"Hold fast that which is good." I used to recite this every Sunday. It was the highly anticipated signal that the sermon had ended. It was the signal that it was…
Starting an episode of The Chef’s Table on Netflix somehow initiates a chemical reaction which bonds my molecules to those of the couch (#science). I become glued to the cushions, obsessively committed to consuming as many episodes as I can before my eyes become heavy, the whiskey drinks kick in, and I fall asleep in some unattractive, gangly pose and then have to will every fiber of my being to go to my actual bed. The show inspires me, to say the least.
Aside from the dance of the camera, the insane food creations, the remote jet-setting possibilities, and the heartfelt personal stories, what drew me most in season two was the idea of the “nudge.” A few chefs mentioned a moment when they were hitting their stride, and a voice of reason would say “you’re almost there, but you need _________.” In the case of the self-taught Ana Roš, a food critic friend told her she was getting good, but she’d be great once she started to pull from and appreciate her Slovenian roots.
The friend’s words stuck with her, and she began to explore her region, visiting cheesemongers in the early morning, when the green mountains were still misty. She began to fish from the crystal blue waters of the Soca River. She began to cherish and preserve her culture through her own creative updates and twists. She set out to be a diplomat, wound up as a chef, and arguably, through hard work, fierce dedication and a little nudge, she became a diplomat for Slovenia nonetheless.
I’m going to go on a limb here to break that cautionary writing guideline about avoiding the use of “all, none, every, never, etc” to say that all of us need a little nudge sometimes, even those arrogant bastards who were born with enough confidence to try anything and put their names on everything. Even those types need nudges toward greatness sometimes, or I’m just projecting that need because I need a nudge every now and then.
At any given moment, I have a back burner stewing with ideas for shops, bakeries, retreats, art, workshops, products, illustrations, etc. Whether it’s fear, distraction, not enough hours in the day or a lack of funding, a lot of these ideas just continue to simmer. Sometimes the ideas themselves nudge me, nagging at me, lodging in my head like strikers rallying for their right to exist.
But other times, a lot of times, it’s this guy… The Urban Farmer.
He’s braver and bolder than I am. He’s willing to tackle anything, committed to figuring it out along the way, even if he has never tackled it before. When I hem and haw with the typical doubts and insecurities of a perfectionist, he is my nudge. “Nah, just do it,” he’ll say, and more importantly, he really believes I can just do it.
Nudge and support, nudge and support. It’s an important combination, so rare to find in a partner, and day by day, we’re becoming partners in more ways than one, scheming and brainstorming and creating together. I’m so excited for what’s in store, even if I’m not yet ready to broadcast those ideas to the far reaches of the internet.
Yet, even the boldest, bravest nudger occasionally needs a nudge himself, so when the Urban Farmer turned the big ol’ 3-1 this year, we gathered to weed, to mulch, to compost, to dig and to dine. We gathered to nudge him along, to encourage his efforts, trying as those farming efforts can be. And my gift for him?
A peach tree. I gave him a peach tree because a tree is an investment, a living, growing symbol that I believe in his vision, his labors and perhaps the biggest testament to my faith in him- I believe he’ll overcome city bureaucracies and get his name on the land, and one day, his farm will grow and grow and all of it will officially be his. On that day, I’ll make this crisp with farm-fresh peaches and muddle even more of those peaches into whiskey drinks, and I’ll raise a glass to him, my constant nudger and supporter!
Here’s to the Urban Farmer, the birthday boy! And here’s to many, MANY more birthdays by his side!
Strawberry Peach Crisp (Gluten Free)
About this Recipe: A great way to feed a group at the last minute, this crisp takes advantage of gluten-free muesli to add extra fruit, nuts and seeds to the crisp layer. Alternately, you could use gluten-free oats. Serve with homemade whipped cream or an all natural vanilla bean ice cream if you’re near a fridge/freezer, but for farm/outdoor gatherings, this crowd-pleaser dessert is sweet enough on its own.
Ah brunch, society’s way of justifying lazing about, eating too much, doing too little and marrying salty, sweet and saucy (mimosas anyone?).
Brunch is my favorite meal of the day, but as farm duties kick into full swing, it’s a meal that no longer fits the schedule (not that the Urban Farmer is the 6 am sort by any means). To indulge in brunch while we still could, I whipped up a little celebration of spring to be enjoyed in the mid-morning hours.
I first shared this brunch with the fine, fashionable folks at ModCloth, who asked me for some tips on supporting local agriculture, a topic I love to bring to the table! Since not everyone has the luxury of a fine fella who digs in the dirt all day and then comes home with fresh, flavorful greens, I’ll share some of those same tips here too. (This is also a good time to tell you I’m a ginger now!)
What’s your favorite part about farmers markets and other local food spaces?
Conversation + flavor. When people plant, grow, and harvest a vegetable, or milk a cow or goat to make cheese, they tend to be very enthusiastic about that product! Whether it be the quirky name of the heirloom seed or the temperament of the baby goats, this dialogue is such a far cry from asking the produce clerk at the grocery store for more details on the fennel. Plus, local purveyors can pick when the produce is ripe, since they aren’t shipping their product across the globe.
Do you have any tips on how to get the most out of a farmers market experience?
Shop with your taste buds and an open mind! Many farmers will give out samples, or offer up herbs and fruits to smell. Think of the farmers market like a cooking show challenge. Here’s what is available and flavorful at the moment, now be creative and turn it into tonight’s dinner! Also, don’t be afraid to stick to your food values! Ask the farmers if they grow organically or pesticide-free (even if they aren’t certified, which is often too expensive for small-scale producers). They risk more for their sustainable approach and should be rewarded accordingly.
Okay, so you’ve scored big at the farmers market…now what? Any tips for using your finds in a way that minimizes potential food waste?
Wasting less is a huge priority of mine, so much so that I added a “Waste Not, Want Not” category to my blog to share my experiments and pursuits. One of the biggest ways to mitigate food waste is to compost, so at least waste and scraps won’t be taking up space in a landfill, where they present a slew of problems. Some cities pick up compost with trash and recycling, but unfortunately, Pittsburgh is not yet one of those cities.
If you don’t have your own yard, talk to a neighbor about sharing a bin or contact the managers of a local community garden to see if you can drop off a bin of approved compostables. Or, talk to my farmer and me!
As far as consuming food to waste less, it comes down to kitchen creativity and experimentation! Try a version of my Turnip Chips & Turnip Greens Dip as a way to use the entire vegetable. Use the end cuts of vegetables like carrots and celery to make a Homemade Stock. The homemade version is usually more flavorful, cheaper and healthier than even the organic store-bought varieties. Juicing is a great way to clean out the refrigerator, and there are quick pickling methods that are not intimidating at all.
In the spirit of “Waste Not, Want Not,” I shared a recipe for a Rhubarb Simple Syrup with ModCloth readers. Rhubarb is so nostalgic, since my mom was one of the few neighbors who knew what to do with the stalky vegetable when most people thought it was a weed. This Simple Syrup is perfect for easy brunch cocktails or an afternoon homemade soda (just add sparkling water).
Rather than strain and pitch the fruit from the simple syrup infusion, use it to make a sweet and tart topping for waffles, which I made with local cornmeal and fresh, homegrown basil. I topped it off with Rose Water Whipped Cream for a truly fresh, spring flavor.
And if you truly want to eat brunch like this part-time farmer, you DRENCH everything in PURE maple syrup!
p.s: Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the #BTS with my trusty sidekick.
p.p.s: This post was presented in collaboration with ModCloth, but all opinions are my own.
Whole-Grain, Cornmeal, Basil Belgian Waffles with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote & Rose Water Whipped Cream
Yield: about 5 8-inch Belgian style waffles.
Every day I try to be a better person because the Urban Farmer is such a good example! When I met him, he was defending the environment, volunteering all over the…
“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.