Ari's Top 5


Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bear bad fruit—and man is his own gardener.

—Lillian Watson

black and white photo of a dog laying on a wooden pathway leading to a hoop house

Exploring Our Internal Ecosystems

Putting the organizational ecosystem metaphor
to work from the inside out 

Consider, for a minute, what it feels like to walk into a beautiful, healthy, sustainably-farmed vegetable garden. Look around. What do you see? How does it leave you feeling? Then flip the script for a moment and imagine the inverse. You’re standing now in a desolate, rather desperate spot, one that’s been laid waste by an array of negative inputs. What feeling does the image of this second space evoke? Now, taking a mental step back, say you were charged with managing those two places. How would you handle the assignment? What would you do to enhance what appealed? Or to repair what had gone awry? 

Imagine now, that, instead of looking out onto the world, you could invert your vision to see, for a few minutes maybe, inside yourself. What would the inner landscape look like? What’s growing? Is the sun shining? A breeze blowing? Is the soil rich and moist? Dry and cracked? Lush and abundant? This essay is about that exact exercise—to get a sense of the ecosystem in our heads. It’s based on the belief that the metaphorical organizational ecosystem that I’ve been writing so much about of late applies, not just to our organizations, but also to the “world” inside ourselves. If we can create inner ecosystems in which beauty and positive beliefs, purpose and hope, joy and generosity, are the primary players, our world, and ultimately the world around us, will, I believe, be a better, more peaceful, place to be. 

Secret #38 in Part 3 is entitled, “Thinking About Thinking: Why the Way We Think Alters Our Organizations.” What follows is an extrapolation from that understanding: The inner ecosystem of a leader will almost always have an outsized impact on the health of the organization of which they are a part. When we do this work well, wonderful things can happen, both for us and for everyone around us. As John O’Donohue writes, “There are certain times … when the work becomes beautiful and the farmer becomes an artist who transforms the landscape.” With a concerted caring effort and a little help from our friends, we have the power to make O’Donohue’s words come alive.

Peach farmer, author, and friend, Mas Masumoto put forward the belief that, “As one farmer you have 40 harvests to study your land, to find your craft.” Like Mas, I have been fortunate to have had those 40 harvests in my time here at Zingerman’s. And like Mas, my craft work continues. Both he and I published new books in recent months, and each of us remains committed to helping to make more good harvests in the years to come. This essay is an exploration of what we might each do to enhance the yield of our “personal harvest”—part of my ongoing craft to learn about life and leadership through writing and teaching to help others to do the same. 

The original idea of the organizational ecosystem metaphor emerged while I was working on the book that would eventually become The Power of Beliefs in Business. In it, beliefs are akin to roots; culture is soil; spirit of generosity is water; hope is the sun, and on from there. (If you want a PDF of the drawing email me!) The model, as many of you will already know, has been hugely helpful; I’ve taught it now many times and written 20-some essays that have drawn upon it. To build on what I’ve done to date, I’ve been working of late with Maggie Bayless, founding partner at ZingTrain, to create a Master Class on the subject: “The Organizational Ecosystem,” which debuts on Tuesday, May 30—if you’re interested there are still a few seats for this five-session debut. Details are here! There’s a Hasidic Jewish saying that “The teacher learns five times as much as the student.” The idea of an internal ecosystem is one small bit of the learning that has come from the work with Maggie to put together the new course. 

The concept, to be clear, is not fully formed—I share it here knowing that my understanding of it will evolve over the course of the coming months and years. New beginnings like this, for me, are often uncomfortable, and this one is no exception. Philosopher and scientist Stephen Harrod Buhner says “Being has an anagrammatic axiom on the word, ‘begin.’” I have learned a lot from Buhner’s work over the years, so I took his words seriously: if really being fully alive is, in fact, to be regularly moving into new beginnings, then sharing this essay is an important threshold that could benefit our entire ecosystem, myself included. 

The original idea of the ecosystem all those years ago also felt odd and awkward when I first began sharing it. It was, in hindsight, one of those beginnings that Buhner relates to the essence of our being. Six years later, it’s hard for me now to imagine going through a day without in some way referencing the model. The metaphorical organizational ecosystem model has given me framing, it’s shaped and is shaping my philosophy; it’s giving me language and a more effective way to be in the world. 

Buhner offers the observation that “...any metapattern you perceive can carry you to multiple levels of understanding. Once a metapattern captures your attention, you can begin to see its expression everywhere.” Never having heard of “metapattern,” I looked it up. It comes from 20th-century British anthropologist Gregory Bateson (and one-time husband of Margaret Mead), who posited that a metapattern means “a pattern of patterns.” The organizational ecosystem metaphor fits Buhner’s take on Bateson’s frame. Over the last five or six years I’ve begun to see ecosystems everywhere. And of late, I’ve begun to imagine the one inside my own head that I’m sharing with you here! In the context of Bateson’s belief in metapatterns, it takes the metaphorical ecosystem model to a new place. While we are all part of organizational ecosystems (work, family, etc.) there is also a comparable kind of ecosystem happening in our heads. 

Each ecosystem, of course, impacts the others. What happens in our heads has consequences for everyone in our company. British professor Norman Jackson, who studies “learning ecologies,” offers that:

In nature, an ecosystem comprises the complex set of relationships and interactions among the resources, habitats, and residents of an area for the purpose of living. Each organism within an ecosystem has its own unique ecology within the ecosystem through which it lives its daily life, so the whole ecosystem is made up of many individual ecologies competing or collaborating for resources and contributing to the whole ecosystem so that it is maintained and sustained. When something upsets the balance - like a significant change in environmental conditions or the introduction of new species, the ecosystem is disturbed, organisms must adapt or escape to find better conditions and a new sense of order and balance is created.

The Zingerman’s Community is an organizational ecosystem, an ecosystem that exists as part of a bigger community ecosystem which in turn is part of the national ecosystem, etc. Looking in the opposite direction, each element of the ZCoB is also a smaller ecosystem inside that of the larger organization. And then, too—the point of this piece—each of us as individuals has one in our heads as well.

(To be clear, when I use the word “head” here, it’s actually about our bodies, of which our heads are only one part. Psychologist Eva Selhub explains: “In mind-body medicine, the mind and body are not seen as separately functioning entities, but as one functioning unit. The mind and emotions are viewed as influencing the body, as the body, in turn, influences the mind and emotion.” Getting outside for an hour or two or much more—as I have the freedom to do every day (and I know many do not)—and being in the sun doesn’t just feel good, it increases my hope level (sun = hope). In the process it also improves my energy, which enhances the quality of my leadership which will in turn likely impact your experience when you come by the Coffee Company to grab an espresso.)

I have, to be honest, a good bit of anxiety about putting new ideas like this out into the world. To Selhub’s point, I feel it as much in the unsettledness of my stomach as I know it in my head. Worries, aka, negative beliefs (weeds in the ecosystem metaphor), start to set in. Poet Jane Hirshfield says that metaphors “are handles on the door of what we can know and of what we can imagine.” Using this metaphor of an internal ecosystem helps me think more like a farmer in the way I respond to this inner reality—instead of freaking out, I imagine starting to simply bend over and pull these newly sprouting weeds before they get out of hand. And, because nature doesn't like vacuums, I will actively work to fill the space left behind with the voices of positive beliefs. To do that, I’ve intentionally run this new idea by half a dozen folks whose perspectives I value, including a couple of my favorite sustainable farmers. All were supportive and encouraged me to keep going. So too did this bit from New Zealand agroecologist Nicole Masters’ book, For the Love of Soil. Her words encouraged me to go with my gut:

Intuition and our body’s knowing, is incredibly undervalued in our current society. … We’re not stronger when we ignore our intuition. Just the opposite. We become duller. We dull our senses and thereby limit our opportunities for a rich and insightful life that results from paying attention and syncing ourselves with nature.

George Orwell says that “A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image.” The idea of an internal ecosystem has already given me heightened awareness and sparked increased levels of intentionality about the way I self-manage. It’s a very small issue in the scheme of the world’s challenges, but this morning I was feeling sad about our decision to give away one of the two sister puppies we’ve been fostering. In one of those bittersweet moments that every human experiences, I’m happy that we’ve found Bea a forever home; but logic doesn’t lessen the loss. After being around her beautiful boisterous self for the last three months, I miss her. Tammie texted me this morning to say the same. I feel sad too for her little sister, Sol, who is still with us. In the ecosystem, sadness is akin to a sunset. It can bum me out when darkness comes, but the “night” that follows always passes, and the sun—aka, hope—always comes up again in the morning. The day after we moved Bea to her new home (where she seems super happy with her new puppy “brother,” Onyx), Tammie and I decided we loved Sol so much we weren’t going to let her go and decided to try incorporating her in with our other pups. Thanks to Tammie’s skill with the dogs, it went better, and faster, than I would have hoped. Watching her play with our other dogs almost immediately brought joy—it’s as if butterflies alighted in my brain.

As in nature, our internal ecosystems can shift quickly. Two critical emails, a customer complaint, and a food cost coming in high can bring my day down in minutes. Conversely, seeing someone we work with “get it” and begin coming into their own or tasting a great new product (like the single-origin, old-school peanuts you’ll see more on below) can boost my energy in an instant. When I take time to slow down and be with my thoughts, the fog of grief comes up around me, most prominently because of the killing last month of former partner Jude Walton, but also because this week marks the 15th anniversary of my mother’s passing.

Nicole Masters reminds us, “The actions which arise from the principles are influenced by your specific climate and circumstances.” I’m fortunate enough that when I’m feeling down there’s almost always joy to be found, hope to be had, learning to be done, people to help, and great food to be tasted—all of which enhance the energy in my ecosystem. I imagine this work is easier for me, working and living as I do, than it is for someone in less advantaged circumstances. Our inner ecosystems, of course, exist even in horribly inequitable and unjust conditions. So many people are working hard to manage internal ecosystems while at the same time worrying about where their next meal will come from, staying safe from the threat of violence, and a host of other challenges that I am fortunate enough not to be confronted with.

A big part of the work of managing our inner ecosystems is how we respond to hard-to-handle feelings and painful experiences. When those negatives come—and they will—we can learn to manage them more effectively, turning what starts out as trouble into something uplifting and energizing. The despair I felt after the Russian invasion of Ukraine 15 months ago turned, over the course of a couple weeks, into the inspiring idea of the revolution of dignity in the workplace. A few weeks ago, I was feeling down as I read, and then wrote, about the dehumanization that journalist Behrouz Boochani and his fellow refugees experienced in the prison camp on Manus Island. It was in the process of reflecting on what was done to Boochani that I began to think about this idea of an internal ecosystem. The Australian prison authorities, I saw, were actively working to destroy the inner ecosystems of the incarcerated. To take away their dignity, to block out all hope, to destroy any sense of purpose, to eliminate any joy or positive beliefs. Nicole Masters reminds me though to ​​“manage for what you want, not what you don’t want.” It’s my effort to turn those painful images into something more positive that got me thinking about what was possible—in the way one could imagine—with our inner ecosystems. When we manage them well, we can create the kind of peaceful, positive places where I at least would want to live, love, and work.

Self-awareness, and better internal ecosystem management like this, aren’t always easy but it does make for a marvelous, magical, meaningful difference. Philosopher Jason Kirkey writes,

We have to learn to read the poetry of ecosystems the same way one learns to read tracks and signs across a landscape—and to let it reshape and nourish our minds the way food nourishes and shapes our bodies. That is how we might come into consonance with the aesthetic of wildness, into consonance with the dào. That is what it means to eat beauty, to eat meaning, to eat poetry. 

The natural complexity of all ecosystems can make this work difficult. There are so many moving pieces, so many things that impact our internal state, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When I feel that coming on (see “Working Through Hard Times” for more), I remind myself to take a few deep, purposeful breaths and recenter myself, the better to sort through the many layers of activities that make up my life. Mas Masumoto reminds me, “It’s not the first question that’s the important one, it’s the second and the third.” With that and the ecosystem model in mind, I consider how I’m doing with each item from the metaphor: Is there anything I can/want to do to make it better? Any challenges or difficult issues I want to counterbalance?

Roots = beliefs
Soil = culture
Water = spirit of generosity
Sun = hope
Air = purpose
Minerals = money
Fungi = cultural connectors
Compassion = compost
Topsoil/humus = humility
Weather = emotions
Fear = pre-storm weather
Fire = anger
Sunset = sadness
Joy = butterflies

Love, I remind myself, is always present in healthy ecosystems—both inner ecosystems, and in organizations, communities, and for that matter, countries. Conversely, its absence is also telling.

Dignity is “how we show up” in the ecosystem. As you can tell from how much I’ve written about it in the last 15 months, it is very much front of mind. 

This is only part of the list I’ve created—email me if you want the longer version. As you imagine your own internal ecosystem, I will encourage you to tap into your creativity and add elements to the list above that feel right for you. Maybe you have dragonflies or field mice or even dragons. You might have mountains or make a point of having pelicans or puppies or magical poets. Or you could imagine an ecosystem with an abundance of elk, thinking of Jason Kirkey’s belief that “The elk at the forest edge resound with poetry, and their poetry transforms the landscape through their being.”

One of the interesting things about this idea of inner ecosystems is that both the “garden” and the “gardener” are made better by this work. When we act with positive beliefs about others, metaphorical flowers grow in our internal ecosystem. When we brighten others’ days with hope, our own hope level will also be increased at the same time. When we interact with dignity, our own dignity will be enhanced. When we choose to be generous of spirit, the generosity of our own thoughts increases as well! In this way, this work is wonderfully, radically, regenerative. Health builds upon health. Positive beliefs bring more positive beliefs. As Nicole Masters says, it’s “a mindset shift,” a shift that once we’ve made it “is like opening a door of possibilities that can never be closed again.”

When I was working to get the first draft of this essay sent in, a long-time customer, someone who has caringly supported us through all of our 40 harvests here at Zingerman’s, stopped to say hi. I was starting to pack up my stuff to go to a meeting and he asked with a little gleam in his eyes, “Got everything done?” I laughed and said, “It’s never all done!” He smiled back and I added, “Actually, that’s the point.” When we do this internal ecosystem work well, we will be at it, happily, for the rest of our days! Weeds will come, flowers will bloom, purposeful breezes will blow, the fog of grief will come and go. If I manage my inner landscape with love, embrace the inevitable challenges with grace, then—I can hope at least—there are many good things, and happy harvests, still to come.

The times we are living in, like all times in which people have been consciously aware of what’s happening in the world, are challenging. These difficulties, it seems clear, are exacerbated by new challenges that are emerging from 21st-century technology. New challenges may call for new approaches. This idea of teaching everyone to imagine themselves managing an internal ecosystem in their brain and body might be one of those new approaches. Rather than fixating on our phones, we can find a way to enhance the health, diversity, and energy of our inner ecosystems. Teaching and practicing this approach will, like all meaningfully positive change on the planet, take a long time to take hold, but it could well make a big difference. What Nicole Masters says of farming is equally true for the idea of holistically managing our internal ecosystems: 

Times like these make me reflect on the profound positive difference regenerative land systems can make in people’s lives. … We’re talking about a revolution.
More on looking inward

P.S. If you’d like to join me and Maggie as we run this experiment on understanding our organizational ecosystems, we would love to have you in the Master Class. You can sign up here!

P.P.S. Thanks to everyone who came to the talk about “Zingerman’s Food Philosophy” at the Roadhouse! The next event for the new pamphlet will be at the Deli on Tuesday, June 20! See you there?

a can of Hubs single-origin peanuts with peanuts overflowing the top of the can and some in front of the can

Awesome New
Single-origin Peanuts
at the Roadhouse

Farmed and sun-cured as they were a century ago

Whether they’re in our heads, our homes, or our organizations, ecosystems in nature will almost always attract unto themselves. As permaculturist Toby Hemenway writes, “Life builds on life. … serendipities we never hoped for—a surprising new wildflower, a rare butterfly … will grace our lives almost daily.” Food writer Robin Kline lives in Iowa, but she is a long-time part of the Zingerman’s ecosystem. A couple of years ago, Robin turned me onto the work of Gareth Higgins—thanks to Robin, Gareth and I are now good friends. He came here to speak at the Roadhouse last fall and will be back again to do more events in early December (details to come). A few months after Robin told me about Gareth, she emailed to tell me about some newly available single-origin peanuts from Virginia. I wasn’t really on the lookout for a new source. We’ve long been happy with the high-quality peanuts we’ve been buying for decades now. That all changed when I tasted the new ones—they were so darned delicious! I’m not normally a big peanut eater, but I found myself reaching back in the can over and over again to have a few more! A year down the road, those amazing peanuts are debuting this week at the Roadhouse! The flavor, and the story behind them, have absolutely enhanced the energy in my internal ecosystem. I forecast they will have a similarly positive impact on yours! 

The nuts come to us from the folks at Hubs, the third generation of the Hubbard family’s firm in Farmville, Virginia. Back in the mid-’50s, Dot Hubbard developed what’s evolved over the years into “the specialty peanut market.” She took the extra time to hand-select the largest peanuts from each local farm’s delivery and then dip them in hot water before blister-frying them in her kitchen. She and her husband, H.J., began shipping their peanuts by mail. Nearly 70 years later the company is run by their grandson, Marshall Rabil. Marshall has been working hard in recent years to take the company to new heights and he, like me, has an affinity for small, specialty experiments. I’m thrilled that Robin Kline cared enough to steer me so effectively to this one.  

Since these single-origin peanuts epitomize our philosophical approach to food, we debuted them at the event for “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy.” They’re completely in line with our definition of quality (see the piece I wrote a few weeks ago on the subject here). They’re remarkably full-flavored—they have loads of complexity, balance, and finish. And they’re very traditional—this is the way high-quality peanuts would have tasted 100 years ago! They’re grown by Elisha Barnes, a fourth-generation farmer in Virginia. Barnes is beyond passionate about his peanut growing, and his connection to community, history, and the land. He's been into it since he was a child: “The first time I got hooked on farming I was six years old.” Through farming and his upbringing, Barnes has developed a life philosophy that fits well with our own: “My father taught us how to treat people and how to be honest. He taught us integrity.” Both his passion and his principles are reflected in the excellence of the peanuts! 

While Elisha Barnes’ farm isn’t certified organic, he uses no chemicals on the land. He harvests the peanuts using a 100-year-old picker, equipment he has had to modify regularly to make it work with his 50-year-old tractor. The peanuts are made particularly special because Barnes still uses the old way of curing them which is known as “shocking.” Just-dug nuts, left on the vine as they grew, are wrapped about around five-foot-high poles to sun-dry out in the field (think corn shocks). They’re left to cure for about six weeks before they’re brought in, cleaned, and brought to Hubs to get that patented blistering, roasting, and salting. 

A hundred years ago, pretty much every peanut farmer worked this way. Today Elisha Barnes is the only one still doing it. It makes a big difference in the flavor. Barnes says, “It creates the sweetest, highest germination rate peanut there is. You see, [flash] drying takes out part of the germination quality, and it takes out the sweetness. It takes part of the quality out of the peanut. But I want to keep that.” In the spirit of a holistic internal ecosystem, Barnes says,

Tilling the soil, it teaches a spiritual lesson. Do your part, invest in the land and the land will give you an increase. We are a fourth-generation farm. My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather all farmed peanuts. I am right now the only farmer anywhere around that actively shocks peanuts like this. … It's rewarding. It's an honor. Who would've ever thought that the son of a sharecropper would be standing on the land that he now owns and farming peanuts the way that my father and his father did. That speaks volumes for me.

I am indebted to Hubs for coming on board with me and allowing me to be able to raise this and allow it to be financially beneficial so that I can continue to do this growing. Hubs hopes the single-sourced specialty peanut will remind people of their roots. It has already given one farmer exactly what he needs! My daughter says that I'm a dinosaur that refuses to die. The chapters of my life will close with me farming the way I want to farm.

Aside from all the work on growing peanuts, supporting Elisha Barnes in this way is also a small step toward helping to restore Black farmers to the land. Today, in 2023, Black farmers account for only 10 percent of what Black farmers owned and worked a century ago. Barnes says, “Southampton County, at the turn of the century, was primarily Black-owned.” Today Barnes is one of only a few Black farmers left working local lands. A couple years ago, Barnes and his oldest brother bought back his father’s 52-acre spread in Courtland. He says proudly, “This past year, I raised peanuts on the family farm for the first time in 30 years.”

In the spirit of what I wrote last week about Charles White, Elisha Barnes says of his commitment to these traditional techniques of farming, “Maybe just maybe I’ll inspire somebody to take just a little bit of this old history and keep it alive.” I’m pretty confident his hope will be fulfilled many times over in the coming years. Swing by the Roadhouse soon and enjoy some of these amazing peanuts soon! Flavor is big, but supplies are limited!

Reserve your table at the Roadhouse
P.S. For more on the painful history of what has happened to Black farmers in the U.S. check out Leah Penniman’s work at Soul Fire Farm in this talk, her book Farming While Black, and Pete Daniels’ book, Dispossession.
a bottle of limited edition il molino olive oil

Amazing New Olive Oil Arrival from Lazio

Don’t miss the limited edition oil from Il Molino

The new crop of Il Molino oil from Lazio in central Italy is super tasty—seriously, it’s another of those particularly amazing, so-good-I-just-gotta-write-about-them-here sorts of products that we have been specializing in for 41 years! 

The Il Molino estate is a restored 17th-century farmhouse, located in Montefiascone in the north of the region of Lazio, near the town of Viterbo and the shore of the beautiful Lago Bolsena. It’s about an hour and a half north of Rome, just west of the main road to Florence, and roughly 200 miles due east of the Abruzzo town of Pianella where the Peduzzi family makes the Rustichella pasta I wrote about below. Although olives and oil have been produced on the estate for hundreds of years, it’s just in the last decade that their oil has been offered for sale under the Il Molino label. What we have on the shelf right now is a small subset of their already small production—only 2000 bottles are packed with a beautiful blue rose on the label.

There are many factors that contribute to the high quality of the Il Molino oil. Unlike most modern commercial olive farms, the trees on the estate are very old (some over 200 years) and the spacing of the trees in the field is much wider. The olives are pressed within a very impressive three to four hours of picking (anything under 24 hours is considered to be quite good), again contributing to quality. Additionally, Annalisa Torzilli and her team store the oil under nitrogen to protect it from oxidation. Annalisa is also very adamant about sustainable farming—the oil is certified organic. The oil is made from a blend of Caninese, Leccino, and Frantoio olives—the Canino is increasingly hard to find, but has long been known for the complexity of its character. The microclimate around the lake makes for milder weather, which helps enhance the quality of the oil. The label is a tribute to Stelvio Coggiatti—journalist, writer, botanist, and Annalisa’s father-in-law—who planted the beautiful roses that grow so abundantly in the Il Molino gardens. Coggiatti wrote two books on roses in the ’80s, back when we were still just getting going at the Deli. His second, The Language of Roses, has beautiful watercolors of 63 different roses, painted by Swiss flower artist Anne-Marie Treschlin! 

Il Molino’s commitment to quality comes through in the oil, which is exceptionally good; beautifully bitter, alive, sharp in a sensationally wonderful way. It’s harvested exceptionally early—this year in late September (as opposed to the more typical mid-late October for most) which reduces yield but increases intensity and complexity of flavor. The flavor is good, the aroma so appealing, that for me a few tastes on fresh bread or toast can turn a difficult day around in a matter of minutes. When I consider the impact that my energy can have on our greater ecosystem, the cost of the oil turns into a tiny investment in holistic health! 

Il Molino has won a wealth of awards over the last few years, and for good reason—the oil is really terrific! The aroma has a lovely bit of green grassiness. The flavor is fine and very different from any other oil we’ve got—it’s both bitter and subtly sweet at the same time, with a gentle hint of white pepper at the end. It’s excellent on salads of spicy greens like arugula where its simultaneous sweetness and spiciness show to full effect. Same can be said for roast pork or beef, cooked greens, or pasta (this oil over the Rustichella Senatore Cappelli Linguine with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano would be wonderful). And of course, the best snack in the world is a slice of Bakehouse Bread—maybe Paesano—toasted and topped with some of this olive oil and a bit of Fleur de Sel.

Buy a bottle—or two—while it’s fresh and superfine!

P.S. You won’t see this bottle on the Mail Order site but we’d love to send you one. Email us at!

an overhead view of packaged Townie Brownies on a white speckled surface

Townie Brownies Continue to Take the Cake

Twelve months after a big improvement they’re still solidly my favorite brownie

If you want to bring a small, sweet, easily transportable, taste of Zingerman’s with you as a gift, the Townie Brownie could just be your ticket. While they’re not yet that well known out in the world at large, inside the ZCoB they have, in the last year, won a wealth of loyal fans, of which I am one of the most adamant! As I’ll say a couple of times in the course of this piece, they are by far my favorite of the seven or eight different brownies that we make at the Bakehouse.

In the 2032 Vision we write:

Great food is how we started in 1982 and it still drives us today. We love how much the entire Ann Arbor area food community has grown over the years—we’re happily part of a very healthy culinary ecosystem. Every dish we serve is fantastic. We’ve achieved this, in part, because we’ve never stopped asking, “How can it be better?”

The Townie Brownies are a great answer to that question. We first developed the Townie Brownie as a way to make a wheat-free brownie for our gluten-free customers. We use amaranth and quinoa in place of wheat, and it’s been a solidly good brownie since its beginnings back in 2010. The newly French-Broadified brownies are beautifully tasty. Less sweet, more complex, longer finish, meaningfully more chocolatey. In the 2032 Vision we write, “Flavor is consistently fuller and finishes are longer; the complexity of flavor has been taken to new heights.” Sure enough, the Townie Brownies here in 2023 are now more chocolatey, less sweet, and super tasty!

In fact, as I was working on this piece, I had the thought that the Townie Brownies just could rightly be deemed the official brownie of our 2032 Vision (see “The Story of Visioning” for the full version of the vision). As I ran through the various sections of the vision, it seemed like nearly all of them were baked together into this great-tasting brownie. Our vision is brought beautifully alive in this small three-inch square bit of baked-off chocolate deliciousness. “Ever more flavorful food.” “Local roots.” “Love.” All apply! One year ago this month, we improved the chocolate in the Townie Brownies. Twelve months later, it quietly remains one of the best improvements in quality we’ve made. At the time we made the change, I was already tentatively telling people that, although the original Magic Brownies outsell them by like 300 to one, the Townie Brownies are by far my favorite! Today, I tell people regularly this is the one I recommend most highly.

We stock Townie Brownies at the Bakeshop, Deli, and Roadhouse. You can also ask for one in your Brownie Sundae at the Roadhouse, both because they taste great and because anyone you care about on a gluten-free diet can enjoy one. The Townie Brownies, I’ll also add, are also amazingly excellent if you dip the edge into finely ground (and not yet brewed) espresso—highly recommended! 

In our 2032 Vision, we write that ten years from now, “Our dedication to the Ann Arbor area is a huge piece of what makes us who we are.” In this context, it’s only fitting and right that the Townie Brownie should become our best! Here’s to Tree Town, Townie Brownies, and a really good rest of 2023!

Or let us ship some brownies to your brother in Boise
P.S. If you want to try the French Broad Nicaragua on its own, you can pick up the bar at the Candy Store on Plaza Drive and at the Deli and we have the chocolate packed from the bulk we buy at the Bakeshop too!

Terrifically Twisted Trofie with Anchovies & Arugula

Easy spring pasta dish to make for an evening meal

When arugula starts coming in for the spring season here in southeast Michigan I try to eat as much as possible! This pasta dish is an easy and excellent way to make that happen. I used trofie pasta to make it because we buy it through long-time friend, Rolando Beramendi who will be coming to town in the middle of next month to do a highly recommended series of culinary events at the Roadhouse, BAKE!, and the Deli. 

The trofie come from the Peduzzi family and their fantastic artisan pasta-making firm, Rustichella d’Abruzzo, which we have access to thanks to Manicaretti, the import company that Rolando started 35 years or so ago! (You can read a bit more about Rolando on page 66 of “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy!”) A lot of people just call it, “the one in the brown bag.” The family business dates back to 1924, when the grandfather of the current owner, Gianluigi Peduzzi, started selling his pasta in the Abruzzese town of Penne. What makes their pasta so great? Great grain. Slow mixing. Bronze die extrusion. Slow gentle drying. As I say in the pamphlet, “You really can taste the difference!” 

Trofie (pronounced TRO-FEE-YEH) are small twists of pasta, a bit like a two-inch piece of twine, folded in half, then gently (but never tightly) twisted. They’re the typical pasta of the Italian Riviera, so when summer basil starts coming, they’re a perfect pairing with pesto! Since it’s only spring, I did them up the other evening at home with arugula and anchovies! It turned out to be so terrifically tasty that I decided to write it up here!

To prepare the pasta, bring a big pot of fresh water to a boil. Salt well (I like the French Grey Salt) so that the water tastes like the sea. When it’s boiling rapidly, add about a quarter pound of trofie per person. Stir well. While the pasta is cooking, put a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet. Take about a quarter pound of fresh arugula per person and coarsely chop it. Because the arugula cooks down so quickly, it will look like a LOT in its raw form, but remember that after it’s cooked you’ll be left with only a fraction of its original volume. When the pasta is almost done, begin to heat the oil gently. If you like garlic, add a clove (or more if you want) of peeled and slivered garlic to the oil and stir for a minute or so. You don’t want it to brown, just gently cook it to release its flavors. Add a few fennel seeds (I love the ones we’re getting from Daphnis and Chloe in Greece). Add the arugula and stir gently. When it softens—which shouldn’t take more than a minute or two—add a tin of high-quality anchovies. The ones I featured from Fishwife a few weeks ago would work wonderfully well. Stir so the anchovies get soft. Take a bit of the pasta cooking water out of the pot and set aside. If the trofie aren’t yet done, turn off the arugula-anchovy mix so it doesn't overcook. When the trofie are al dente, drain them and add to the pot and stir well to mix with the arugula and anchovies. Cook for a couple minutes so the flavors come together. Add a small bit of the pasta cooking water to thin the “sauce.” Serve in warm bowls with Parmigiano Reggiano (or if you want sharper flavors, a good Pecorino) grated on top!

Try some trofie

P.S. You can get the Rustichella Trofie at the Cream Top Shop (up the walk from the Bakehouse) and at the Deli

P.P.S. I’ll write more about Rolando’s visit soon, but you can purchase seats now.

Other Things on My Mind


In the spirit of somewhat sad music, Richard Allen has a new album out entitled Just Songs. Allen is from England but has long been living in France. I love his 2014 album, In the Front Room and now this new one as well. A touch of Nick Drake, a little John Martyn, a bit of Bert Jansch, and really just a lot of gentle, musical loveliness.


Behrouz Boochani’s new book, Freedom, Only Freedom

I’ve mentioned Connie Converse’s music a number of times over the years. She moved to Ann Arbor from NYC in 1961 (her brother Philip Converse was a prominent professor here on campus) and she lived here until she disappeared in 1974. While she was in Ann Arbor, she ran The Journal of Conflict Resolution. The two albums of her music that are available are amazing—she’s famously referred to as “the female Bob Dylan.” The New York Times ran a big article about Converse this past week, focusing mostly on her time in New York.

Photo credits: Tammie Gilfoyle, Hubs, Zingerman's Deli, and Zingerman's Bakehouse

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