Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I realize this sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky, Pollyanna and Jiminy Cricket of me, but it is a rewarding feeling to get what you wish for.  Moreso even when what you get gives birth to something greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s precisely what the recent Heirloom Harvest Barn Dinner did for me; a small-scale recurring dream came to life in a very big way, with real people and delicious food and everything, all for a great cause. 

For those readers out of our email loop, here’s a brief synopsis of what went down at Berry Hill Farm in Stratham on October 11th:

Having always wanted to host a formal dinner in a barn where local farmers were celebrated for their hard work, I have been frustrated in years past by my lack of time for planning.  This last year proved different, as two nationwide organizations with talented planners and experienced administrators came to the fore, converging on our Seacoast area to raise money for a good farm-related cause. 

It was late last winter when Leigh from Chefs Collaborative and I started talking about the RAFT Grow Out project, which—at the time—lacked a name and an event.  Leigh was looking to make our area one of three New England regions selected to unite farmers and chefs behind the cause of reintroducing native heirloom crops whose future looked anything but bright.  Drawing on Gary Nabham's agricultural treatise, Renewing America's Food Traditions, Melissa, Leigh and the others at CC wanted to stimulate growth (and consumer awareness) of regional crops. 

In March, Black Trumpet hosted a meeting of farmers and chefs interested in the Grow Out, and Chefs Collaborative distributed seeds to the farmers to grow.  Chefs committed to buying the fruits of these plants, and for a moment in time, we had a roomful of committed growers and chefs talking about how to improve the existing farm-to-table system in our area.  We could have talked through the night, and many of our frustrations remain, but the cohesion and camaraderie established that day has endured for many of us, and several chefs absent that day have already approached me about being involved next year.

As the spring rolled wet and cold into what should have been summer, Jenny and Michelle at Slow Food USA--a wonderful organization that had done harvest dinners in our area in the past--joined the team and, by June, we had an action plan, a name and a cause to rally behind.  The Heirloom Harvest Barn Dinner was then assigned to a new hire at Chefs Collaborative, a woman with whom I would soon be speaking on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  Anne Obelnicki: she of the inner city Detroit upbringing and high-profile culinary 'dishternship' at Inn at Little Washington, she who lived in a tent on an organic farm for a season, bearer of numerous degrees and tireless traveler.  Anne would become the linchpin of the Barn Dinner planning process.

So it was that Chefs Collaborative and Slow Food took my somewhat ethereal notion of a barn dinner and turned it into a tangible, fun-filled fundraiser that will likely become—yessiree!—an annual event.

On Sunday, October 11th, 2009, the event volunteers (over forty of them!) seemed to descend from the antique rafters of Caroline Robinson's five-story barn.  They arrived as early as 9 AM, and they cleaned, decorated, prepped, greeted, poured, cooked, served, cleaned again, washed dishes, and saw to every detail that a formal dinner requires.  It seemed like there was little guidance, and that every volunteer knew exactly what to do.  Six chefs and their teams prepared incredible food, and all eighty-four guests in attendance (especially the farmers) seemed to appreciate that the imperiled ingredients for each course were locally grown and prepared with much love and forethought.

Even the weather cooperated.  Just before guests arrived, I watched my two children, swaying in the amber afternoon light, on rope swings that hung from an ancient tree in front of the barn.  They were not unaware of the idyll they represented, and when I asked Eleanor why they had been swinging for so long, she replied, "I would have gotten down sooner, but everybody wanted to take pictures  of us."
Self-awareness, I think, is a tremendous strength in a child.  Humility will come later.

Taking a tip from my daughter, I can acknowledge that the event was a huge success, dreamlike in its perfect cadence and enhanced by the periodic power outages that cast temporary darkness on the scene.  Humility for me came the next day, when I went back to the barn in a state of post-partem depression, to recover some leave-behinds, and I thanked and congratulated resident farmers Josh and Jean, who toiled above and beyond anyone's expectations to prepare and maintain the venue,  and then I drove away, solemn and wistful, the first annual Heirloom Barn Dinner filed away as a memory.

As I drove, the refrain in my head came from the famed quipster Theodore Roosevelt.  It was a quote I had used in my toast at the Barn Dinner, and its simplicity is still resonating with me today: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

View all the photos online: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blacktrumpet/sets/72157622590696146/

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Call to Farms: Chef's Day Off

It seems only right that the “Summer of 2009” arrived a month or so behind schedule. This year has been a heap of crap for the most part, what with the relentless, torrential one-two punch of weather and fiscal woes. For us Malletts, it has been a great year for evaluation, Small Business Management 101, and family-oriented stuff that no one really wants to read about. Despite the six-week-long biblical deluge that spanned most of June and July, we have seen periodic suggestions that things might be improving nanofilamentally (not a word, blog cops); we have seen emerging evidence that there is a flickering candle somewhere at the far end of the half-collapsed mine shaft we call 2009. I argue that, for all of the wounded and downtrodden, for all the huddled masses seeking jobs and hope, no one has felt the crush quite like farmers.

My friends in the restaurant industry--few in number but widespread in geography, experience and business-type—are all in the same lifeboat, a vessel which is taking on a lot of water but miraculously not sinking. We chefs are a resilient bunch, accustomed to cuts, burns, violence, anxiety, palpitations, muscle pain and—worst of all—ego-stomping criticism. So it is no surprise that, in this epoch of econoclimatic stress disorder we continue to endure, my friends have sought out supplementary income and contingency plans, some of them consulting, others taking on prep work or catering or—let’s face it—whatever it takes to pay the bills. Still, their grievances can’t measure up to the farmers who have faced months of nonstop rain, wildly fluctuating temperatures, blight, and—in some cases—total crop loss.

I am not writing this blog to whine on my own or anyone else’s behalf, as reflexive and therapeutic as that is for me, but rather to describe my one day off, a relatively cloudless and hot Tuesday in August. I am no Joyce, alas, or even a Leo Bloom for that matter, but I thought this day-in-a-life was worth capturing for those readers who imagine a chef’s “day off” to be something more glamorous. Here goes…


Although I admit that it was my idea, I can’t say that I remember any moment of epiphany, cognition or decision that led to The Plan. My daughter Eleanor has wanted to expand our humble country home into a full-fledged farm for some time now, and her parents have dissuaded the idea with a number of excuses that have not even begun to take purchase in her slick, obdurate and fast-moving train of thought. I applaud her tenacity, and I confess to running out of defenses against her argument. “Just two goats, Daddy, That’s all I ask” The Plan came about as a last ditch effort to put all the childish arguments to rest, to once and for all quell Eleanor’s desire to convert our placid woodlot to a full-on Waltons-type situation. Once she saw the tremendous work ethic required to maintain farm animals, I predicted, she would come to the shocking realization that farm life was too rugged for a child. She would return to a normal girl’s world of books, dolls and knitting, a safe and uneventful haven free of heavy machinery and poop.

Of course, The Plan—hereafter referred to as “Farm Day”--was doomed to backfire from the get-go. I proceeded anyway, in part because I too harbor visions of a small farm on our property (as long as someone other than I milks, slops, shovels, herds and otherwise cares for the menagerie). Seemingly ignorant to this eventuality, I doggedly forged ahead with Farm Day, the idea of which involved getting up with the sun and piling in the car to the nearest working dairy farm, where our groggy kids would witness the laborious process of milking and then be utterly disgusted by a stableful of pig plop.


I have a cheap alarm clock that possesses its own agenda. If you set it, for example, to awaken at 5:30 AM, it will begin its immutable beeping crescendo at that hour and then, after being squelched with a smack to one of three unlabeled buttons on the top, will revisit the cacophony every ten minutes for a span of time I have yet to ascertain because my solution after three or four reminders is to unplug the mechanical demon and curse myself awake.

So it was on August 4th, a Tuesday, my day of rest. So it also was, incidentally, on Wednesday, August 5th, Thursday, August 6th, and so on ads infinitum and nauseam.
On this special day, however, I managed to rally with a forced smile, as my excited children responded to their “call to farms” efficiently and without complaint, much to my amazement and chagrin.

Even Denise, after working a long double the day before, miraculously rose to the occasion and donned farmwear before the clock struck 6:00. At 6, after hurried efforts at a road breakfast, we scrambled out into the sunrise with no clear agenda and an almost palpable excitement.

Brookford Farm in Rollinsford is a friendly place, the kind of farm where we felt comfortable popping in unannounced as the sun crested over the Salmon Falls River, the cool grey light turning blue and warm in visible gradients before our eyes. Luke was there, corralling the cows into the concrete-and-steel sixpen built for high-octane milking. Certain hefty and headstrong heifers required full-body tackles and smacks to the haunches, which we watched with delight, offering help with the full knowledge that we had no idea how or where to jump in. We were reduced to voyeurism, as Luke turned on the suction pump and hooked up the cows to plastic lactoreceptors, which piped the fresh, raw, warm milk to a vast cistern in the adjacent room.

For those unfamiliar with Luke and Caterina Mahoneys’ arrangement, the youthful and happy farming couple lease the farm from an exceptionally benevolent and hard-working woman named Mrs. Aikens. Mrs. Aikens has owned the land and the structures on it for time immemorial, but Luke and Caterina have been farming there for the last few years. The operation has burgeoned in that time to thirty or so head of cattle, countless chickens, and a phalanx of hogs.

Luke seemed pleasantly surprised, but ultimately unfazed, by our arrival. We parted ways after the second load of bessies filled the pens. He apologized for his tacit nature, yet he volunteered plenty of farm hospitality and wisdom, and demonstrated the kind of efficiency only an expert can.

6:30 AM
We moseyed over to the pig poke for slop time, and we were treated to a glorious feast of grains and groans. The pigsty looked and smelled just like a pigsty, which I was certain the kids would find repugnant beyond words. Naturally, The Plan--like all well-laid plans--had been destined to backfire, so I was not totally shocked to see my children walking right up to the sty and patting putrid (albeit incredibly cute) pig noses without holding their own noses even once. In fact, I moved on from the stench trench well before it even crossed the kids’ minds. Eventually, we all toured the grounds of Brookford Farm, including the free-range mobile poultry unit on the hill across the street, where all kinds of oviparous fowl played around a vehicle that was half wagon, half funhouse. Happy chickens, as we know, lay the most delicious eggs. (Since our fisher friend came and raided our henhouse at home, leaving a horror scene behind, we have only Trumpet left, a coppery black sexlink that only occasionally drops an egg.)

7:00 AM
One of the best examples of how hard work and good soil are all you need to produce giant, delicious vegetables is Peter Allen’s plot in Mrs. Aiken’s field adjacent to Brookford Farm. This adjunct operation, sublet by the Mahoneys, has allowed Peter Allen, from whom I have sourced chickens for the Black Trumpet menu for a couple of years, to raise crops for a CSA that has helped finance some of his poultry costs. There is a lot of mutual backscratching that happens between farmers, just as we chefs share resources, including local pigs, purveyors and even staff. It ‘s the Hillarian village model working as it was intended.

A walk through Peter Allen’s crops, which span the length of two football fields laid out end-to-end, is like a walk through a dwarf rain forest. Rows of dinosaur kale seemed aptly named as my children disappeared among the enormous leaves. Collard greens and kohlrabi towered over plump cabbages and all manner of brassicas. Cows have grazed in these fields, Peter later explained, for decades, leaving their fecund deposits to fertilize the long-fallow meadow, thereby making it the perfect substrate for cultivating vegetables. We snagged a few fava beans for sampling (they were incredible!), and then went to meet Peter’s birds.

7:45 AM
After a jaunt back to the fields behind Brookford Farm, we met up with Peter himself to tour the undulating fields by the banks of the river where his chickens
enjoy one of the best views around. The cages designed by Peter are, like his philosophy, inspired by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia. Mr. Salatin has become an outspoken spokesman for the revolution. (I use the term revolution in its most literal sense here, meaning a return to the beginning, the way things were intended to be). Having authored many passionate treatises and mentored hundreds of poultry farmers around the country, Salatin has created a movement toward pasture-raised birds devoid of chemicals, artificial feed or cruel confinement.

Following the Salatin model, Allen’s birds graze on meadow grasses in wheeled, open-bottomed cages that allow ample room to move. When they have depleted the grass supply beneath the cages, they are moved a few feet along to a fresh patch. When the pesky mink and foxes leave them alone, the birds lead normal chicken lives. Following the aforementioned model, happy chickens make yummier poultry.

9:00 AM
I have had the distinct luxury of working with Gabe Balkus, an ambitious young man so like the 21-year-old me that he has been referred to as my Mini-me, for the entire lifespan of Black Trumpet. He has joined me on a few foraging outings, exhibiting the same geekish curiosity and eagerness that got him the job as garde manger and dishwasher, a post he has since served with total dedication and a mighty sunny countenance to boot. His role has evolved, but not as fast as either of us might wish. As assistant baker and pastry chef, he has shown great promise. When I invited him to join me for a speed-forage in the woods near my house, he accepted with the full knowledge that neither he nor I are what you would call “morning people.”

So, there he was, groggy but bighearted, at my house at 9:00 in the morning, trash bag in hand. We sprayed ourselves heavily with deet and ventured out with Moxie, our hyperactive Bernese mountain dog, into the bug-infested woods, where we found a few handfuls of chanterelles and various boletes over the span of an hour and a half. We were too early for black trumpets, but we split our winnings and parted ways.

10:30 AM, still Tuesday
So now the clock said mid-morning, but it felt like evening. If all days started at six, I could surely conquer the world while still having time for my job, family, house and gardens. A quick reality check reminds me that days can only start at six if they don’t end at one-thirty in the morning. Ambition is so dependent on insomnia.

12:30 PM
After Denise built a delicious lunch comprised of mostly locally farmed produce, the kids and I hopped in the car and raced to Center Strafford, where we had a date to tour Nelson Farm with Anne Obelnicki of Chef’s Collaborative. I cannot say enough in this blog about Chef’s Collaborative, whose Boston office has built inestimable credibility and assembled an enormous cadre of supporters over the years. This year, Anne has come on board to give our area (the New Hampshire Seacoast and vicinity) support as we take our successful but underfinanced model of local, sustainable, quality farming to a higher, more visible level.

Like Anne, I was sad to find that she and the Malletts were the extent of the preorganized tour group. Sean and Sarah, the couple who work the Nelson Farm fields and produce a remarkable array of organic and sustainable produce in a smallish space, have also managed to raise an infant (often seen napping at Portsmouth Farmers’ Market), not an easy feat in the best of times, but in this economy, I salute them. When they are not raising a family and farming the land, they also manage to cater large functions out of a truck that Sean picked up a year ago, Thoughts of them take me back to cheffing with newborns, an exercise that should be reserved for the young or foolish or both.

The tour began with Cormac clambering on an antique tractor, which proved to be a great photo op, followed by a walking tour of the greenhouse and fields. Although the variety of crops succeeding in the suddenly torrid August heat would have impressed me enough, the fact that Sean powers the sizable greenhouse with used fry oil is truly heroic.

As we were leaving Nelson Farm, Sean pulled some fresh veggies from various plants and handed them to the kids. Eleanor and Cormac ate the greenhouse tomatoes like apples, right there on the spot, juices dribbling down their chins. I thanked Sean and Anne and headed home with the kids for a locally farmed dinner followed by a farmer’s early bedtime for all. When I asked Eleanor if she still wanted to have farm animals, she replied, “Ooooh, yeah, baby! More than ever.” Backfire accomplished.


Shortly after Farm Day, Eleanor plucked a few leaves of wood-sorrel from the periphery of our backyard and popped them in her mouth as a treat. “Eleanor,” I exclaimed, “we humans can’t eat clover like cows!” To wit, she replied, “Daddy, it’s not clover; it’s wood sorrel.” I stand corrected, my heart bursting with pride. Of course, sorrel and clover--both in abundance in our yard (not your plastic emerald Scott’s Lawngard kind of yard, obviously)—do make excellent fodder for domesticated ungulates, too. Maybe Eleanor will get her wish one day, maybe even in the not-too-distant future. If we ever do upgrade to dairy farming and animal husbandry, I now believe we (or at least the kids) have what it takes to maintain the herd.

Stay tuned for upcoming blogs:

Dining Criticism 101: A Former Critic’s Review of His Own Restaurant

The Autumn Harvest Barn Dinner

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Thank gods (and Ceres, specifically) for spring, eh? As the icy white fist of winter finally loosens its grip on our blue-lipped world, we turn to Nature’s most welcome promise—that days will now warm and expand, granting our shivering skin a hint of the sun’s hot breath to come, and reintroducing the color green to March’s neutral palette. No matter your regard for New England winter, this spring is sure to bring to your face a mile-wide smile like no year in recent memory. If we can’t count on fiscal recovery right away, we at least have spring to look forward to, right? Right? So go stick your fingers in some cold loam and polish off your rusty trowels. In New England, one earns spring.

For my part, I have been busily dreaming of seeds, soil and sun since the opening days of ’09. I met with local farmers Garen and Josh in late January to discuss seed purchases for this coming summer, particularly as they pertain to our Black Trumpet menu. Every January, in exchange for feeding the farmers, I get their attention in one finite space for a finite moment to exchange ideas about what can be grown, harvested, cooked and eaten. It’s a necessary break for all three of us from shoveling snow and staring out into the frozen void.

So, as we sat down in the wine bar in the midst of Sunday Snowstorm number Seventeen of the winter, we three lads discussed potential crops, possible failures and shortcomings, strengths and weaknesses, and many other not-so-manly concessions and confessions. The two farmers learned about my quirky fondness for kohlrabi, scented geranium, agastache foeniculum, red-fleshed potatoes and purslane, among other oddities. And I learned from them about the difficulties of growing spring brassicas in a pesticide-free environment.

The cast of this tete-a-tete, excluding the narrator: Garen Heller, a local institution in his own right, has been working the land at Back River Farm in Dover since I have been in the business in Portsmouth (eleven years!). Josh Jennings, a clever and well-spoken organic cultivator, along with his adorable and equally articulate partner, Jean, are very hard-working farmers who have made a huge name for themselves and Meadow’s Mirth Farm on both the farmer’s market and direct-to-restaurant wholesale circuits. We agreed on a few things that each of the farmers already excel at, and Garen and Josh agreed to take on some new crops as well, if only to test the waters (using Black Trumpet patrons and farmer’s marketgoers as guinea pigs).

The next day, my own seed catalogs arrived in the mail. As anachronistic as it is to be looking at pictures of midsummer fruits in the bowels of January, I derive a very pleasurable dose of hope from those little mags. I remember getting pretty excited about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue when I was a teen. Now, perhaps sadly, pictures of heirloom Thelma Sanders squash have replaced those of Paulina Porizkova in a monokini as my harbingers of spring.

After browsing four or five catalogs over the course of a few days, I finally placed my annual order, this year using only High Mowing Seeds in Vermont. I like the grass-roots operation and the seed-saving imperative that separates High Mowing Seeds from the competition, and we all appreciate the importance of spending a few more cents for a packet of seeds that has been saved from the previous year’s crop and cared for without ever coming into contact with fertilizers, pesticides or any other artificial hazard, n’est-ce pas?

My Dad—and countless other observers—will look at my gardens again this year and say things like, “Why don’t you just kill the bugs that are choking your garden?” Or, “If you use this powder, your plants will produce twice as much fruit.” No, I won’t do it, I tell them, and I’ll happily have the most threadbare and sullen little raised beds in the county if that’s the price I have to pay for using organic practices. To look at me, you might not see hippie (thinning hair won’t allow it), but on the inside, I am constantly hugging the earth and all that it gives us, even at the cost of violating my softcore suburban punk-rock past.

I recently met with Jenny Isler, a local organic gardening guru and supervisor of our Strawbery Banke Community Garden. Black Trumpet has always had a bed at Strawbery Banke, and members of my kitchen crew have always volunteered to plant, weed, and maintain that bed. This year, Sous Chef Mike—a really great guy—and Rounds Cook Carrie—a really great gal, are taking control of the garden, in part because I wasn’t obsessive-compulsive enough last year to map the placement of every seed in the raised bed. So far, I’m taking the hostile takeover of the garden pretty well, but I do hope Mike and Carrie will let me weed periodically as a gesture of goodwill. Something Jenny said to me has been resonating since we sat down: economic sustainability is the linchpin of ecologic sustainability. In other words, if the goal is to construct a locally sustainable farm-to-chef connection, the price has got to be right, especially when the purse strings are tight.

As an endnote (I hate to say “appendix,” because a pinkie-sized vestigial organ uselessly occupying valuable human gut space does nothing to promote further inquiry), we recently hosted a really cool event at our restaurant. On Sunday, March 8, Chef’s Collaborative and Slow Food conducted a seed-saving symposium of seacoast chefs and growers (alliteration, meet sibilance). The idea of the event was to get farmers and chefs together to brainstorm a “grow out” of heirloom seeds native to the Northeast, many of which are in danger of being hybridized or eliminated altogether from the agricultural family tree. At the end of the meeting, each farmer received a grocery bag full of seeds for the grow out. What this means to the consumer is that, soon, the farmer’s markets and restaurants will be featuring Thelma Sanders squash, Boothby Blond cucumber and cranberry shelling beans.

My plea for this year (besides the one that cries for everyone to remember that eating out at small, independent restaurants supports communities and keeps restaurants around) is to ask everyone I know to put a New England heirloom seed or two in their garden, even if they don’t have a garden. What you grow is part of who we are. It’s kind of like “You are what you eat,” but it’s more like “You eat what you are.”

Oh, and by the way, Happy 2nd Birthday, Black Trumpet! Thank you to all who have helped us outlive the average American restaurant.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Calling for the End of EDS

Notice: This will be my last blog dealing with economic matters. I promise.

It has only now dawned on me that my innocently self-indulgent blogging days are behind me. No longer is my wife my only prodder, my only barometer for letting me know when the time has arrived to post a new blog. Now an internal alarm starts nagging after a month goes by since the last entry. A twitch ensues. And then the guilt sets in. This condition is worsened by a new sign of life in the blogosphere: hounding blogfriends.

After a month or two passed without a posting, the phone calls and emails started. Friends observed that I haven’t been blogging, so am I ok? I tell them, yes, relax, everything is ok except the economy, which is only as awful and real as each of us wants it to be. Winter is snowball season, so Portsmouth’s typical winter downturn tends to snowball out of control when times are tough. I know ‘times are tough’ is a trite understatement. I know that, yet I feel that history is rich with basilisk hiccups that far outstink this one, so why should we be groaning louder than ever before? Maybe we’re not; maybe I’ve just never tried to run a small business that relies on discretionary income in a recession.

I admit to having marveled at the number of responses to my last blog (many of them fomented by my close friend, former boss, regular inspiration and talented chef Jeff Tenner), and I may have felt a little daunted about the idea of people not only reading, but commenting on my ramblings. So, on a few early morning and late night occasions in January, I sat down to write a new entry, and each time I froze. The freezing, if not the result of trepidation, can only be attributed—like every other anxiety right now—to this Dickensian winter of our discontent. Clearly, I must have pulled myself up by the clogstraps, because here I am writing about writing, so here goes…

I have decided to coin the term “econoclimatic distress syndrome,” or EDS, to this winter’s insulting one-two punch of moribund economy and excessively abusive weather.
Perhaps those of us currently suffering from EDS can get some tax relief or, better yet, a percentage of the new President’s Stimulus Package. I'd settle for a free set of winter wiper blades. Or, perhaps best of all, a year’s supply of prescription pain killers. (Speaking of Stimulus Package and pain killers, by the way, shame on anyone who hasn’t capitalized on our three-course, nineteen-dollar Stimulus Package, or on our veritable pharmacy of pain killers we call the Wine Bar. This gratuitous plug was brought to you by the same guy who cringes at self-promotion--a sign of the times.)

Here’s my econoclimatic snapshot of the last six months:
Credit—the great American promise—buckles. Clouds form overhead. Fuel prices skyrocket. People stay home and seethe. Temperatures plummet. Snow falls on seethers. The snowball is headed for the bridge of the economic nose. America’s middle class loses its savings. The snowball grows. Investors panic. Suddenly, the snowball effect has created an abominable snowman. Jobs disappear. Ice storm! Recession. More snow. More panic.

Pessimism and fear are unhealthy bedfellows, codependents on the verge of emotional implosion. This is the cycle we fall into now. We can sit around in a dim room counting our departed riches, subsequent losses and current debts, or we can begin to build the future. What are our individual and collective values as a society moving forward? How can we best pull ourselves out of this mess with the least amount of damage?

People have said to me, “Thank you for keeping your restaurant’s identity throughout this recession.” It’s not that I have calculated that too much, other than refusing to offer twofer coupons or buy cheaper goods. In fact, if anything, I want to dispel the identity many associate with Black Trumpet—that it is an expensive restaurant suited for special occasions. The second part is true, but not to the exclusion of the everyman or the everyday. Our wine bar, a former ship’s chandlery literally dripping with proletarian history, requires a certain amount of loyal, local occupancy in order to ensure its happiness. I know it’s weird to personify a room in a building, irrespective of the building’s history, but I can’t help feeling that way. It really talks to you. Even before that second glass of cabernet. Trust me. So, for the spirit of the building’s sake, I want to appeal to the masses right now and remind them that they can come to my restaurant, sit upstairs in the Wine Bar and sip a goblet of something they find delicious without spending much money.

Back in November, I began to worry seriously about this economy, everyone’s prospects for survival, and the state of the world in general. In December, I turned the other cheek, and then the other cheek got smacked around pretty good, too. So now, in 2009, I’m coming out swinging, with smiles tattooed on both hands, jaw clenched, and fists flying. I’m bracing for the blow, but I’m not going to stop fighting.

Hope is everywhere, thank God. It’s on the face of the man whose singular, principled ambition is to get our nation back on its feet. It’s in the eyes of my incredibly adaptive children who don’t ask why their providers eke out such a Spartan existence for them. It’s in the less frigid air that has begun to swirl down the Piscataqua and up onto the snowmelt of Ceres Street. It’s in the hearts of everyone who understands the cataclysm-catharsis cycle of society and nature as a whole. So please join me in summoning all the gods there are to look down on this crazy, shut-in winterland on the rocky western cusp of the Atlantic: recognize our toil, forgive us our greed, give us strength to crack open our shutters and let in the new air of spring, and give us renewed hope in this season of rebirth.

A few more concrete reasons for renewed hope:

A new Black Trumpet menu featuring lamb shanks and other almost-spring foodstuffs. Mmmm, lamb shanks…

My forthcoming blog about the real “first sign of spring”: the arrival of seed packets in the mail.

Congress’ approval of Obama’s massive spending package.

Our next wine dinner, sometime in April, featuring James Haller, chef of Blue Strawbery, back in the kitchen where he pioneered American cuisine in the seventies.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for eating. Hope to see you soon at 29 Ceres St.