Seder to Easter

I love many things about Sally Schneider--her style, her way of thinking about food, a stubborn originality beautifully tempered by an incredibly solid grounding in classic training and the French, Italian, and Mediterranean foods our palates find most pleasing.

And what I love about her today particularly is that the abundant, perfect-pitch spring menu she has given us would be perfect for Passover too. Granted, the days of endless cooking are over--or, for those of us who have been making the seder rounds if not the actual seders, the endless sitting, singing, eating, and driving. But any one of these dishes (except, okay, the olive-oil cake, that'll have to wait even if the Mediterranean theme is apt) will be lovely for the remaining week of Passover--or maybe for the many families I know, mine for a long time among them, who declare by fiat the first Saturday night after the start of Passover to be seder night, to make family gatherings possible.

Also today we have the debut of our resident artisan chocolate maker, Alex Whitmore, whose magical chocolate factory, Taza Chocolates, is in Somerville, just across the Charles River from where I live in Boston. I find it particularly magical because Whitmore pays attention to what I think is most important in chocolate--the quality of the bean, and roasting it to best show off its rustic power. He doesn't conch--mix and massage his chocolate for hours and hours with added cocoa butter for luxurious silkiness on the tongue. Instead he keeps the roasted, ground beans much closer to their natural state, so you taste their graininess and the graininess of good cane sugar. That's the only kind of chocolate I'll willingly eat, and the first time I experienced it, in the form of a ping-pong-shaped brown handmade ball at a Venezuelan market, remains one of the great revelations of my life.

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The flavors he describes and loves in Mexican chocolate, the ones he aims to make at his own factory, are close to what you'll find all through Central America and especially in Venezuela and Ecuador, growers of the beans most blenders prize above others. Those beans will only become harder to find and afford as the West African beans most blenders use for the bulk of their blends, generally inexpensive but dependable, themselves become high-priced if alarming news of a new bean blight continues. I'm looking forward to hearing more about the price of beans, and the experience of trying to reproduce a Oaxacan factory in Somerville.