Archive for April, 2012

A little about Mexican Mole

Thursday, April 26th, 2012


Mole, the savory Mexican sauce most of us know as chocolate and chili pounded to a smooth paste, is a traditional food celebrating Cinco de Mayo.  Alex Pardo, part owner and chef of Jalapeno’s in Gloucester, grew up making day trips from his home in Mexico City to the city of Puebla, where people traveled for mole the way they travel to Essex for fried clams.


There are a few Puebla mole legends, but in Pardo’s version mole ingredients were first mixed in a molcajete (a lava rock mortar and pestle) in 1862 by Puebla nuns planning a quick escape from the offending French army.  The nuns threw together foods that would best suit a long journey.  Their chocolate and chili mixture, packed with protein and vitamins, was sachel-ready to make an old turkey or hunk of venison cooked over a campfire delicious and nutritious.  Miraculously, the Mexicans Army defeated the French on May 5th, and Cinco de Mayo became the El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla, The Day of the Battle of Puebla.  (It is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16th.) Cinco de Mayo can be a horn-honking, flag-waving celebration in this country, particularly in cities like Chicago with large Mexican communities, but in Mexico it’s recognized regionally, certainly in Puebla.



Mole, Pardo explained, has many variations in Mexico, the way curry in India comes in hundreds of flavors.  The Puebla version is chocolate and chills, but there are green, black, yellow and Colorado moles.  “Moles” simply means “sauce.”  Still, traditionally, moles are a combination of often thirty ingredients, many of which are elaborately toasted and ground before mixing together.  According to Rick Bayless, chef/owner of the well known Southwest restaurant in Chicago, Frontera Grill, the components to mole are generally five distinct tastes:  chiles, sour (tomatillos), sweet (dried fruits, honey), spice and thickeners (nuts, bread crumbs).

To see Alex Pardo make Chicken Enchilladas with Mole go to the video:

In my newspaper column this week I published David Lebovitz’ mole recipe, but I’m going to print my all time favorite mole recipe here:  Rowan Jacobsen’s simplified version of the mole basics.

Poor Man’s Mole


1 tablespoon corn oil or lard

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 cup toasted pepitas

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted and their juice)

1 cup Choco-chile sauce (recipe below)

4 cups shredded or chunked cooked meat (chicken, turkey)

salt to taste

1 cup fresh cilantro


Heat the oil or lard in a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients.  When it’s shimmering, add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes.

Combine the pepitas tomatoes, Choco-Chili Saue, and sauteed onions in a blender or food processor and blend until fairly smooth.  A little texture is fine.

Return the sauce to the skillet and cook over low heat until it begn to bubble, about 5 minutes.  Keep scrap8ng the bottom of the skillet with a flat spatula, as the thick sauce likes to stick.

Add the meat and simmer until everything is hot and the flavors have melded, about 15 minutes. The sauce thickens as it cooks so you may need to add liquid as you go.  Water or stock is fine, but if you’ve really planned ahead you’ve saved the leftover soaking water from the Choco-Chili sauce.  Taste and add salt if needed.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with tortillas or polenta.


Choco-Chili Sauce

Makes about 1 cup


2 ounces dried pasilla or ancho chilies

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 to 2 ounces baking or dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa), finely chopped

1 teaspoon honey

zest and juice of 1/2 lime

1/2 teaspoon salt


Stem and seed the chilies.  (This is easiest when thy’re in a dried state.  The seeds rattle around inside the skins like beans in a maraca and simply fall out when you cut open the chilies.)  Put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Let them sit for at least 15 minutes.

Drain the chilies, reserving the soaking liquid, and puree them in a food processor with the other ingredients, adding small amounts of soaking liquid as needed to make it blend smoothly.  (You may also want to use the soaking liquid in a Poor Man’s Mole.)  Taste and add more lime or salt if desired.  The sauce will keep for at least a week (possibly forever, Jacobsen says he’s never tested it) and its flavor will actually improve after a day or so.


Rocky Delforge, artist and printmaker

Thursday, April 19th, 2012



In the long tradition of Rockport artists, Rocky Delforge, 24, has set up a print-making studio a block away from Sandy Bay.  The famous Cape Ann light filters into his organization disguised as clutter in his studio disguised as a garage.

Still, there are no seagulls or sailboat images here.  Delforge’s muscular prints and drawings remind me of Charles Scheeler’s early 20th century photographs of flying highway ramps and sky-scrapered avenues.  Delforge has “arm” in his drawings, confident lines that efficiently (and dare I say with purity?) define space.  In the whimsical roof of Gloucester’s city hall, or in the rivulets of character of an old man’s face, Delforge extracts just enough but adds much.


Delforge is a member of a recently launched organization called The Rockport Creative Collective, a group of working artists living in Rockport who gather monthly in each other’s studios to drink wine and talk about what it means to be an artist today in this small seaside town.  To tweet or not to tweet, the group asked themselves recently. Some said yes; some firmly no.  They talk about things like that, but mostly they gather just the way artists always have – the need to talk and be together.  From that an artistic vibe is born, something worth reviving on our Cape so historically heavy with painters and sculptors.

Particularly interested in collaborations between retailers and artists on Cape Ann – retailers often have blank walls that need filling and local artists have Art -Delforge hung a show of prints at Thistle Hill in Rockport this past March, and for a night, in the dreariest time of year, one shop on Main St. glowed with light and laughter for the opening – more reason to collaborate.

You can see Delforge’s work hanging now in Pleasant St. Tea Co, at 7 Pleasant St. in Gloucester and at this link to his Facebook page:


A Mothers Day Recipe Contest: win a gift from The Landmark Files

Sunday, April 15th, 2012


My mother wasn’t the round, rosy, aproned grandmother; she was the tall, thin woman quietly shelling perfect spring peas in the kitchen while everyone else poured wine and dipped into her pesto and goat cheese torta in the dining room.  She was shy and relationships weren’t easy for her; Preparing beautiful meals was her way of connecting to people when words and feelings baffled her.

Probably for these reasons my mother didn’t believe in potlucks; she believed in making every course herself.  Only in later years would she stoop to accepting people’s offers to contribute.  And when she finally began asking me to bring a dish to Thanksgiving, I heard  the submission in her voice.  It killed her, as if she were surrendering a portion of her kingdom.

And when I showed up with the two pumpkin pies she’d requested, there sitting on her dining room buffet table were two of the most gorgeous pumpkin pies you’ve ever seen – tender crusts crimped in perfect rolling waves, the filling a fresh pumpkin baked with heavy cream and aged bourbon.  In the end she couldn’t surrender.  Instead of seeing my pies as assistance she had seen them as a challenge.  Instead of scratching pumpkin pies from her list of things to do, she’d added “make them even better than ever.”

She was a little nuts.  I’m sure everyone has their own stories about their mothers – funny, odd, difficult, complicated – and recipes to decorate the tales.  I invite you to send “Food for Thought” a favorite recipe from your mother.  The recipe could be her best or her worst, your favorite or the funniest depiction of her.  If you can, send a story along with it.

The contest will end on Mother’s Day.  We’ll simply pick the contribution that zings us with all that motherhood is:  a woman struggling to love and raise children when loving herself wasn’t always a finished project.  For many of us, our mothers’ dishes say that.  Maybe your mother’s recipe says “Mom would rather be selling real estate.”  Send it in if you think it’s good.



The prize will be a gorgeous dessert place setting for four assembled by Tom Stockton of The Landmark Files, with one of a kind items from his secret sources:  Oversized oatmeal linen napkins from HumbleSimpleSlow.  Candlesticks handcrafted from rail spindles.  Cut glass sherry glasses.  Verrines on a chunky modern charger.  Cups for your cafe au lait.  Even the pears spinning in a whirl of raffia, a la Tom.

Submit your recipe and/or story two ways:  either paste it into the “contact us” section or mail it to


I’m finishing with a recipe I found in my mother’s files:  Bertha’s Pound Cake.  It’s an alchemic combination of butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream and flavorings.  My mother made the pound cake for years; the ratio of crumb to density is fine-to-elegant, and the flavor makes me think of buttercups.  If my mother had asked me to bring a cake for dessert we both would have baked this one, as neither one of us could improve upon Bertha’s Pound Cake with fresh berries and whipped cream.


Bertha’s Lb. Cake



2 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup butter

3 cups flour

6 eggs


1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon lemon flavoring

1/2 teaspoon orange flavoring

1/2 teaspoon vanilla flavoring



Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 10 inch bundt pan.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time.

Sift dry ingredients. Add alternately with sour cream.  Add flavorings.

Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, approximately 45 minutes.









The Prize from The Landmark Files

If your mother’s recipe and story send us, we’ll send you the following:

(There are four of each unless otherwise noted.)


1. white ceramic simple coffee cups and saucers

2. dessert wine stem ware cut glass etched with subtle floral pattern (Tom’s


3. cordial stem ware with subtle tear drop shaped pattern

4. glass verrines

5. small footed glasses/bowls

6. white ceramic saucers

7. chargers made out of a composite material with a silver finish (a bit of bling)

8. teaspoon size spoons

9. glass water glasses

10.  Handmade linen napkins from HumbleSimpleSlow

11.  white ceramic water pitcher (don’t you always want water with dessert after the usually too salty meal?)

12. white ceramic modern biomorphic flower vase

13. Large whitewashed candle sticks made from Victorian railings and fence caps

14. flameless wax battery operated candles

15. mid size white wood candlesticks

16. real taper candles

17. metal woven basket with handles and silver finish for desert wine or cordial bottle (more bling)





Barbara Erkkila’s Finnish Rusks

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012


For years Bayview and Lanesville-raised Barbara Erkkila “got the story” for The Gloucester Times.  She covered Cape Ann news from her early days as a teen journalist reporting on new boats arriving in Lane’s Cove, to covering the first Gulf of Maine shrimp landing in Gloucester Harbor, to interviewing the old guys playing cards in the Lane’s Cove fish houses.  (They are fish “houses,” Erkkila scolds.  “The artists started calling them fish shacks; they were too neat to be shacks.”)

“I loved a story,” Erkkila, in her LePage apartment, told me recently.  “My husband would come home from work and I’d be at the door saying, ‘I gotta go!  I gotta get a story!” – meaning, you take the kids, dear.

Erkkila first started writing for The Gloucester Times when, as a teenager she was told she could attend Girl Scout Camp for free if she wrote about the weekly meetings, which she did.  She learned to cook pancakes on the top of a can resting on an open fire, but the more important lesson was the thrill of seeing her name in print for the first time.

“That did it!” she said; she’s been reporting on and photographing Cape Ann life ever since – in her books Hammers on Stone, Village at Lane’s Cove, and forty years of Gloucester Daily Times and Boston Globe features with the Erkkila byline.  She won a UPI award for her full page spread, including photos, on that premier Maine shrimp landing.

“Everyone has a story,” Erkkila, ninety-three, told me, her passion for people and their lives still evident in her sparkling eyes.

“You leave out as much as you put in,” Erkkila reminds.  “I was always careful; I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

Her own story mirrors the cultural and community riches of days when fishing and granite quarrying thrived on Cape Ann.

“At seven I lived right on Plum Cove Beach.  My sister and I were always playing together; we spent hours on the rocks –  we knew which ones would ‘tittle’ if you stepped on it wrong; we knew the moss-covered ones you would slip on…We’d take a piece of fence with wire still on it, and attach hermit crabs to the wire to catch cunners…we couldn’t wait for the summer people to leave so we could go find the treasures they left behind.”

Erkkila emerged as an authority on Cape Ann for the outside world.  When someone asked how wide was the gap at Lane’s Cove, she called the Coast Guard –

“You don’t know?” she cried.  “But I’ve seen your boats in Lane’s Cove; you must know how wide it is to get them in!”  They didn’t.  So, resident George Morey (who famously always removed three socks from his drawer every morning before he went out fishing, not wanting to turn on the light and disturb his sleeping wife; if there are only two colors in the drawer he was bound to get a pair.) went out in two boats and measured the gap for Erkkila; It’s 52 feet wide.

“I called the Coast Guard and told them,” Erkkila made clear.

When the Holland Tunnel was being worked on, and two large blocks at the entrance had been ruined, the New York authorities called Erkkila.  They described the granite’s color to her, and she said, “Oh, that’s from the Blood Ledge quarry.”

You know where it came from?!” they exclaimed.

“Of course,” Erkkila answered.  And to their amazement she was able to find someone to quarry new pieces of the “Lanesville gray with a little green” colored granite from the exact source.

Erkkila lived in Lanesville in the golden age when the number of great sculptors living there equalled the number of those shingled fish houses.   She lived down the street from Walker Hancock, and as a result ended up baking Robert Frost’s birthday cake when he was staying with the sculptor for sittings.

“Plain white cake with white frosting,” Hancock decided when Erkkila asked him what flavor.  “Just put Happy Birthday on it,” he added, as opposed to “Happy Birthday, Frost or Bob.”

Erkkila received a hard written note, including a freshly written poem, from the poet for her efforts.

When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, igniting fear of invasion, Erkkila’s response was to learn their language.  She studied Russian at Boston University, and in 1960 traveled to Yalta on a steamer, where she swam in the Black Sea.  When she presented a slide show of the trip at the Lanesville Congregational Church, so many people turned out, as news from Russia was novel in those days, the minister wished he had sold tickets.

Barbara Erkkila’s vehicle of choice?

“My family only drove Fords and Harleys – there is no other motorcycle.”

Still looking for an adventure, Barbara told me she’d like to travel to India and see the Taj Mahal by moonlight.  “It’s not granite,” she said, “but who cares – I’d like to see it!”

Alas, slightly pouty, pointing to the cane beside her, she said, “there are so many things to do out there, but gosh darn I’ve got to sit in this chair!”

The Lanesville Community Center will host a celebration of Barbara Erkkila this Sunday afternoon, April 15, 2012, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Join her for Nisu and coffee, ask her questions, listen to her stories, and be inspired.

Born “Howell” and married to a Finn, Erkkila offers this recipe for Finnish rusks, the perfect partner – lighter than a cookie, more flavorful than toast – to an afternoon cup of coffee.  You can find Nisu, the Scandinavian bread redolent with cardamon, at The Brother’s Brew Coffee Shop in Rockport.

Finnish Rusks

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with a rack.

Slice three-day-old Nisu into ovals.  Set out a bowl of milk and a bowl of cinnamon sugar.  Dip each slice in milk and turn over so other side is coated.  Then dip the slice into cinnamon sugar, and turn over so completely coated.

Lay ovals out on the rack, and cook until dry all the way through.

Salmon with Horseradish and Parsley Sauce

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012


Each Passover seder I attend, I am surprised all over again at how welcome the tastes of parsley, hard-boiled eggs, apples and nuts, and horseradish are.   Why are these such delicious tastes in the spring, when most years (not this one) we’re greedily counting crocuses, desperate for delicate green tastes?  Shouldn’t we be craving asparagus and chives?  And maybe we are, but I also believe the seder plate – beyond the tale of the Haggadah, which anoints the six foods with a symbolism retelling Jewish exodus from Egypt – these foods are primal tastes of spring, examples of realistically, in a time without grocery stores, what was available for a celebration.  There are new lambs in the fields.  The chickens are laying again.  Sturdy parsley maybe have wintered over.  A few last apples and nuts are rolling in bins in the pantry.  Horseradish?

Representing the “bitter herb,” or “maror” in Hebrew, horseradish on the Passover seder plate symbolizes the suffering the Jews endured as slaves under the Egyptians.   Amoracia rusticana, a member of the Brassicaceae family which also include mustard, broccoli and cabbages, horseradish was deemed “worth its weight in gold” by the Delphic oracle – probably the origins of that phrase – most likely for its medicinal properties.  An ancients’ treatment for urinary tract infections, bronchitis, and sinus congestion, horseradish was considered antibacterial from 1500 BC Egypt through the European Middle Ages, and then settled into modern times as a spicy way to upgrade boiled meat.

But its appearance in many cultures’ spring celebrations is significant.  Horseradish appear in Easter dishes in Romania, Slovenia, and the Veneto region of Italy.  In the Silesia region of Poland they eat horseradish soup on Easter Day.

Horseradish roots are harvested in the autumn; there must be something about horseradish being the last of the strong flavors held over from winter.  At Passover and Easter, the new spring greens – if any – are still too delicate, and horseradish is the one element left in the larder, there beside those rolling apples, to strike a high note of flavor in the meal.  In our primal taste memories, our taste buds are still dining from an early, almost empty spring pantry, and horseradish, parsley and apples together still taste so good.

This recipe combines those tastes in an entree, hopefully appropriate for the meal after a seder or for an Easter dinner.  Horseradish and parsley sauce, bound with creme fraiche,  tops seared and roasted salmon, first given a quick brine scented with orange peel.

A note:  the brine ingredients are enough for ten servings of salmon, although this recipe  is for 4 – 6.  Invite more guests if you wish!





Salmon with Horseradish and Parsley Sauce

 serves 4-6



one half cup kosher salt

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (from 3 medium oranges)

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2-3 pounds of salmon, cut into serving fillets, preferably wild


one half bunch parsley, chopped fine (about 1 cup)

1 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)

3 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 tablespoons mayonnaise

one half teaspoon lemon juice

pinch of salt to taste



In medium bowl, whisk together salt, sugar, orange zest, and pepper. Coat salmon fillets with rub and transfer to rack set over large rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to refrigerator and chill 1 hour.

Mix together the ingredients for the sauce, and chill until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Using paper towels, pat salmon fillets dry. In large nonstick pan over moderately high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add 3 to 4 fillets, skin side down, and sear until undersides are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer, skin sides up, to baking sheet. Sear remaining salmon, wiping pan clean and adding 2 tablespoons oil between each batch. Transfer salmon to oven and roast just until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve with horseradish crème fraïche.




Fab Figs

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012


How can anyone go wrong with chocolate ganache filled figs?  Fab Figs are handmade in Palm Springs, CA.  Tom Stockton, of the blog The Landmark Files, brought some home to me on one of his many escapes to the land of movie stars and cacti.  This is the second box he’s brought me because the first was scarfed up too quickly to be a blog.  We fight over them in this house; no guest of ours has ever seen a chocolate ganache filled fig because we don’t save them for the next dinner party.  I’ve seen a daughter eyeing them for breakfast.

To drive you a little more crazy, they come in both dark chocolate and white.

You should be more generous – or not.