells me that we are not collectively listening to nature very effectively. When I think of it in this sense, it’s pretty clear that nature is trying to tell us something. Here at Zingerman’s, I know, we need to continue to do better at reducing the size of our ecological footprint, since as Fukuoka warns, “Once the primal source of nature is destroyed, however, it will no longer be possible to restore itself.” The good news? “If humanity can regain its original kinship with nature, we should be able to live in peace and abundance.”

Listening to the stories we tell

The stories we share, and believe, are one of the quickest ways to learn about our beliefs and what we value (or look down on) in our culture and in our lives. I’ve learned so much over the last few years with the work we’ve done about beliefs to listen much more closely to these seemingly casual stories—they often seem insignificant, but they actually say a lot!

Learning to listen more effectively isn’t, to be certain, only about leadership. Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline appropriately encourages us to become learning organizations; maybe we can turn this learning here into “The Sixth Discipline,” and work to be “listening organizations.” Since our approach to Servant Leadership incorporates the 3 Steps to Great Service (and also our 5 Steps to Handling a Complaint) into the way we work with staff, listening work is incorporated there as well. Our diversity training and Courageous Conversations classes help too, and there’s more we can do. When we do learn to listen well, all sorts of things can come from it. Courtney Hartman has a beautiful new album out called Glade, a word she defines as “A natural opening or a passage made, a place left unfrozen, a gleam of light, a bright patch of sky, the space between clouds, a clearing.” All of which help me imagine what good listening might look—or sound—like in our organizational ecosystems.

Paul Hawken (whose book, Growing a Business was a big influence on me and Paul back when we opened in 1982) says, “When we listen to people, our language softens. Listening may be the cardinal act of giving … It is the source of peace.” While the words “hear” and “here” are not linked etymologically, it did strike me that what we hear when we listen has a huge impact on what we experience in the world around us—what we might call our “hear and now.” Good listening can, in small meaningful ways, make many positive differences. Organizations (and countries) in which good listening skills are practiced well are clearly calmer, gentler, kinder, more effective, and more peaceful places to be.

Having listened and read (which I’ve come to realize is essentially “listening on paper”) the thoughts of so many great teachers on this subject, it seems clear that learning, and then practicing, better listening skills is pretty much a no-lose proposition. David Isay, who started StoryCorps—he essentially listens for a living—says that learning to listen to more people, more meaningfully,

Has made me a much more hopeful person … we would be such a better and stronger country if we widened that out and listened to what the rest of us have to say and have learned in life. …

Was it worth the effort? Without hesitating, Isay says, yes:

It’s something you never regret.

For more on the sort of effective self-management that can support better listening skills, see Secret #31 on “Managing Ourselves” and Secret #33 “Mindfulness Matters.” (We have quantity pricing if you’d like to buy a bunch for team-wide training!)
Support your listening skills
Jelly Bean, the corgi dog, looks at the camera.

Five Fun Happenings Around the ZCoB

A fundraiser for Safehouse Center, Restaurant Week, and a brand new book about Zingerman’s

There’s so much going on around the ZCoB this week that I thought it would be helpful to call a handful of the key happenings out here:

  1. We’re currently participating in the 7th Annual Jelly Bean Jump Up. It’s a fundraiser for SafeHouse Center, the local shelter for victims of domestic abuse. You can drop cash in the “coin boxes” that are spread around the Zingerman’s businesses. Plum Market will also be participating from February 28 to March 6. We started doing the Jump Up 7 years back in memory of my pup, Jelly Bean, who passed away at the age of 17 in May of 2015. You can also donate directly to this very good cause as well.

  2. Our Spring Sale is finally here at Mail Order! Deep and very delicious discounts on all sorts of great stuff. It’s become an annual tradition for Mail Order loyalists around the country! If you are near Ann Arbor, you can choose in-person pick-up to save on shipping! Seriously great offerings like the Angelina Hot Chocolate mix from Paris, Parmigiano Reggiano from master cheese maturer Giorgio Cravero, the incredible English Summerdown chocolate mints (my favorite), and much, much, more!

  3. Micki Maynard’s new book about the ZCoB—Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman’s Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community—came out yesterday! On Friday March 4, at noon, ZingTrain will be hosting Micki for a virtual talk about the new book so folks from all over the globe can join the fun!

  4. On our 40th Anniversary, March 15, live and in person at the place where it all began, on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley streets, Micki, Paul, and I will all be there for conversation, storytelling, and some Deli snacks, and Micki will be signing her book as well. Come along!

  5. Restaurant Week runs through this Friday, February 25! Miss Kim, the Roadhouse, and the Deli are all participating, so come on out!

    Miss Kim’s special menu includes a bunch of Ji Hye’s long time favorites: Arugula and Fuji apple salad, Smashed Potatoes, Korean Fried Chicken with chili glaze, and Bibimbob with chicken or tofu. There’s also a great bibimbob kit and a Kimchi Pork Fried rice kit, and more. Check out all the offerings.

    The Roadhouse menu includes a whole range of good things, including the Southern Reuben (with Arkansas Peppered ham made at the foot of Mt. Petit Jean), Smoked Ribeye, a Farro and Roasted Red Pepper Burger, and the Bakehouse’s amazing Pecan Pie for dessert. Here’s the link for the whole menu.

    The Deli is doing a Restaurant Week Pot Pie extravaganza, featuring the handmade pot pies that have become an Ann Arbor staple over the last 15 years! We've also got a virtual fondue demo this week, on the evening of Thursday, February 24, at 6:30 pm EST.

Donate to Jelly Bean Jump Up
A sliced cake with one slice placed on its side to show the layers.

Rigó Jancsi - Traditional Hungarian Chocolate Torte with Chestnut Cream

Just a few more days to get a taste of some seriously terrific Hungarian pastry

It’s been over a decade now since we first started making Rigó Jancsi at the Bakehouse. It’s one of the most elegant, and excellent, pieces of pastry we make, and it has a terrific story to go with it. Rigó Jancsi was a Roma musician who was a headline-grabbing sex symbol and musical performer in Europe in the late 19th century. He fell in love with Clara Ward, a Michigan-born American who boldly abandoned her Belgian-prince husband to run away with Jancsi. The cake was developed by a creative Budapest baker to take commercial advantage of the headlines that followed the scandal. The “regular” (if a cake this complex and amazing can be called “regular”) is a beautiful rectangular torte, covered in a thick coating of dark chocolate ganache, with the name—Rigó Jancsi (pronounced “ree-go yon-chee”)—written in script across the top. It’s typically two layers of really tender, delicate chocolate sponge cake, sandwiched around a modest layer of chocolate, rum-scented whipped cream, topped off with a very thin, delicate layer of apricot glaze and then, finally, finished with a thick dark chocolate ganache.

(Given the sad reality that the Roma people were and still are one of the most persecuted groups in Europe, the degree of drama and angst around the story was increased because it was a Roma man running away with a woman from a royal family. Ironically, in the context of the persecution the Roma have suffered, in the Roma language, the word “Roma” means “a person.”)

A couple times a year—this month being one of them—the Bakehouse crafts this terrific variation on the Rigó Jancsi riff. Chestnut flour—a staple ingredient in centuries past—is added to the cake mix, and the “filling” is made with a thick layer of chestnut cream. To my taste, it really is one of the most complex and lovely things we make. I don’t eat a whole lot of cake, but this one is too compelling to pass up. The crew at the Bakehouse describes it as:

Two light layers of chocolate chestnut sponge cake, filled with chestnut rum whipped cream, brushed with a thin layer of apricot glaze, and finished on top with rich dark chocolate ganache. Sweet chestnuts … are a staple in Hungarian food and desserts and happen to grow in abundance here in Michigan. We get our high-quality chestnut flour for the cake from Chestnut Growers Inc., a consortium of 32 Michigan chestnut growers, based in Grand Haven, MI.

The rum in the whipped cream is meaningfully present but remains, supportively, in the background. The chestnut cream is light, but it also lights up the cake; elegant between the layers of dark chocolate, the darkness of which makes a fine foil for the chestnut cream. The cake has a superfine flavor and a lovely clean finish. If I needed a mid-afternoon pick-me-up this week I would go over to the Bakehouse, buy a slice, and then head down the walk to the Coffee Company to get a cup of the light and elegant Tanzania coffee we’ve got on hand (Oceana recommended it to me in a siphon, and it was indeed totally terrific that way.) Eating a bite of the Chestnut Rigó Jancsi isn’t quite the same as taking a trip overseas, but the excellence of the flavors, and the complexity of the confectionery can transport you for 10 or 15 minutes.

Pick up this tasty traditional torte from the Deli
Thinking past the pandemic? Zingerman’s Food Tours will happily take you to Hungary!
A cloth-wrapped wheel of cheese with a paper tag attached.

Westcombe Farmhouse Cheddar at the Deli

Delicious piece of clothbound English cheddar

George Orwell once said that February “Is a particularly detestable month with no virtue except its shortness.” Nibbling on this cheese over the last week has helped me find a bit of culinary brightness, and made Orwell’s sadly sort of true statement (at least for many of us who live in cold northern Hemisphere climates) a little less relatable. The current wheels of Westcombe farmhouse Cheddar are truly fantastic—one of the best new cheese arrivals in the ZCoB!

Back 40 years ago when we were getting ready to open the Deli, the only place I could find English farmhouse cheddar was in a book. Even in England back then it would have been hard to source other than in the very best shops like the late Major Patrick Rance’s Wells Stores in the small English village of Streatley-on-Thames. In the mid-80s we finally started getting the real thing—cloth-wrapped, naturally-aged, 60-pound wheels of farmhouse cheddar from the Quicke family in Devon. In the early 90s I met Randolph Hodgson and Jane Scotter from Neals Yard Dairy; within a few years they listened to our pleas to start exporting the full flavored, traditional cheeses they were buying and maturing, which gave us, finally, a steady source of super tasty traditional cheddar. For the first 20 years that we bought from them, there were two great choices: Montgomery’s and Keen’s. Around 2010 a third option, the Neals Yard folks let us know, would be coming soon. Like all great work, it took a lot of determination, attention to detail, and continual steady commitment to improvement by the Calver family at Westcombe to make the cheese into the marvelous wheels we have on hand at the Deli. A dozen years later, Westcombe Cheddar consistently stands at the top of the quality scale.

While the Westcombe Cheddar is new in our context, cheddar making on Westcombe farm was happening back in the 1890s. In the years when the young Brenda Ueland was growing up in Minneapolis, another creative, hardworking, independent woman, Edith Canon, was making some of the most highly regarded cheddar in England. Like nearly every dairy in England, in the years after WWII, Westcombe moved to making the now much, much more common “block cheddar.” Easier to produce, plastic- (instead of cloth-) wrapped, its lower cost, longer shelf life, and diminished day-to-day variability, made for a short-term economic boon. Over time, the cheese sold for ever lower prices in supermarkets; in the process, old traditions were eroding ever more quickly. Cheese quality was dropping by the day, and the handmade farmhouse cheeses that had once been commonplace in the countryside of Somerset became almost impossible to find. This is the work that Major Patrick Rance wrote about in his classic voice in the dairy wilderness The Great British Cheese Book. The book came out the same year we opened the Deli, in 1982, and it opened the intellectual door to what British cheese was supposed to be. Asked to comment on supermarket cheese, Rance wrote, “The first results, a few years ago, were cheap and nasty. Now they are still nasty but no longer cheap.” The block cheddar made in factories? The Major derisively referred to it as “mousetrap fodder.”

All this started to turn around at about the same time we were opening the Deli over here. Richard Calver, one of the farmers supplying milk to Westcombe Dairy back in the day, became active in the cheese business in the 1960s. Twenty years or so later, Richard and his partners decided to turn away from modern industrial cheddar Patrick Rance had railed against, and they returned to making the kind of cloth-bound wheels that had made the farm famous in its region back in the 1890s. That work took a great leap forward in 2008 when Richard's son, Tom—having worked as a chef, as well as interned with Neals’ Yard—went back to the farm to take over cheese production. He guided the dairy back towards an old-school artisan approach, away from most of the modern “improvements” that had been introduced over the course of the 20th century. Tom’s efforts have, over a 10-year period, paid off terrifically!

When I nibble at the Westcombe Cheddar, I think back to Patrick Rance, a lone voice in an industrial wilderness, whose passion, vision, determination, and relentless evangelism for the cause has, half a century later, made the moment possible. We are the fortunate beneficiaries of his efforts, of the hard work of Randolph, Jason (Zingerman’s alum), David Lockwood, and everyone at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and of the Calvert family.

This current batch of Westcombe Cheddar is the best we’ve ever had. Buttery, nutty, full, perfectly salted, and elegantly earthy. It’s everything I’d want in an old school English cheddar. Terrific with the red walnuts I really love at the Deli. It’s great with the delicious Medjool dates we get from Rancho Meladuco in California, and delightful with a good crisp apple, or with a slice of apple pie. I want to try some with a sip of the Roho Joe Coffee Stout we have at the Roadhouse from Mothfire Brewing. The Westcombe Cheddar is really something special, a cheese that I’m pretty sure Patrick Rance would have appreciated. It’s a cheese that would make him feel good knowing that his hard work in the wilderness of the industrial food world has, 40 years later, paid off so that you and I can experience what he wistfully wrote about back in 1982:

Our most generous original gift to humanity, Cheddar, is really known to comparatively few people. [and further] I can still remember my mid-morning treat on sunny days in the 1920’s as I played in the east end vicarage garden of my early childhood. Through the kitchen window a fond hand would reach out bearing a buttery crust crowned with hunks of nutty-flavored cheddar.

Stop in to the Deli for this gift to humanity
You won’t see the Westcombe Cheddar on the Mail Order site, but we’d be very happy to send some your way. Email us at
Two yellow-yolked sunny-side up eggs with bacon crumbles on top, sitting on top of pasta.

Mac & Eggs at the Roadhouse

Seriously good breakfast to start your day

If you like the mac and cheese at the Roadhouse—and clearly a lot of you do—you might try starting your day with this really good dish. To my pasta-loving palate, a plate of world-class artisan pasta, topped with chopped applewood smoked bacon and a couple of over-easy eggs is a wonderful way to start the day!

The maccheroni is made by the Martelli family, in Tuscany. It’s made with very high-quality grain, is extruded through old-school bronze dies to yield the rough surface that absorbs the sauce so beautifully (in this case, the yolk of the over-easy egg that sits atop it when we serve the dish). Commercial pastas are extruded through much less costly Teflon, which leaves a slick surface that the sauce runs right off. The Martelli maccheroni is dried very slowly for about 60 hours at low temperatures. Industrial pastas, by contrast, are dried in a matter of hours at much higher temperatures which basically “bakes” the pasta leaving it brittle. The flavor—from the quality of the grain and all the careful handling throughout—is outstanding. (You can buy the Martelli pasta at the Deli or email us at and we’d be happy to ship you some!) The bacon comes from the Nueske family up in Wittenberg, Wisconsin. It’s smoked for 24 hours over whole applewood logs and is so good that the late writer R.W. Apple once called it, “the Rolls Royce of bacons.” (The Nueske’s bacon is on special during the Mail Order spring sale!)

To make the dish at breakfast, we take that very terrific maccheroni and toss it with diced up applewood-smoked bacon and top it all with a couple fried eggs. I like to grind on lots of the terrific farm-to-table Tellicherry black pepper we have on the tables. Wonderful way to start your day!

Make a reservation at the Roadhouse for breakfast

Other Things on My Mind


Krista Tippett says, “Celtic music, for me … seems to express the greatest joy and also the deepest sorrow, almost indistinguishable from each other, and yet both with a kind of healing force.” Although her comments are from nearly 15 years ago, they apply perfectly to the newly released album from Heal and Harrow, the band name of Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl. The music shares the story of the thousands of women who were victims of the Scottish Witch Trials in the 16th and 17th centuries.

I have long loved the music of Elizabeth Cotten. Cotten was born in 1893 (two years after Brenda Ueland), just outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her acoustic blues, to my ear, are fantastic. Her 1967 album, Shake Sugaree, recorded when Cotten was already in her 70s, is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music.


Masanobu Fukuoka’s outstanding Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, and Ultimate Food Security. His book One Straw Revolution is equally inspiring.

Writing about Rigó Jancsi reminded me of one of my favorite books, Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. It goes, eloquently, into depth about Roma history and culture.

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
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