Author: Susan Pagani

The Hidden Lives of Owls

Giving a Hoot

In The Hidden Lives of Owls (Sasquatch Books, August 2016), naturalist Leigh Calvez explores her newfound curiosity about owls—tagging along with wildlife biologists and citizen scientists for a year as they study 11 Pacific Northwest species. This illuminating journey into owl lore, habits, and biology also provides an insightful look at regional efforts to protect the bird and its habitats from human industry and climate change. On one outing, Calvez and a team of forest service “hooters” visit one of central Washington’s few remaining old-growth forests, bushwhacking through dead trees and brush to check on a pair of rare nesting spotted owls. Calvez puts a live mouse on a branch and offers it to the male owl, who delivers it to the female—a sure sign that she is sitting on eggs. “The hope for spotted owls on the eastern slopes of the Cascades rested squarely on this nest,” she writes. Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine]

Casey Holley

The Grain Expectations of Casey Holley

“A lot of people have forgotten that beer is a mostly agricultural product,” Casey Holley says. “There’s people growing hops in Minnesota, there’s people growing grain in Minnesota, and their livelihood depends on it. And for me, I just kind of lost that connection that these ingredients have stories, and they’re based in history and family and tradition and flavor and all these cool things that we care about.” Holley is the proprietor of Able Seedhouse + Brewery, which opened a year ago in a Northeast Minneapolis building that used to be a maintenance garage for school buses. It came with the slope-to-drain floors and high ceilings conducive to brewing and the giant roll-up doors conducive to a light-filled, airy taproom — and, at 10,000 square feet, enough space to accommodate a malthouse. The latter was important to Holley, who named his company “seedhouse” because it was always his intention to make his own malt from Minnesota grains. Thus far it hasn’t been easy: Malting is expensive and labor intensive, and five years in, he’s just at the early experimentation stage. …

Department and store managers at Seward Co-op Friendship Store

Building a More Diverse Co-op Grocery Store

At a few minutes before 8 a.m. on a weekday morning in Minneapolis, there’s a small crowd of people waiting for the front door of the Seward Community Co-op Friendship Store to slide open for the day. They stand under a sign that says, “Everyone Welcome,” and it seems true when Jerry Williams, a department manager, arrives to unlock the door. “Let me at ‘em!” he says and greets the waiting shoppers like old neighbors, even clasping hands with a few of them before they go inside. Things haven’t always been so harmonious between the community and the cooperative grocery store. For 44 years, the Seward Co-op has been an anchor in the Seward neighborhood, where it operates a grocery store and, more recently, a restaurant. In 2013, the co-op announced it was going to spend $11.5 million to open a second grocery store about four miles southwest of Seward in the Bryant neighborhood. At the time, the people who ran the co-op assumed the community would welcome the new store. There wasn’t a conventional grocery store …

pastry case at savory bake house

Sandra Sherva & Max Okray of Savory Bake House

We visited Savory Bake House on a recent Tuesday morning. The sign on the door said closed, the ovens were cold, and the only sound in the place was the low hum of the air conditioner. We found proprietors Max Okray and Sandra Sherva sitting at the counter, the latter contentedly flipping through a magazine. With the weathered air of a veteran, Sherva told us how she had worked in a great many kitchens — Savories European Bistro, The Wedge, Birchwood Cafe, Crema Cafe (now called Sonny’s), Barbette, and Merlin’s Rest among them. Some of these jobs were rewarding, some were punishing, but she learned a lot along the way. And eight months into Savory, she seemed still to be settling into the idea of it, surprised and grateful to have found not only a kitchen of her own. “In some respects this was dumb luck,” she says. “This was just really, really lucky.” Read more [Appeared in Heavy Table. Photo credit: Brenda Johnson]

William and his goose.

On Living with Geese

The goose arrived in early Autumn. William, my husband, was standing on top of the shed, working on the roof. The shed was ramshackle, its floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with bottles and bags of powders—alumina, bentonite, borax, cobalt oxide and lithium carbonate—wood working tools, packing peanuts, and weathered cardboard boxes. It belonged to his mother, Daphne. Nearly eighty and a working potter, she used the shed to mix her glazes and pack her pottery off to folks around the country. William’s father, Roger, had built it in the seventies, and the asphalt shingles were so curled and cupped that the roofing nails had all been exposed and were bleeding rust. As William pulled the nails out, steel strained against the wood, creating a series of rapid screeches—something like a manic squeaky toy or the call of a domestic goose. Read more [Appeared in Switchback literary magazine]

Saved by the Birds

When life’s hard decisions are staring you down, the thing to do is procrastinate. Neil Hayward, a shy Englishman living in Boston needs to figure out how to jumpstart his erstwhile career, what to do about his lovely girlfriend, and why, at the ripe age of 39, it seems like the best of life is behind him. Instead, he goes to see a rare Nutting’s flycatcher in Lake Havasu, Arizona. And then a red-flanked bluetail in Vancouver, a gray partridge in Calgary, and ultimately more than 700 birds across North America. Suddenly a small midlife crisis becomes a Big Year of birding—and the subject of his memoir Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year (Bloomsbury USA, June 2016). Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine]

this is not george washington's pig

George Washington’s Piggs

I’ve been working on an essay about a goose that flew into the yard and fell in love with William, my husband. In the course of my research, I found an amazingly funny letter that Gouverneur Morris wrote to George Washington in the fall of 1788. I could not, in the end, use it — and it was a hard darling to kill — so here is an excerpt: I promised you some Chinese piggs, a promise which I can perform only by halves for my boar, being much addicted to gallantry, hung himself in pursuit of meer common sows. And his consort, to asswage her melancholy (for what else can helpless widows do) took up with a paramour of vulgar races, and thus her grunting progeny have jowls and bellies less big by half than their dam. Such however as I have, such send I unto you. And to piece and patch the matter as well as I may, in company with the piggs shall be sent a pair of Chinese geese which are really …

red hen

Nettie Colon Queen of the Pop-up

Pop-up dinners are wonderful for everything the name implies: the surprise venue, a restaurant in an unlikely place, or where one was not before, and where a bunch of strangers will gather, for one night only, to share an unusual experience — and a good meal. Or that’s what we hope for. No one really knows what will happen, but we’re all in it together, the diners and the chefs, and that’s the fun of it. On a recent evening, we took our hopes and expectations out to a pop-up at Sun Street Breads. Chef Nettie Colón (above, center) and crew had taken over the bakery-cafe for the night. “Red Hen Dinner Club,” the Facebook invite said, “neither a dinner party nor a fancy restaurant, guests sit at a communal table and enjoy this lively and social dinner. …” In that spirit, the cafe’s two- and four-tops had been pushed together to form one table that ran the length of the room. It was covered in white tablecloths and brown kraft paper, red Sicilian olive-oil …

Goodness Soap Labels

Naming: Goodness Soap Works

Goodness Soap Works makes beautiful, handmade, triple-milled soaps. They are filled with essentials oils that smell fantastic — and smooth your skin and spirit. They asked for help naming the individual soaps, and I came up with a list of potentials based on their brand and the super powers of each soap’s ingredients. See a cute stack of soap

HealthEast Careers Banner

Website: HealthEast

HealthEast is one of the largest medical systems in the Twin Cities, with four hospitals and 14 neighborhood clinics. I partnered with their marketing team to create new messages to recruit talented doctors, nurses, medical residents, and other professional folk, and then used those messages to write the content for their new Careers website. Visit the site