Author: Susan Pagani

The HI-LO Diner Opens

Ever since the Hi-Lo Diner pitched up on East Lake Street — in all its stainless steel and neon glory — we have been standing on the curb, eagerly watching the windows for signs of life. Was it six months or a year? It seemed a century, during which rumors of milk shakes and doughnuts only increased our vigilant anticipation, so it’s no surprise that the place has been packed every meal of the day since it opened a few weeks ago. And, now that we’ve been inside and had a bite to eat, we can say that it looks just like we hoped it would and early tastes are promising. Read more [Appeared in Heavy Table. Photo credit: Sarah McGee]

The Genius of Birds book cover


Neurobiologists once thought that birds possessed tiny, reptilian brains hardwired for instinctive responses to the world. Now they know better. In her latest book, The Genius of Birds (Penguin Press, 2016), Jennifer Ackerman explores new research that shows how closely bird brains resemble our own. They, too, have a cerebral-cortex-like system in the forebrain, rapidly firing neurotransmitters, and pathways between the brain regions. Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine. Photo credit: Lori Eanes]

Dumpling & Strand Label

Naming: Dumpling & Strand

When food scientist Jeff Casper and entrepreneur-designer Kelly McManus decided to launch a noodle company — fresh noodles featuring locally sourced cold-milled organic grains! — they asked me to help them come up with a name. What fun! Based on the team’s brand (quirky, earnest, smart, inventive, and driven by curiosity), aesthetic, and diverse offering, I came up with a list of possibilities. They chose: Dumpling & Strand Noodlers at Large. See the whole label

Concept: The Nature Conservancy

I partnered with Kelly McManus to brainstorm themes and taglines for a Nature Conservancy gala in St. Paul. At the time, the Nature Conservancy was raising public awareness of the ways in which conservation impacts not only wilderness and wildlife, but also big business–you can’t have Coke if you don’t have water. Our tagline and theme: Investing in Nature’s Return.

The Songbird’s Egg

A letter arrived on Saturday, describing an incident with an egg that filled me with bright-green envy and true delight at once. Although one cannot blame the author for declining to pass along the pale, blue egg of hope, it might have smarted less if she hadn’t expressed it quite so poetically. Here follows the lovely little note: Yesterday, while bringing out the garbage early in the morning, I nearly stepped on a pale, pale blue bird’s egg — an egg no longer than the bowl of a baby’s spoon. I expected the egg to be smashed or cracked given that it was on the concrete and within [word smudged] of someone’s shoe, but it was not. The egg was intact and shaded, in part, by a fuzzy bird feather that was stuck to the top of the egg like a royal fascinator. Knowing your fondness for little birds, my initial thought was to ship off this brown-speckled, pale-blue egg to your doorstep. surely this egg must be a sign of good fortune, and that is where …

a pile of pretty letters

Letters of Condolence

I love letters, and recently there have been a great many letters exchanged — as you can see from the photo here. Letters from far-flung, eastern hotels on lovely, thick stationery. Handmade notes with tidbits of poetry and garden updates. Silly postcards and brief, but heartfelt birthday wishes. There have also been notes of condolence. My sweet grammy passed away. She was the last of the grands, and a very good friend to me. As a kid, she let me run straight from the lake into the house — barefoot and sopping wet — and filled me with homemade pies, cookies and jam, another contributor to my lifelong love of good food. She indulged my eccentricities, allowing me not only to sleep in the musty room over the garage rather than in the house, but also to hunker down in an ancient feather bed there for hours, sometimes whole days, reading. Of course, we didn’t always get along: She insisted on good manners and took away my sweets the day I bit my older brother on the stomach for …

On Raising Chickens

One spring, a friend purchased a $2 carton of fertilized eggs at the farmers’ market and stuck them under a borrowed incubator. Twenty-one days later, the resulting clutch threatened to overwhelm her modest backyard coop, and so she farmed the chicks out to adoptive parents. I presented two of those pullets, Hazel and Lydia, to my husband for our second anniversary. At the time, it felt terribly romantic. On one of our early dates, William had used the butcher paper covering a cafe table to draw me an elaborate plan for the kitchen garden he hoped to one day build. In addition to vegetables and fruit trees, it included an ingenious chicken hutch. Since then, we’d relocated to San Antonio, Texas, and it seemed like we’d be missing out on part of the experience if we didn’t keep some kind of livestock in the yard. Chickens would be charming pets. They would bring us fresh eggs. When I brought Hazel and Lydia home, they were six weeks old, still small and fluffy. Their feathers were …

Unpacking Our Palates

I AM A FOOD WRITER. At restaurants, I taste as much of the menu as possible. I bring people who are willing to let me eat off their plates. I come to the meal ready to be delighted, to coo over the red kuri purée, and gamely tuck into the Scotch eggs, jellied head cheeses, black corn fungus, whatever you’ve got, yes please. At home, I like to cook and to feed people — the best of my friendships have been established over long-winded meals — and, being a food writer, people like to feed me. Friends bring me bourbon from Kentucky, pork rillette from California, and truffle flour from France. They bring me pocket melons and wonder beans from their gardens, and all kinds of goodies from their kitchens, too — crumbly shortcakes, goat-milk ricotta drizzled with honey, pickled watermelon rind. If it all sounds a little precious, let me say that I’m equally pleased to receive a piece of hot, buttered toast. In the words of Jonathan Richman, I eat with gusto, damn! …