Archive for October, 2015

Common Crow, Common Thanks

Monday, October 19th, 2015



Even before they began talking delicious Common Crow foods, like Beef Cabbage-Roll Soup, owners Pat Towler and Kate Noonan began our interview thanking people, starting with builder Stanley Poole, who did everything he could to create an environmentally responsible building for his new tenants: all LED-lighting, state of the art, high efficiency refrigeration and HVAC systems. An example of the detail in this environmentally responsible pledge? – the heat generated from the refrigeration units is reclaimed to preheat hot water in the kitchen.

Poole had not even known the organic natural market existed in Gloucester, but confessed he always envisioned a “farm store” in his new Pond Rd. and Eastern Ave. space. From the beginning of their owner/tenant partnership Poole was as committed as Towler and Noonan to creating an environmentally responsible building.

“It’s really hard to find a contractor with that point of view,” Towler said. Building a grocery store, she added, is the third most complex kind of structure to build, right behind an airport or a hospital. With imposing refrigeration, a commercial kitchen’s hygienics, and the finesse of well-placed shelving, a grocery is part lab, part hospital, part general store. Environmentally responsible building means additional expenses, but a long return on investments for the community and the environment.

Towler and Noonan thanked the City of Gloucester, who provided a Community Development Block Grant intended to help small businesses grow, and which helped fund the new building. The new Common Crow created twenty-eight new jobs for the Cape Ann community. The store grew 60%, going from twenty-eight to fifty-six employees when it moved to Eastern Ave from downtown.

Speaking of downtown, Towler says the decision to leave their “nest” on Elm St. meant “some convincing” and “some heart-wrenching.”

“We had forty-five years of representation downtown,” she said, referring to a natural food culture that began with The Glass Sail Boat (now Alchemy), included the old Food Coop on Emerson Ave., and then the Crow’s shift to an independent natural food grocer, nested first on Pleasant St. and then on Elm.

“We always thought we’d be downtown,” Noonan admitted, but the parking and facilities necessary to support a larger downtown grocery store proved too hard to secure.

After some resistance, many of the downtown customers have found their way to Eastern Ave. For some “heritage” customers, the LED-bright expanse was “jaw-dropping.”

“Long-time customers have walked in the door and burst into tears,” Towler said, proving how poignant if feels to trust a food source, how strong and significant that bond can be.

Towler and Noonan thanked Bob Gillis at Cape Ann Savings Bank for allowing them to purchase more expensive, lower-emission equipment, again that investment in community and environment. These immense costs are almost invisible to the shopper focused on bulk oats and organic milk. These costs lumber unsexy, unseen in the walls and backrooms, but their impact on the environment proves how this group – Pat Towler, Kate Noonan, Stanley Poole, and Cape Ann Savings Bank – were committed to so much more than good groceries when they began to build.

Have you noticed a whole new look to the Common Crow, their bold, board sign with the modern, serif-less font? Rockport resident Stephanie Cornell, whose grocery resume includes helping run an eight million dollar renovation of the large Austin, Texas grocer, Central Market, has managed the Crow’s new version of their old message.  The font is new but the Common Crow message has not budged from its origins.

“Grocery stores are basically real estate arranged by large manufacturers,” Towler said. Cereal and soda companies, and vendors who can afford it, “rent’ shelves. While the new Common Crow is grander, brighter, and more energy responsible, the  integrity is the same.

“I bring real food to people in the community, food we trust, and believe in, food that is made the way we want all food to be made – with no chemicals, using fair trade practices, on a human scale. My space is not for sale,” Towler said with her singular quiet authority.

And how about the food? That kitchen is producing (from scratch!) all organic prepared entrees, wraps, and soups like, as mentioned, that Beef Cabbage Roll, Coconut Curry Vegetable, and Kale Sausage. Soup stocks are created, just like home, from simmering organic chicken bones. In fact, my favorite new addition to the new Common Crow might be their homemade chicken and vegetables stocks available in the refrigerator.  Cook Rung Mclean is in the kitchen preparing authentic Thai recipes like Panang curry and spring rolls. The gleaming stainless steel kitchen includes two full-time bakers (almost).

the store

There is just more room for more small producers, more possibilities for humanely sourced, organic, fair trade and local products now that the Crow has more shelves. Valle Sante pastas, Flying Bird Botanics, Grindstoneneck smoked fish, and of course Alprilla Farm local produce are examples of new products and old friends. Remember that heritage turkeys from Stonewood Farms in Orwell, VT can be ordered in advance through the Common Crow. And this year, Towler and Noonan have invested in Essex farmer, Liz Jaeger who has started a local heirloom, turkey business. To the very lucky, a few of these birds are available to order. About those well-stocked Crow shelves? – some of the Crow’s fixtures are original Glass Sail Boat pieces, practically Cape Ann heirlooms.

The last Common Crow thank you – in the shape of “Crow Fest” – goes out to the whole Cape Ann Community. An all-day celebration this Saturday, Crow Fest begins on your bike; join up with friends to ride your bike to the new Crow, where all kinds of Crow-ish fun like cider pressing, drumming, and a “family plant walk” will be happening, along with, of course, good local food and music. It is also, by the way, National Food Day.

Pat Towler offers this luscious, nutritious Smoky Chipotle Sweet Potatoes recipe,, which would “crow” beside slices of heirloom turkey on our favorite day to say thanks.


Pat Towler’s Smoky Chipotle Sweet Potatoes

Serves 6-8

4 large sweet potatoes

1/2 cup (1 stick) grass fed butter, salted

1/2 cup organic Grade B maple syrup

1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped

2 tablespoons reserved adobo sauce

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

10-12 cloves peeled garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

1 teaspoon paprika salt to taste


  1.  Preheat oven to 400ºF Wash the sweet potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Parboil in salted water for 5-7 minutes; potatoes should still be firm. Drain and transfer to a large baking dish.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, gently melt the butter with the maple syrup. When just melted, stir in the remaining ingredients all at once. Warm over a low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pour the warm mixture over the potatoes and toss gently. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once, or just until caramelized.

Crow Fest Schedule of Events

  1.  9am Bike Brigade Road: Bikes meet Jim Dowd at Niles Beach, Gloucester for Guided Ride to Store.  Mountain Bikes meet Erin Canniff at Dock Square, Rockport for Guided Ride through South Woods
  2. 10am Crow Fest Begins Cider Press Demonstration and Fresh Cider Sampling by Essex County Greenbelt, Community Tables with Cape Ann Farmers Market, Rockport Exchange, Open Door, Cape Ann Fresh Catch, Salt Marsh Poultry Farm, Cape Ann Vernal Pools, Reptile Display, Vendor Demos and Storewide Samples & Giveaways
  3. 10-11 Music: Bonnie Barrish & Jane Shapiro
  4. 10-12 Kid & Family Art Activity: Coco Berkman & Rocky Delforge Printmaking Station
  5. 11am Wellness: Family Plant Walk with Dr. Nicole Andrade
  6. 12-2pm Wellness: Common Crow Medicine Show with owner Pat Towler
  7. 12-1pm Music: Drumming with John Holland & Lisa Bouchie
  8. 12-4pm Kid & Family Art Activity: Crow Mural painting with Tina Lamond
  9. 1-2pm Music: Brian King with Mike Leggio
  10. 1-2pm Ayurvedic Tour with Angela Corcoran
  11. 2-4pm Wellness: Complimentary Chair Massage by Karen Lohnes
  12. 2-4pm Wellness: Meet the Herbalist with Margi Flint
  13. 2-4pm Music: Treehouse Charlatans

Nick Peters, promising new Gloucester chef

Monday, October 12th, 2015


Nick Peters


By now Gordon Ramsay has burned a metaphorical sear upon the Cape Ann cooking community. A few years ago we watched local chef Christian Collins saucily stir and simmer his way to the #3 position on Fox T.V.‘s Masterchef.




Famously now, Collins departed the show as the season’s type-cast bad boy, tasting his own dish out of turn, trash-talking Jennifer, the season’s champion, and inflaming Gordon Ramsay with raw roux in a souffle and street arrogance, keeping the rogue Gloucester cliche alive on national television.

Cape Ann can now boast another graduate of Gordon Ramsay’s intimidating frown, a student with an entirely different profile than Cape Ann’s first, and one with a thoroughbred kitchen resume.




Nick Peters, the new executive chef at The Seaglass Restaurant at The Castle Manor Inn, rose to #5 in last season’s Hell’s Kitchen, Fox Television’s ultimate school of chef tough love, with Gordon Ramsay as the principal.

In measures equal to that of Collins’ hot-head swagger, which the television cameras loved, Nick Peters charmed the Hell’s Kitchen audience with doe-eyed, small-town boy.

“I don’t need to come off like I’m macho,” Nick Peters says in an online interview, explaining his sometimes elfin amiability on the show, “because I’m not.” He is not.

Nick Peters is handsomely sweet, gently affirmative. On the show he has the gangly elegance of a high school basketball forward, a smile that would melt an English teacher’s heart, and a strangely unflappable demeanor, given how young he appears.

But Peters’ arrival on the Hell’s Kitchen set was preceded by an already hefty kitchen resume, so it wasn’t Gordon Ramsay’s legendary temper that scared him when he found out he had been chosen for the cast; it was flying alone, being away from his family for five weeks, embarking on this whole adventure by himself. The kitchen stuff he knew, flying in a plane alone he didn’t.

Born and raised in Stonehame, MA, Peters attended Southern New Hampshire University, and then began his professional kitchen work at the Brattle St. Cambridge restaurant Harvest, described as “a fertile training ground for some of the country’s most celebrated chefs:” Lydia Shire, Chris Schlesinger, Barbara Lynch, Frank McClelland, and Sara Moulton, for example. Since the 1970‘s Harvest has been lauded “best of” in almost every category, from “Best Guaranteed Great Meal in Cambridge” to ample Travel & Leisure Magazine and Zagat Survey acclaim.

After Harvest, Peters move to the widely celebrated Somerville restaurant Bergamot, (which just happens to be owned and cheffed by Gloucester native, Keith Pooler.) Bergamot is happening; the kitchen executes ambitiously creative, vanguard dishes to a delighted, food literate dining room. At Bergamot, Peters was part of a kitchen team that kept hauling in the awards, including a Zagat rating of No. 9 in best New American Cuisine in the country. It was a hot place to be for a young chef, in the best ways, but Peters felt, after four rewarding years there, he needed to take a breath. He stepped away from the electric energy and grueling schedule of a successful restaurant to work in a private rehabilitation facility, serving lunch and dinner to a small dining room five days a week.

In this quieter schedule Peters wrote recipes and created a blog. This is where the Hell’s Kitchen production team found him.

As you watch the gentle boy with close-cropped hair, that makes his ears look just a little large, calmly face the churning, red-faced Gordon Ramsay, know that you are not seeing a novice. As young as Peters appears on the Hell’s Kitchen show, by this time he has already earned some extra-credit behind the line. (At Harvest itself, Peters rose to sous-chef in just a year, the first in the restaurant’s history to ascend so quickly.)

At 27, standing in the Seaglass Restaurant kitchen, Peters appears taller, older, more authoritative than his television appearance. The day I interviewed him Peters prepared scallops off the new autumn menu: seared sea scallops with a peppercorn crust, served over a vanilla-celery root puree with candied bacon and pickled apples.


scallops, Peters


It was a beautiful study in presentation, balance, and pointillistic flavors: that salt, that sweet, that creamy, that crunchy. The Inn’s gardens tumbled that day with rosy pink hydrangea and fading sedums. A thin blue strip of Annisquam River threaded through the view.


Castle Manor Inn

dining room

Castle Manor porch


Nick Peter’s story is already educated and celebrated. He is kind of famous. The dash, the discipline, the exposure to creativity and drive that Peters has experienced in his restaurant work already, and at the mercy of Gordon Ramsay, might make the Sea Glass dining room an important, relevant addition to the dining-out culture of Cape Ann.

For four years owners Laura and Donald Baker have been returning the Castle Manor Inn to its gleaming graciousness. Each of the three intimate dining rooms, all framed in shining oak, boasts a fireplace. These are quiet rooms that invite conversation, sometimes welcome alternatives to the loud-equals-fun restaurant point of view.

When you visit, ask Peters about his Hell’s Kitchen experience, what it was like to live dormitory style with his Hell’s Kitchen peers, to live with cameras running 24 hours-a-day everywhere but in the toilets and shower stalls. Ask him about the Beef Wellington incident that had him voted off the show by his peers, and how the heck he handled it with such poise. Thanks for being here, Nick. Thanks for your tough love, Gordon; you’ve made Cape Ann a richer food scene, in your way.


Octopus Lessons from Manny Lapa

Monday, October 5th, 2015


Any country worth its Baedeker Guide prepares delicious octopus. Japan, Portugal, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, France, in no particular order, each of these countries have at least one beloved way to prepare the sea’s most popular cephalopod.

Truly the “chicken of the sea,” octopus is able, resilient, and flexible, not to mention relatively inexpensive. Octopus’s tame, delicate taste welcomes extravagant flavors. Peppers, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, garlic, hot sauce, chili sauce, soy sauce, the firm, white texture and mildly sea-ish character of octopus says, “bring it on.” Grill it. Stew it. Blacken it. Vinaigrette it. Take a strip of seaweed, and belt a small chunk of octopus over sushi rice.

For something that looks so much like a monster, octopus is a darling in the kitchen.

All that said, the initial preparation – the first and necessary procedure that cooks the meat entirely through, readying it for most of the above treatments – can be baffling to appalling if you’ve never prepared something something that has six legs more than a chicken. Untutored, I struggled. My googling efforts reported a wide range of what to do with a pot of water and an octopus first, from simmering for hours to plunging the monster into boiling water three times, making the sign of the cross over one’s chest each time, and calling it cooked. I tried both to unsatisfactory results, but I learned that it may not have been my technique – more about that later.

I needed an octopus expert. That expert for me was Manny Lapa, chef and general manager of The Azorean restaurant in Gloucester. The Azorean features Italian and Portuguese cuisine. Lapa was born in Lisbon, raised on his mother’s bacalhau and caldeirada. To my taste, the best dishes at the Azorean shine with the Lapa family lessons. The salt cod fritters, the porco Alentejana, the caldeirada, these sing with the Lapa genes, and make for honestly authentic, delicious food in Gloucester.

But the octopus – however Lapa prepares it, and it comes in a variety of ways on the Azorean menu – is always perfection: tender chunks of snowy white meat that carry a beautiful char, that twine between a bed of tender potatoes and a cover of silky caramelized onions. or mix into a great pile of diced peppers and vinegar as a salad.

octopus salad

Manny Lapa is our local octopus professional; it’s in the Portuguese genes.

Arranged by Jennifer Goulart Amero, a bunch of cooking friends who also felt challenged by this invertebrate, and whom the Azorean octopus had equally awed, got together for an octopus lesson/dinner with Manny, who came armed with Portuguese basics: pounds of potatoes, onions, olive oil, vinegar, the beloved Portuguese red pepper sauce Pimenta Moida, Portuguese wines, loads of Mediterranean generosity, a wide smile and, of course, octopus.

Manny Lapa

The first thing Lapa did was pull a 4-6 pound frozen octopus from its box. He filled a large stock pot with cold water, and cut a large onion into rough chunks, skin on. I asked about the skin, and Manny answered, grinning, “that’s just how my mother always did it!”

He put the frozen octopus in the cold, onion-scattered water, covered the pot, and put it on medium high. He did not add salt.

“The octopus is naturally salty from the ocean,” Lapa said, taste your dish for salt at the end, when the octopus is cooked, and the other ingredients are added.

“This will be completely done in about an hour and a half, but we’ll test it then. When a knife inserts easily through the meat, it’s done.”

I looked at the glistening purple mound of bulging legs and curling tentacles in the water, and remembered I had been confused when I prepared it before by the skin, this time the octopus skin.

“I leave the skin on,” Manny said. “It’s good. There’s a lot of gelatin in the skin. In fact, you can make a great rice with the leftover water, and the gelatin from that skin.”

I later read that, to some chefs, taking the skin off of octopus is the equivalent of removing the marrow from the bones in Osso Buco. One doesn’t do it, and it’s an important part of the dish’s character. When grilling, blackening, even braising octopus afterward the skin often just disappears. If it doesn’t, as in for the octopus salad, in which the boiled octopus is chopped, the skin adds nice color.

Once the frozen octopus was simmering, Manny went to work with octopus he brought previously cooked. He quickly assembled the classic octopus salad, a bright, colorful toss of diced peppers, chopped garlic, parsley, olive oil, lemon, crushed red pepper and Pimenta Moida. We sat down to enjoy this with a delicious, light, bright Portuguese wine – “Pegoes,” from a vineyard south of Lisbon on the Sardo River.

Then Lapa returned to the kitchen to make Octopus “Lagareiro,” a classic Portuguese dish of octopus sauteed in lots of garlic and cilantro, and then served over a pile of tender potatoes. The whole dish is finished in a hot oven until everything is crispy. With this Manny served “Esporao, Reserva 2012,” a creamy, full-bodied white Portuguese wine, a combination of Antao Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro, and Semillon grapes, a winemaker from the Alentejo region of Portugal. A quick online search describes the wines of Esporao as, “a beacon of modernity in winemaking amalgamate with time honored Portuguese tradition,” – and a great value.

Manny Lapa has been living on Cape Ann since 2003, when he came to work with Aramark at Varian, but his heart fell for Cape Ann long ago. Lapa and his family arrived in Lowell from Portugal in 1977; his first snow was the blizzard of 1978. His first American beach was Good Harbor. Lapa’s family’s favorite day trip was to Cape Ann; they would return home to Lowell with pounds of harvested wild mussels, and make them Portuguese style, a recipe on the Azorean menu today.  Manny Lapa still loves “the island.”  He is at the Azorean almost everyday, and still relaxes with a night swim in the ocean after the restaurant has closed.

Here are a few more Lapa octopus tips: the brand of octopus matters. I think what went wrong with my original octopus is that it just wasn’t a good quality. The best octopus, Manny says, is from Spain and Portugal. Manny actually sources much of his octopus from Indonesia, but he says he knows his supplier well. Purchase your frozen octopus from a trusted source. Frozen octopus is good octopus, some say it’s better than fresh, as octopus spoils very quickly. Also, the frozen octopus is always completely cleaned, so there are no question marks there. Don’t be afraid of a large octopus; it shrinks considerably in cooking. The 4-6 pound octopus that Manny cooked in my home provided approximately 10 servings, which were distributed as meals through the week. I was very happy to have this much delicious, tender octopus in my refrigerator with which to play, for instance marinating it in a garlic and chili paste, and cooking it quickly in a hot pan, serving all over rice. Knowing how to properly manage this monster can lead to some happy kitchen fairy tales!

To prepare the frozen octopus:


4-6 pound frozen octopus.

1 large Spanish onion, chopped into wedges, skin on


1. Fill a large stock pot with cold water. Add onion and octopus. Heat to a simmer, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. The octopus is done when a sharp knife slips easily into the flesh with some firmness remaining, exactly like a potato.

Lagareiro in the pan

Octopus a Lagereiro “Polvo a Lagareiro


2 pounds small red, unpeeled, cut in half

2/3 cup olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 pounds cooked octopus legs and tendrils, chopped into 1” pieces

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided


  1. Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water to cook until tender, or place in a steamer, and steam until tender. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a wide saute pan gently heat olive oil and garlic, being very careful not to burn the garlic. Add octopus chunks and 1/2 cup cilantro, and warm gently.
  3. In a roasting pan or oven-proof platter lay the cooked potato halves in a single layer. Distribute octopus and oil all over potatoes. Place in oven and cook for about 5 minutes, or until everything begins to get brown and crispy on top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cilantro, and serve immediately.

Molho Verde Variation  – Molho Verde is a classic Portuguese sauce that is delicious over any grilled fish.


1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon Pimenta Moida or Tabasco

1 cup chopped parsley

2 pounds red potatoes, halved and prepared as above

2 pounds cooked octopus legs


  1.  To make the Molho Verde whisk together the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Prepare the potatoes as instructed above.
  2. Leave the octopus in larger chunks, 4-6” long. Brush the legs lightly with oil, and grill over high heat until black marks appear.
  3. Lay the potatoes out on a platter in a single layer. Lay grilled octopus over the potatoes. Give the sauce a good whisk together, and pour evenly over the octopus and potaotes. Serve immediately.