“Living and Working with Your Entire Self”: Susie Chang

October 17th, 2016
Susie Chang (all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

Susie Chang
(all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

The voice coming out of the computer is upbeat, musical, and fun. “If you love to cook, if you love recipes, if you love eating, stick around. Anything could happen,” says Susie Chang near the beginning of the inaugural podcast of “The Level Teaspoon,” her informal and entertaining look at cookbooks and recipes.

Susie (her pen name is “T. Susan Chang”) lives in Leverett, Massachusetts, not too far from me. For many years she has reviewed cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR. She is also the author of the frank, charming food memoir A Spoonful of Promises.

Her free podcast debuted on September 14. A new episode will be available every Wednesday on ITunes and other podcast venues (including its own site), where listeners can also hear back episodes. The podcast features cookbook reviews, cookbook highlights, and recipe-testing sessions with enthusiastic home cooks.

I spoke with Susie on the phone recently to talk about the genesis of “The Level Teaspoon.” She explained that she had come to realize that journalism had changed over the past couple of years.

“Cookbook reviews in print are something that people are less interested in,” she told me. “We use cookbooks in different ways. A lot of us will just Google recipes….

“I started thinking about how I would like to find out about cookbooks. I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts.”

She began to investigate the possibility of creating her own podcast. “I love doing radio. I always thought it would be nice to do more voice work, but I never could figure out how to do it,” she said.

“I spent a day looking into how people are managing to do podcasts, and I realized that it is possible to make a living running a podcast.”

The trick, she added, is that the podcaster has to build up thousands of listeners in order to attract a sponsor for his or her work.

She decided to take a chance, to invest her money in a good microphone and her time in creating a podcast she knew people would enjoy.

“I decided to give myself a few months to try and just see how it goes. I’m really, really hoping that I can make this work because I love doing it!” she asserted.

“I still get to write. I love writing. I always have. But there is something about the immediacy of sound to me that really goes with the immediacy of cooking. Cooking is a social activity.”

Susie is very proud of the sound effects she has begun to generate in her podcast. She found her theme music almost by accident.

“It happened the day I got my mike,” she recalled. “I’d been all worried about finding theme music. I had no idea how I was going to do it. I just happened to be working on my laptop across the street at the library and they were having their ‘Music on the Patio’ night. A couple of my neighbors are in the band.

“Anyway, I was just sitting there working and I thought, ‘Hey, that sounds pretty good!’ So I ran back across the street to my house and got the new mike, which I’d NEVER used before. And when they were all done I said, ‘What would it take for you guys to record just like 30 seconds of music for me?’ And they said, ‘Well, you want to call us tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘Well ACTUALLY, I happen to have a mike in my bag!’ And that’s how I got it.

“One take; you can hear talking and crickets and everything. I thought they did an amazing job.”


Susie’s favorite part of the podcast may be the segment in which she interviews “ordinary people,” including friends, about their experiences testing cookbook recipes.

“With cookbooks that’s the thing we never get to hear of, how [a recipe] ends up in somebody’s kitchen,” she told me. “It’s really hard to know from just looking what your experience with a cookbook is going to be like.”

She added that she enjoys being able to use the words of her many friends who love food and are articulate about it. “I just wanted their voices to be heard,” she said.

“Instead of being holed up in my office writing about these cookbooks, now I’m actually getting to see my friends, taste things with them, hear what they think.”

She looks forward to interviewing cookbook authors as well as friends as the podcasts develop. “The trick is that [the authors] can’t test their own recipes. They can talk about their book, but they will test a recipe from [someone else’s new] cookbook,” she explained.

At the moment it is taking Susie a full work week to prepare each podcast. “Thursday I write,” she noted. “By Friday I should be recording. I squeeze in interviews when I can.”

She edits on Monday, prepares online notes for the show on Tuesday, and gets ready to promote it when it hits the internet on Wednesday.

She also has to fit her other work into her week. “Plus I’ve still got kids,” she joked, referring to her 15-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. “And at some point I have to figure out what I’m testing for the next week.”

She expressed the hope that her husband and daughter will test recipes with her on the podcast soon. She portrayed young Zoe as an enthusiastic recipe tester.

The cookbooks just flood in [here],” said Susie. “I take the ones that are aimed toward kids. [Zoe] goes off with a pile of cookbooks and basically goes for broke. She just starts cooking.”

Susie loves cooking with her daughter, she told me. “I did not get to grow up cooking next to my mom and grandmother. I’m glad Zoe has the willingness and ability to do it.”

I asked Susie how many cookbooks she receives to review per year. “Oh, my God,” she exclaimed. “I usually tell people it’s 400 or 500. It probably is at least that. I try to keep it down to 1000 in the house.

“Luckily, I live across the street from the library. The Leverett library now has an extremely large collection of cookbooks!”

All in all, Susie is happy and hopeful with her life and her podcast, both of which promote the idea of food as a community. “I feel satisfied with work for the first time in a long time, even though there’s no money yet,” she said.

“At least this way, whatever I do, I’m responsible for it. I can reject it. I can accept it. And whatever comes out of it is mine…. It’s fun to be living and working with your entire self. That’s a gift.”


Extravagant Pies!

September 29th, 2016


Things are humming here in Hawley, Massachusetts. In just over a week—on Sunday, October 9—the Sons & Daughters of Hawley will host the Hawley Gentlemen’s Pie and Tart Extravaganza!

This event is modeled after our occasional pudding contest. It was inspired by two sentences I turned up in an old book many years ago while doing research for Hawley’s bicentennial.

In about 1920 in “A Sketch of the [Hawley] Ladies Aid,” Mattie Carter White recalled, “At one time there was a contest for the women sawing wood. The men had a pie baking contest. Mr. Clarence Gould got the prize for making the best pie.”

For years several of Hawley’s men—my friend Peter in particular—have lobbied for a revival of the pie-baking contest. No one has lobbied for a revival of the wood-sawing contest so we’re ignoring that. But we are at last holding a men’s pie contest as a fundraiser for the ongoing restoration of the Hawley Meeting House.

It will be open to men and boys who come from other places, of course. And it should offer fun for women as well as men.

The day will include a tour of historic sites, a sumptuous lunch, a pie parade, and an entertainment in which we reenact the circumstances of the original pie contest.

Of course, we have no idea what those circumstances were. We don’t even know what kind of pie Clarence Gould made or precisely when he made it. That won’t stop us from telling a fun story involving music, vegetarianism, and a chicken named Jerusha.

Please join us if you can—and spread the word! It may be another 100 years before we revive the contest once more.

Making Pie with Michael Collins

Making Pie with Michael Collins

Here is a recipe to get male readers started. It comes from my friend Michael Collins, now semi-retired as a chef. Michael’s main responsibility is cooking filling breakfasts for the guests at the Bed and Breakfast establishment he and his partner Tony now run at their home in Colrain.

Michael came on Mass Appeal with me this week to show how quickly one can assemble a pie. I prepared my Rustic Apple Tart, and he threw together this quiche-like concoction. The herbs and the mushrooms gave it rich flavor. And we had fun as always cooking together.

Michael's Pie

Michael’s Pie

Michael’s Breakfast Pie

from Chef Michael Collins at the Barrel Shop Gallery Airbnb


4 to 5 strips of bacon
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (Shitake or the mushroom of your choice)
uncooked top and bottom pie crusts
4 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon fresh basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, crumbled
a few gratings of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Fry the bacon in a pan. Take it out, but do not remove the grease from the pan. Drain the bacon on paper towels, and crumble it. Sauté the mushrooms in the remaining bacon grease. Return the crumbled bacon to the pan, and toss.

Place the fried bacon and mushrooms in the bottom pie crust. Whisk together the eggs, milk, herbs, and seasonings. Pour the egg mixture over the bacon and mushrooms.

Place top crust on the pie. Make a few holes in the top for ventilation.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and bake for about 30 minutes more, until golden brown.

Serves 6 to 8.

And now the video….

Drink, Eat, and Be Very Merry Indeed

September 21st, 2016


I am one of the lucky food writers who have been invited to what is called the Abrams Dinner Party. Abrams Publishing (long known for art books and more recently for colorful cookbooks) will be sending us books to review throughout the year.

I’m already behind on posting reviews (I’m behind on EVERYTHING during this nutty season of the year) so I’m giving you three at once.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse is charming—so much so that although I THOUGHT I was going to set it aside as a prize for my upcoming Hawley Gentlemen’s Pie & Tart Extravaganza, I have decided that it needs to stay in my house so I can use it.

(In addition to enjoying the text I loved the old-fashioned typeface and the whimsical illustrations by the Reverend Michael Alan.)

Grasse is a distiller himself and the creator of such successful historically oriented brands as Narragansett Beer and Hendrick’s Gin. In his book he returns to colonial days, reminding the reader that since the water was unsafe to drink early white Americans turned to ale and other spirits to quench their thirst.

He provides recipes and history for a variety of concoctions, including a variety of beers and wines (cock ale or quince wine, anyone?), ciders, and cocktails. I can now make beverages I had only previously encountered in historical novels, including syllabub, ratafia, and milk punch. (Okay, I may skip the milk punch.)

Look for me to concoct such drinks as cranberry shrub and peach cobbler (yes, it’s a cocktail as well as a dessert) on TV in the months to come.


In The 24-Hour Wine Expert Jancis Robinson offers a primer for people like me, who either don’t drink wine or don’t know much about it. She helps with selecting wines (telling the reader how to move from one wine s/he likes to another s/he will PROBABLY like), serving them, and storing them.

I have apparently stored much of the wine in my house a little too long.

She also runs through the products of major wine-producing areas and tells the reader how to find a bargain. All in all, this is a handy little book.

Butter & Scotch shares recipes from a combination bar and bakery in Brooklyn of the same name. The bar’s founders, Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth, share their “baking and boozing philosophy,” which is all about having fun while eating and drinking very well. Some of their recipes even combine butter and scotch with delicious-sounding results. All of their recipes are imaginative.

I wanted to test at least one recipe from this book. I was tempted to try the very rich peanut-butter pie but decided to give my guests the slightly less caloric Mama T’s Tuna Quiche.

Basically a rearranged tuna melt in a pie shell (I didn’t say it was calorie free!), the quiche was very popular with a group from my small hometown at a recent pot luck. I think another time I would grate the cheese instead of cubing it, to make it flow through the pie, but I’ll definitely try it again!


Mama T’s Tuna Quiche

from Butter & Scotch, used with permission


1 single pie crust
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons flour
6 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed
1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fit the crust into a pie pan. (The original recipe uses an 8-inch springform pan, which would be great, but I don’t have one so I used a 9-inch pie pan.) Refrigerate until ready to fill.

In a large bowl beat together the mayonnaise, milk, eggs, and flour. Add the cheese, tuna, olives, scallions, mustard, and cayenne, and stir well. Pour all of the ingredients into the crust, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the center has set. (The original recipe says 20 to 25 minutes, and if one has the springform that may work, but in my pie pan it took longer.)

Allow the quiche to cool for at least 20 minutes, then serve it warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week and warmed in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serves 6 (more at a pot-luck event!).


Frittering My Life Away

September 15th, 2016
Fritters make me happy.

Fritters make me happy.

I know, I know. This is my second post in a row about fritters.

I actually only make fritters every couple of years as a rule. Lately, however, I seem to be on a fritter kick.

Please believe me when I say this trend will end soon, for the sake of my waistline if for no other reason.

I will be making apple fritters in public very soon again, however. Apex Orchards in Shelburne, Massachusetts, is having a grand re-opening this weekend (September 17-18). I’ll be part of the celebration, making a couple of recipes from my Pudding Hollow Cookbook.

I have shopped at Apex for years, both for fruit and for the wonderful cider vinegar I buy there by the gallon. Tim Smith’s family has farmed this land for seven generations.

Tim and company have just opened a gorgeous new farm store with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. The gala weekend will feature hot-air balloon launchings, lots of yummy food (including my beloved Bart’s Ice Cream), and of course yours truly. I will be on hand on Sunday from 12 to 2 p.m. dishing up fritters as well as a green salad with apples.

The New Store (Courtesy of Apex Orchards)

The New Store (Courtesy of Apex Orchards)

If you can’t come, do try making the fritters. I prepared them on Mass Appeal yesterday, along with my favorite corn and tomato soup. I hope you watch! Meanwhile, I’m working on making something besides fritters for my next post!


Apple Fritters


1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (you can’t really have too much)
1/2 cup flour
canola oil for frying
1 cup apple chunks (bite-sized pieces)


First, prepare the batter. Beat the egg until it is light. Add the sugar, milk, oil, and lemon juice, and mix well. Mix in the baking powder, salt, and cinnnamon; then gently stir in the flour. The batter should be fairly smooth. (A few lumps will disappear in cooking.) Let the batter sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When you are ready to fry your fritters, pour 2 inches of oil into a fryer or heavy skillet and heat it to between 350 and 370 degrees. Stab each piece of apple with a fork, and dip it into the batter. Allow it to drip a bit, but don’t shake off the batter. Carefully lower the coated fruit into the fat, and cook until the first side is brown; then turn and cook the other side. (Turning can be a little tricky, but luckily sometimes you don’t need to!) You may cook 5 or 6 pieces at once.

Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon, and keep them warm in a 250-degree oven until all are ready. Serve alone, or covered with powdered sugar or warm maple syrup. Serves 4.


Courtesy of Apex Orchards

Courtesy of Apex Orchards

And now the videos….

Alice’s Corn Fritters

August 30th, 2016


During this golden season it can be REALLY hard to visit a farm stand and purchase just one ear of corn. I always end up buying at least two ears of this tempting vegetable—and sometimes four, six, or even 12! Consequently, the Tinky fridge usually features leftover corn in late August.

I have made much more complicated fritters in the past; in fact, I posted a fancier recipe here on this blog a few years back. When I was getting ready to cook on TV last week, however, I wanted something simple.

Luckily, my neighbor (and occasional musical collaborator) Alice Parker offered me the perfect recipe. It concentrates on two main flavors—the corn and BUTTER. You do have to be careful to keep the butter from melting, but your vigilance pays off.

The fritters disappeared fast on Mass Appeal, where I wore a yellow hat to pay tribute to the main ingredient and also to my late mother. (The hat belonged to her.) I wish I had a photo of her wearing it—but at least I have a photo of Alice! Here she is (on the left) getting ready to play the piano at our most recent concert, “Love Walked In.”

Alice and Estherweb

The Fritters


2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more if you like!)
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 cups kernels from barely cooked corn
butter as needed for frying (up to 1/2 stick—perhaps even a little more)


Separate the eggs. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. In a medium bowl whisk the egg yolks until they turn a paler yellow. Whisk in the baking powder, the salt, and the pepper. Using a wooden spoon stir in the flour, followed by the corn. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Warm a frying pan or griddle, and melt the butter. When it is nice and hot use a cookie scoop or spoon to form the corn mixture into little clumps, and fry them on both sides until brown, turning once. The mixture will be free form but delicious. Serve the fritters immediately by themselves, with sour cream and dill (my friend Betsy’s idea!), or with maple syrup. Serves 4.

And now the video. Note how fluffy the fritters become!