The creeping vine has begun to reveal a bright, blazing red. The blankets linger on the couch in the darkness of the mornings, tossed aside after cuddling in the evening’s chill. Soups and ciders have begun to be appealing again, and the bed has doubled with the thickness of comforters and quilts. It’s fall, but my mind keeps wandering back to the day I played hooky and soaked up the last bit of summer.
When I think back to that day of lounging aimlessly on the shores of Lake Erie, my skin feels warmer. The intense sunlight renders my skin golden, and I brace myself for the stark contrast of the water, an instant chill surmounted only by a quick submersion.
They say “when it rains, it pours,” but in my freelance world lately, “when it rains, it tsunamis” feels more accurate. The beginning of September was the equivalent of hiking to a cliff and seeing a vast, new territory of hurdles and challenges in the distance. As I stared into an overwhelming work load, I did a rare thing- I retreated. I took a day off, and I’ve been trying to channel a bit of that blessed hooky day ever since.
Lake Erie had shamefully been unchecked on my summer bucket list for more than one season. Finally, with fall and work looming, I recruited my partner in bucket list adventures for a day of soft sand, intense sun, a picnic lunch, sneaky whiskey and the type of water antics that leave you coughing and snorting and feeling like a child who just plunged off the diving board.
The picnic menu, like the day itself, was another attempt to soak up the end of summer and put a dent in the pile of harvested zucchinis.
When I finally returned to that precipice, to face the looming projects and more intense work load on the horizon, I tried to embrace the work with gratitude. Though not always successful and definitely guilty of an ugly meltdown, I tried to enjoy the pouring rain of projects. In case I forgot and let my mind slip into stress/frenzy mode, I attached a sticky note reminder near my desk. “Commit to creating joyfully, not stressfully,” wise words from the ever strategic Marie Forleo.
It’d be great if my life included A LOT more beachy days with best friends and wholesome picnics, and part of me will strive for more of those, but more importantly, I’m striving to take that beach day’s in-the-moment-happy vibe with me in my work. I like what I do, and even if I’d like a little more space between projects, I’m still grateful for the spike.
Here’s to sharing summer recipes well into fall, to holding on tightly to hooky days, to picnics with friends and to creating joyfully because it really could be so much worse.
About These Recipes: Ideal for that end of summer zucchini pile, these recipes are loose and easily adaptable. Omit the fish sauce in the Zoodle Salad and a vegan mayo in the sandwich for a vegan picnic spread.
Glasses with varying levels of optimism/pessimism litter the surfaces of our apartment, creating a steady morning routine of retrieval. The many water glasses form trails of our attempts to beat the heat, a sip here, melted ice there, a refill, a new glass… until the sink is full, and the cycle repeats. Meanwhile, our little fur-baby leaves pockets of heat on the floor, as she shifts from cool tile, to hallway darkness, to that slight office breeze. Poor little one. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s summer, and I love it, but none of our apartment situation really makes me scream, “let’s baaaake!”
So for the most part, the oven finds itself on a summer vacation, its energies reserved for quick bursts of pizza-making on busy nights or warming weekend pancakes. However, when it comes to celebrating two years with the love of my life, I brave the heat. On these sorts of summer occasions, the oven and I really set to work!
I don’t just bake, I commit. I turn on a long playlist, I grate, beat, pour, dance, scurry… and “glisten.” I commit because two years is special and because it’s that time of year when zucchinis demand acceptance and creativity because, like the heat, they are part of summer.
Like so many avoided activities, once I start, I just keep going, and bread leads to pie, but that’s another story. My Southern-Inspired Menu called for cornbread, but the season called for zucchini. This bread is both. It’s hearty enough to pair with fried chicken and deviled eggs but sweet enough to slather with butter and honey for breakfast.
Here’s to summer baking!
Whole Grain Browned Butter Zucchini Cornbread Adapted from Bon Appétit
About this Recipe: Serve this warm with extra butter and honey. Compliments savory dishes or makes a wholesome breakfast. Can be made one day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature or in the refrigerator if you’re apartment, like mine, is hot.
How many phone numbers, excluding your own, do you know by heart?
That’s the last phone number I committed to memory. It’s also the first phone number I committed to memory. It was my parents’ home line. Was, being the keyword. One year ago, they moved to a new state, and the phone number, along with many household items, lingered in Pennsylvania. With that move, I lost the last phone number in my memory. I lost 10 digits whose comfort I hadn’t fully appreciated until they were gone.
It’s the number I nerdily imagined giving to a boy via my TI-83 geek calculator in high school calculus class (it never happened-shocker!). When people called that number, I responded with all the polite, proper grammar my dad had instructed me to use, “Hello, Kogels’.” “Yes, this is she.” “No, she is not. May I take a message?” It’s the number I dialed every Sunday in college to give my updates, bemoan my stresses and say “I miss you, and I love you.” Those 10 digits may not lead to my mom or dad’s voices anymore, but they remain the numbers I know by heart.
That expression- to know by heart– may sound bizarre to someone learning English. How does the heart store information? Yet, it’s exactly how I store that random string of 10 digits. More than a space in my mind and memory, they’re numbers that mean something. They linger with me through comfort and nostalgia, like the steam that condenses on kitchen windows while soup simmers, or the way holiday cookies sprawl over a long, dining-room table.
This Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup may not be the passed-down sort of recipe, but a bowl of this warm, flavorful soup has the power to comfort and conjure nostalgia nonetheless. Whether the digits change, or the recipes change, these are still the numbers and experiences we know by heart.
Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup
About This Recipe: Choose a purple cabbage to give a faint violet hue to this soup. The recipe includes a few resourceful suggestions to waste less. Use the stalk of broccoli, not just the florets. If you have whole milk that has soured, use it in this soup. Alternately, you can use fresh whole milk or buttermilk for tang. For the creamy consistence, you’ll need an immersion blender, a food processor or a regular blender.
“Hi, I’d like to place an order for pick up, please.”
“Ok, what would you like?”
“Greens and Beans, please.”
Laughter and confusion ensued, as if I had just ordered a dirty joke with all the delivery prowess of Amy Schumer.
“Ohhhhh, you mean ‘Beans & Greens.'”
Isn’t that what I said?
I failed to see the hilarity in my word order reversal, but then again, I’m an outsider, a foreigner, a newbie when it comes to BEANS & Greens. This dish was not a tradition in my family. It was not a weekly staple. We didn’t debate which grandmother’s secret recipe was better, or whether an aunt used enough garlic. No, this is a staple I am adopting from my current city, from Pittsburgh.
This rusty, steel town probably adopted this staple from its Italian immigrants, but I can’t say for certain. The only research I have conducted is the occasional sampling at the small Italian bakery/cafe. It’s the one next to the espresso bar, where the old Italian men while away the day with caffeinated banter in broken English and broken Italian, depending on their generation. Like their changing language, recipes arrive on new shores and change, or in my case, they arrive in my kitchen, and I stubbornly cling to my word order- Greens and Beans!
As the Urban Farmer began preparing the farm for fall and frost, it was time to admit defeat on certain groundhog-nibbled vegetables and dig up their rows. The cauliflower and broccoli failed to grow beyond small, geometric clusters, but the plants’ leaves were dark, green, broad and impressive. As I uprooted the plants, the frugal, midwesterner in me brainstormed how to salvage the greens. So it was, dear Pittsburghers and Italians, I came to make Farm Greens & Beans, and we ate bacony, garlicky, parmesan accented greens for a week like happy peasants!
Here’s to hearty greens!
Farm Greens & Beans
About This Recipe: If you want a more precise Greens & Beans recipe, try this. My version is loose and easily adaptable. The main intention of this recipe is to take advantage of farm greens such as cauliflower leaves. If you’re not a farmer or gardener, you can still adapt this recipe and use the beet greens or turnip greens available in grocery stores with a combination of kale or collards. Either way, it’s a method to use the whole vegetable and not just a root. The quantity of greens is imprecise but easy to navigate. I wanted to make a large pot, so we used 3-4 hearty bunches, and filled a dutch oven with greens.
“You know what I call this?” the Urban Farmer said while proudly photographing the rickety wooden crate full of fresh-picked vegetables. “A case of the Mondays,” he said beaming with pun pride.
He chose another caption for his photo, not wanting to offend those stuck in Monday drudgery. I have often hesitated on sharing a pure joy lest it be regarded as boastful, so I understood his reserve. I’m not sure if this stems from deep-rooted American values or a Christian upbringing or both, but hiding happiness is RIDICULOUS, no?
I may be riding the emotional highs of listening to a lot of Elizabeth Gilbert wisdom, but who wouldn’t be happy watching that barefoot boy celebrate his dream farm on a weekly basis? Truth be told, Mondays with the Urban Famer were so far from the Mondays I once knew. On Mondays, man, woman and dog piled into the red truck, picked vegetables in the sun and then delivered them to the supporters who made this year’s farm efforts possible. Why would we hide that happiness from imagined miserable people?
Today is the last of these CSA Mondays for this season. There will still be farm work to do- bulbs to plant, invasive trees to cut, flowers varieties to select- but the CSA routine concludes today, just as the foggy, gray, frosty mornings are blanketing the fields. It feels more special than sad, more celebratory than conclusive. This was the beginning, and so much is in store! There is still so much room for expansion, so many lessons to teach, so many lessons to learn, and best of all, there will be so many new dishes to eat!
The farm calmed my Mondays, calmed my spirit and inspired new kitchen experiments. Monday after Monday, I combed the fruitful tomato vines in search of the bright reds, burgundies and yellows. Despite the challenging weather, the vines persisted with an inspiring abundance. However, the frost brought a new color spectrum- the greens!
I knew fried green tomatoes from the movie title and perhaps the occasional menu item, but I’d never eaten them or made them. I’m sharing Monday happiness with you in the form of these fried green tomatoes. The recipe is loose, like cooking with my mom and her mother before her. Both women knew to follow their instincts, adding a pinch or heap here and there, so allow your traditions and whims to transform this recipe accordingly.
“You in?” he yelled while already launching me forward.
“And this is how it ends,” I thought. “Death by homemade zip line!”
As the very questionable swing rocketed forward, I gripped fiercely and managed to scooch my bum into the very key area- the seat! The smile on my face shifted abruptly to an expression of pure panic as I beelined for the very solid tree directly in front of me. “Does this thing stoppppp?!?” I wanted to yell, but before I could form words, the swing yanked me backward in one jarring, whiplash-inducing motion.
Wooohoo! One more time!
Welcome to the Kunkle Family Reunion, Quelcy!
The Kunkles, the Urban Farmer’s family through his mother’s side, are titans of tradition! The family reunion I attended could have been any of the family reunions from the last 50 years. The faces may have aged, and new little Kunkle offshoots may have arrived, but the campsite was the same. The games and challenges were the same, and the spirit of good ol’ family fun was the same.
That family fun didn’t include technology either. I didn’t see kids scrolling on phones. I didn’t see iPads or movies. I saw rackets, gloves, tree swings, dogs and kids splashing in the creek, and middle-aged men competing against children with the seriousness of Olympic athletes. In a word, it was comforting.
The reunion was especially comforting because beyond the Kunkle family compound, “progress” threatens the beautiful hills, meadows, mountains and streams. Where families once hiked and swam freely, toxins and carcinogens now bar them from their own land. The promises of natural gas proved too good to be true, and the landscape of Western Pennsylvania is changing rapidly. In the name of “progress” so much has already been lost in our region (see these firsthand accounts if you don’t believe me).
But these external threats and unraveling traditions made the Kunkle Family Reunion all the more special. Real people. Real connections. Real traditions preserved and passed to the next generation of Reunion Presidents, Vice Presidents and Treasurers. Like a grandmother’s beloved recipe baked by her granddaughter, these ritual handoffs deserve to be celebrated. So, without further ado, I bring you this glimpse into the past, and why it stuck with me.
The legendary Kunkle Reunion Base Race kicked off the events of the day. The competitive nature of this event quickly became apparent when the historical scoreboards came into sight. The discolored boards of the 80s marked the key year when the bases were moved, lest any performance be judged unfairly by the distance differential. It was also worth noting that Mike Shoop’s slowest time was the result of a knee injury, not a lack of athletic ability.
Julep and I watched with pride, awe and maybe even a heart flutter or two as the Urban Farmer dug deep and delivered the overall winning base race score of 9.3 seconds, a far cry from his score of 39.1 seconds in 1986!
“Quelcy Kogel to the plate,” the man in suspenders announced. “Oh no…no, no…no,” I objected, but all eyes were on me. I had come merely to watch, but the Urban Farmer had thrown my hat in the ring. He had entered my name without my knowing!
My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and off I went! Every competitive nerve in my body was tingling.
I fell short of my main squeeze, so don’t be surprised if you sporadically find me running bases in the off season. Next year, I’ll be prepared, but I sincerely hope the official time-keeping uniform never changes!
Young and old kept the tradition alive, and after such exerting work, it was time for swimming in the creek, which first requires jumping from a rope swing (and requires leaving cameras safely on dry land).
As happily overwhelmed as I was, my Julep was overwhelmed in a way that gave us all quite a scare. Between the other dogs, the commotion, the anxiety of watching her papa tethered to another human and teetering in a three-legged race, the poor little one overdid it. As the Urban Farmer and I held her close and tried to decipher what exactly was causing her to drool, pant and tremble excessively, so many family members came to our side.
Family members who I barely knew rallied to offer any help they could. Closer family members overlooked dog drool and wet fur to help us ice down and comfort our poor dehydrated fur baby. They showed such sincere concern for our Julep, and I’ll never forget it.
I had come simply to observe and relish the Kunkles’ traditions, but in the end, I felt so connected to the Urban Farmer’s family. As our Julep rehydrated, refueled and showed signs of her normal self, the rest of the reunion adjourned to the campfire for silly songs, s’mores and the rest of the evening’s time-tested agenda. Though we left early, the day left me with a lasting impression.
The Urban Farmer, like his family’s reunion, borrows from the past in an effort to preserve tradition. He worked tirelessly this year, through rainy spells, dry spells and rampant groundhog spells to stay true to his farming convictions. He believes in tighter ties to our food, and more connections with the makers and growers. He believes in a self-sustaining local system, and he won’t stop until he achieves it.
As the autumn settles upon his farm, the tomato vines have given one last burst of bright red fruits. Like base races, old truck rides and creek swims, summer tomatoes are worth preserving.
In an effort to truly preserve the flavors and the spirit of summer, I returned to America’s classic condiment- ketchup!
As a Pittsburgh resident, it may be blasphemy to offer an alternative to the beloved Heinz 57, but I find it blasphemous to masquerade high fructose corn syrup as an American tradition (though sadly, it is becoming an American tradition).
This homemade ketchup won’t boast the exact ruby redness or perfectly smooth texture of store-bought counterparts, but each dollop of this condiment will impress. Make your own ketchup, and every winter burger or oven roasted french fry will become more satisfying and take you back to summer grilling and tomato harvesting in the heat. There’s something to be said for preservation!
Here’s to traditions, memories and delicious condiments!
A cake can be a meditation, each slice a chance to savor the here-and-now. If made with care, each bite passes without judgment, eyes close, stresses escape, and gravity feels lifted for but a moment. Just as you acknowledge the light in others through meditation, a cake is a testament to many hands and contributors. After all, as Carl Sagan said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
This cake was a man who spoke very little English, his reserve offset by his immense talent. He peeled limes into fire-breathing dragons, twisted fish into floral arrangements and carved beets into beautiful roses. He obsessed over granules of rice and valued the spacing between sushi. I watched his mastery in awe. In urban terms, game recognize game, but in the world of creatives, my neuroses is humbled by your neuroses, and I applaud your details! Less catchy, but it’s equally an ovation!
This cake was the Urban Farmer, his mother and his grandfather before him. They taught the him to gently respect nature, believe in nature, fight for nature, and in the end, reap her rewards. Her zucchinis continued to appear under his tutelage, as if by magic, under broad leaves that could transport the imaginative mind to island vacations. Her beets merited gallery time, with mesmerizing patterns of burgundies and whites circling like aging trees. And her mint…! Her mint runneth over!
This cake was a gathering. It was a celebration of the new guard of hands that work the land and restore value to the foods we eat. It was a celebration of edible weeds and fresh pickings. This cake was a campfire, warming the prematurely cool evening. It was laughter. It was sparks in the night sky. It was time savored.
These are the benefits of the “slow foods” as they are called – the foods with integrity and time amongst the ingredient lists. These foods are not “cheat foods” or “guilty pleasures.” This cake is a testament to the season and the many hands contributing along the way. Perhaps you will become part of this cake’s story too?
Sprouted Spelt Zucchini Beet Cake with Vodka Mint Glaze
About This Recipe: This bundt cake begins with my new favorite flour- One Degree Organic Foods’ Sprouted Spelt Flour. Through their website, you can read about the farmer who grows it. This combination of local zucchini and beets adds moisture and subtle sweetness. The glaze uses a Mint Vodka Simple Syrup instead of water or milk. I used Boyd & Blair Vodka instead of water when making the simple syrup to take advantage of the vodka’s rich, vanilla notes.