Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Yes Chef.

Yes chef. 

Nick Moulton adapts....

for Berkshire Magazine, Summer 2020

By Mary A. Nelen

If you told Nick Moulton he would be a TV star one day, he would tell you to get back to chopping onions. But when he got the call, the North Adams native who had never been on a plane found himself flying off to Santa Rosa, California, racing around in a faux supermarket called Flavortown with other chefs.

Moulton competed with three other chefs on Guy’s Grocery Games in its 23rd season last year on Food Network on an episode called “Five Dollar Dish.”

The supermarket-themed cooking competition challenged four chefs to cook a sweet and savory brunch for $20 that would feed four people. Moulton’s entry, Ragout of Roasted Mushrooms, Crispy Brussels Sprouts, poached egg and sweet corn puree cost him $15.91 in groceries. The judges praised his execution and Nick went to the next round, “hot lunch” which Moulton sailed through with a produce laden Pasta Primavera for less than $5 per plate earning him the title “Veggie King,” from host Guy Fieri. In the third round, Moulton’s Moroccan Chick Pea Stew with Mahi Mahi and Shrimp left him the last chef standing and the championship resulting in a cash round. A massive LED clock began to tick and Guy Fieri rattled off clues to items for Moulton to fetch among the aisles with a monetary prize for each correct pick. “Time’s Up!” shouted Fiere and a slightly sweaty yet elated Moulton looked at the camera and said, “Babe, I’m coming home, we got $16,000 for the kid’s college fund!”

Moulton returned to Flavortown to tape Guy’s Grocery Games, “Big Budget Bonanza,” where he achieved champion status and earned an additional $20,000 and in 2020 was invited to return to the set in Santa Rosa to compete in a tournament called Summer Grillin Games. The show aired on July 8.

Back at Mezze, Moulton sits amid the newly milled picnic tables on the restaurant’s verdant grounds in Williamstown. The executive chef reflects on how the TV show competition and COVID-19 have changed him and Mezze.
“Grocery Games was a way for me to break out of my comfort zone,” says Moulton, an unassuming individual with piercing light eyes, a COVID-19 buzz cut, and an exuberant display of shoulder-to-wrist tattoos.

After more than ten years at one of the Berkshire’s most dedicated and refined locavore dining establishments, Moulton’s comfort zone means overseeing every single dish that goes out during service. Although he excelled at sports as a young man, he chose to attend the Culinary Institute Arts. He became Mezze’s executive chef in 2014 and also has been guest chef at the James Beard Foundation since 2010, presenting the culinary artisanship of the region with a team of his Berkshire peers. He was previously head chef at Public Eat + Drink in North Adams, sous chef at The Orchards Hotel in Williamstown, and worked in the kitchens of other Berkshire notable restaurants.

Although not the type to put himself at the mercy of a TV audience, food is home plate for the chef. “Food was celebratory in my house,” he says. “It was a big deal to have everybody at the table. Mom made enough to feed an army, the whole family together with boyfriends and girlfriends at the table.”
Moulton landed his first job in a restaurant as a dishwasher, but he was quickly pulled over to the grill and was told, “Cook!” He has never looked back, drawn to the fast pace and the high volume.

The restaurant world, like everything else, is in significant transition. When Mezze closed in March and all but four employees were laid off, Moulton has several weeks to spend with his family that resulted in his own series of what it’s like to have a chef in the house. In daily videos on Instagram, some featuring breakfast, others snacks, sometimes dinner, all of Moulton’s multi-tasking came to the fore in his own kitchen. With an infant on his hip and two curious young boys at his side, there were countless interruptions, spills, and inspirational moments for housebound viewers.  

During this time, Moulton and his core group at the restaurant got a chance to reconsider how they were doing things at Mezze Restaurant Group. “It made me grateful for this time to think about how I want to spend my time,” he says. “Do I want to keep doing the refined food where I have to review each plate before it goes out using tweezers for garnish?”
For half a decade, Moulton and manager Nancy Thompson had been talking about making a shift to “fast casual” food at a new location potentially in North Adams. The pause provided by COVID was the opportunity to give fast casual a try with a new menu, scaled down for take out.

“When we were featuring the burgers on Thursdays early on during COVID,” says Moulton, “people kept coming back for more.”

The core team of four people created an online ordering system for takeout and reopened in late April. The Mezze Roadside Under the Pines features a socially-distanced outdoor dining concept with an outdoor grill and picnic tables. Like many other places in the Berkshires, it takes advantage of the natural beauty featured on the land.
“We are cooking the food people want right now—Smash Burgers with fries that go down easy,” says Moulton. Also on offer are grass-fed hot dogs, cheeseburgers, Okie Burgers, (beef and shaved onions) sides, salads, and desserts.

As an early proponent of the local food movement, Moulton’s relationships with area farmers goes deep. Nearby East Mountain Farm turns Mezze kitchen scraps into compost for its heritage pigs. “What they don’t like is corn husks,” notes Moulton. He finds use for them anyway, which is stock used for corn soup, gazpacho, and a nice chilled version of cucumber soup with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil as well as the desert known as Pavlova, a meringue-based confection finished with whipped cream and in Moulton’s version receives a light dusting of roasted dehydrated corn husk.  

This cycle of life—a plate of food, compost for the pigs, compost for the vegetable garden, and back to food on the plate continues in a new, post-COVID Mezze Roadside.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


  1. Photo: Mary Nelen, West Cummington, MA


This recipe is a slightly modified version of "Classic Meatloaf" from the 1934 edition of "Joy of Cooking," created by Irma Rombauer at age 55.

Before launching "Joy of Cooking,"  one of the best selling cookbooks in the US and on the shelf in most households, Irma's husband had just committed suicide. 

Anyhoo, look for goat meat and ask for it ground at your local Halal market. Or check area farms where goats are raised for their milk and meat. If you're in the Connecticut River Valley, try Balky Farm in Northfield MA, if you're in the Hudson River Valley, Wild Lea Farm, in Wappingers Falls NY, or if you're in the Berkshires, try Dandelion Hill Farm in Sheffield MA.



1 C homemade ketchup (cook down 8 plum tomatoes, 1 clove chopped garlic, add 1 t maple syrup, 1T horseradish or hot pepper sliced fine) or regular store bought is fine.

1 lb ground goat meat

1 C yogurt

1 egg

1T horseradish

2T worcestershire sauce

1 egg hard boiled, and peeled (optional)

1/2 C greens, parsley or kale, chopped fine

1 C chopped onion, chopped roughly

2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced

1 C fresh hen of the wood mushrooms lightly sauteed in butter (or 1/2 C dried, reconstituted)

2 C cubed (large) stale bread


Preheat oven to 350

Mix yogurt, egg and ketchup in a large bowl.

Add ground beef and fold in the rest of the ingredients, except the hard boiled egg, if using, with your hands.

Form a loaf around the optional hard boiled egg

Grease loaf pan with butter or bacon fat.

Place loaf in greased loaf pan.

Place loaf into pan, carefully, keeping the egg, if using, in the middle of the loaf.

Bake for one hour.

Allow to cool on a window sill in pan and slice when ready to eat.


Thursday, May 7, 2020

Vermont Carrot

Agrarian Trust Launches the Agrarian Commons A National Model for Community-Centered Farm Ownership

Today Agrarian Trust announces the launch of a transformative new model for community-centered farm and ranch ownership and tenure, the Agrarian Commons, in 10 states across the country (CA, ME, MN, MT, NH, TN, VT, VA, WA, WV).

After several years of development and collaborative input, the Agrarian Commons launches in 10 states across the country with 12 founding farms that total 2,400 acres of diversified agriculture serving foodsheds and communities. Diversified agriculture is proven to regenerate soils, sequester carbon, and support healthy ecosystems.

The model decommodifies land through locally governed Agrarian Commons, newly formed legal entities that support farmland access for dispossessed farmers and farmers of color, rebuild human relationships to the land, and return natural capital to land.

Founding boards of the 10 Agrarian Commons are 58 percent women, 63 percent farmers, and 85 percent local to the regions the Agrarian Commons serves. The Agrarian Commons addresses two primary barriers for beginning and exiting farmers: the high cost of land and high debt burden of modern agriculture.

Human disconnection from land, the climate crisis, and the catastrophic loss of habitat and species directly impact food security and the health of farms, humans, community, and the earth. The consolidation of industrial agriculture imperils our farms and food systems: Every day, 37 mid-sized farms close across the country.

At the foundation of land injustice is the dispossession and theft of land from Indigenous peoples, Black farmers, and other communities of color. More than 60 percent of farmworkers are people of color, yet people of color own less than 2 percent of all farmland in the United States. Underlying all of this is the reality that we are in the midst of 400 million acres of U.S. farmland changing hands as a generation of farmers and ranchers retire. The time for transformation in how land is owned, accessed, valued, and used is now.

The West Virginia Agrarian Commons is building a community to value and sustain interconnected agricultural enterprises, creating equitable ownership, and an agrarian economy that restores the health of the land and its communities after centuries of exploitation.

The Southeast Minnesota Agrarian Commons is focused on small scale farm enterprises that provide new opportunities to rural Latinx immigrants and communities, and build economic resilience and community well-being.

Somali Bantu communities resettling the exploited and neglected mill cities of Lewiston-Auburn, Maine are founding the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons to hold community farms focused on local food production. 
The May 1st, 2020 founding of the Agrarian Commons is a step toward transforming our relationship to land. Agrarian Trust is working to raise $10 million over the next two years for Agrarian Commons to acquire farms, fund land transaction costs and organizational capacity, and invest in farm viability and ecological health.

Visit: www.agrariantrust.org/agrariancommons Subscribe for updates: agrariantrust.org/subscribe | Follow: @agrariantrust | #agrariancommons
Lake Champlain, VT

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Masked Heroes of the Berkshires

Masked heroes of the Berkshires

By  Sunday, Apr 26, 2020 Life In the Berkshires

Josh Pacheco, ER Physician, Fairview Hospital, Great Barrington. Photo Mary Nelen

At hospitals across the country... N95 masks are in short supply. Peter Tsai, a material scientist and engineer who developed the N95 mask with virus-blocking technology, is emerging from retirement to help figure out how to disinfect the single-use masks for reuse.
For non-medical individuals, hospital masks are impossible to find or order. Since Governor Baker ordered the wearing of a mask whenever people venture out of the home, a flurry of mask making has taken place in the Berkshires. 
Last week Susan Wissler, executive director of The Mount, announced that five yards of the toile fabric used in Edith Wharton’s bedroom will be produced by the French textile manufacturer and donated for use in masks, as part of an initiative spearheaded by Kate Louzon, Berkshire County Coronavirus Community Assistance coordinator. All over the Berkshires, individuals are making masks on sewing machines, sharing patterns made available by news sources, or putting them together with the most humble of materials, such as a bandanna folded in two or some basic fabric held together by two rubber bands.
No matter what form they take, masks must be worn, and a cross section of area mask wearers who face the public on a daily basis reveal the sources of their masks for this photo essay.
What can be said to these masked heroes, braving molecules with good cheer and full hearts, often for minimum wage and, on rare occasions, hazard pay?  Because of them, there is a respirator and a professional who knows how to use it, a clear signal on the Internet, a dark roast coffee at a window in the middle of a snow storm, a bottle of what is required, a slice of hot pizza, fresh baked sourdough bread, sensitive ministrations for quarantined souls unsure of this new reality, and finally, a chief of police waiting to take your call.
If you run into any of these folks, say thanks.

Marc Portieri, Police Chief, West Stockbridge, mask provided by South Berkshire Emergency Planning Committee.
Photo Mary A. Nelen

Amanda Bates, Front-of-House, The Lantern Bar and Grill, Pittsfield, mask made by Jenna Lanphear. Photo: Mary A. Nelen

Ben Conesew, Cheese Monger, Rubiner’s, Great Barrington, mask custom-made by Frank Muytjes of Kenmore Hall in Richmond. Photo: Mary A. Nelen

Aryonah Buffoni, Waitress, Betty’s Pizza Shack, Lenox, mask provided by employer. Photo: Mary A. Nelen

Elmer Lainez, Line Clearing, National Grid, mask issued by ARS Corporation. Photo: Mary A. Nelen

Fred, Cashier, Nejaime’s Liquor Store, Stockbridge, mask made by wife Shirley. Photo by Mary A. Nelen

Rosalynn Frederick, Quality and Training Manager Stanton Home, Great Barrington, mask provided by employer. Photo courtesy of Stanton Home.

Monica Havill, Drive-Thru Window Server, Dunkin’ Donuts, Lee, mask provided by employer. Photo by Mary A. Nelen

Dr. Michael Kaplan, Community Health Programs, Lee Family Practice, mask provided by medical suppliers and federal and state emergency preparedness teams. Photo courtesy of Community Health Programs.

Thomas Lampiasi, Baker, Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Housatonic, mask provided by employer. Photo by Mary A. Nelen

Matthew Rubiner, Owner, Rubiner’s, Great Barrington, mask made from fabric donated by Sandra Boyton, made by a friend. Photo: Mary A. Nelen

Josh Pacheco, Emergency Room Physician, Fairview Hospital, mask issued by employer. Photo by Mary A. Nelen

Alifia Panina, Volunteer, Stanton Home, Great Barrington, mask provided by employer. Photo courtesy of Stanton Home

WeiWei Shi, Manager, Shiro Kitchen and Asian Market, Great Barrington,mask purchased at CVS.
Photo: May A. Nelen

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trip to the Interior, Route 47 North

Trip to the Interior

Route 47 North

The farmer texted us, "Meet me in Montague..." 

My nephew and I stood there in a parking lot not far from the highway. Kyle said let's go. 

We drove north along Route 47 chasing an order of arugula, mixed greens, carrots and shallotOnce past the honey pot, where the river gives the soil a good embrace, the houses gave way to fields.

O​nce ensconced in our meeting place, we waited next to a barn with a loading dock and a generous row​ of something under white crop cover material. The day was glorious, blue sky, birds communicating, with us, perhaps, in spite of ourselves and, instructed us to look again at the white crop cover material where we discovered a lone strawberry plant. 

Photo by Mary A. Nelen

“Hello there!”

We looked up to see Sarah Voi​land​, ​a tall, wiry​, wood sprite of a​ woman ​in ​muck boots and jeans​. ​ 

“That’s Everbearing!” she said ​of the strawberry plant which she explained will bear fruit all summer long. 

Like one who might be on speaking terms with Mother Nature, she radiated confidence. ​She invited us to tour more life, this time in the hoop house.

In unseasonal warmth, we trudged through the field, ​she shared current ​farm ​logistics ​in light recent restrictions on social interaction. 

“We are juggling,” she said explaining this week’s shift from selling at three separate farmers markets to going to the same locations with a truck to fill pre-orders made by email. 

We joined Sarah on her commute from home to the hoop house as about 100 steps across hard soil, row after row.

“I wake before dawn and jog when I have to clear my mind,” she said with a shrug as we trod the earth.."

Inside which was like walking onto a football field sized garden of light and tiny plants. 

Photo by Mary A. Nelen

It’s not tender things time,” Sarah said of the thousands seeds sprouting before us. Beginning with the most voluminous of the seedlings were the onions of which there were thousands. Also growing before our eyes were early tomatoes, English cucumbers, ​S​wiss ​C​hard and edible pansies.

By “tender things time” Sarah meant that it was too soon to start seeds outdoors.    

Photo by Mary A. Nelen

Some seedlings were bound for the great outdoors where they would finish their gestation and others, such as the tomatoes, would finish growing in a greenhouse in Granby where they would be ready for sale by June and hopefully at the Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival, but that, like everything else on the planet, is uncertain but the plants were proof of something good to come.

The three of us fell quiet in the sunlight. A yellow and black barn cat entered the greenhouse and wound around my legs.  Sarah introduced her as “Pecan” or “Boss Mamma.”

The cat hung around while Sarah explained this week’s food distribution challenge for the farm.

 “This time of year we are at three farmers’ markets on a Saturday but they’re all closed,” said Sarah.  

“We alerted customers, took orders and went to the locations sell off the truck.”

Typically Red Fire brings about $10,000 from Northampton, Springfield and Somerville. A fourth market in Wayland moved outdoors but the time frame was reduced to three hours.

 “The call for people to order in bulk on Wednesday for a Saturday pick-up brought in $4,000 from all four markets,” said Sarah who has two children.

With respect to people working in restaurants and those temporarily out of work, she looked down at the ground and shook her head.

“I jus don’t know how they’re gonna survive this,” she said.

Red Fire Farm announced they will be doing home deliveries starting next week, in an email from Sarah reminding us that we “own our interiors” and pictured wearing a T-Shirt with the legend,

“Hard Times Ain’t Gonna Rule My Mind No More,” a song by Gillian Welch to remind customers and friends that we own the interior.

Not sure if she means the interior meaning the land or the interior of our bodies but either way, it’s a comfort knowing food from Red Fire and other farms will continue to grow in these loamy soils.