Did you know Scott Patterson, ie: Luke Danes, started his own coffee company? Being the theme-oriented gal that I am (ie: a should-be Stars Hollow resident), I ordered my own package of the breakfast blend. Logically, I decided the best way to try this brew was in true "Gilmore Girls" fashion. That meant a healthy mocha milkshake paired with a very Luke Danes meal: a cheeseburger, sweet potato fries and steamed broccoli. It's a diner style meal I could eat daily, but it's also the meal Luke cooked for his daughter, April, when she announced she was going to her first boy-girl party. Where you at "Gilmore Girls" fans?
We drove through the streets of Philly with the immediacy of a getaway car. We were not, however, escaping. We were on the hunt for a very specific purveyor of bánh mì.
Some people cook big batches of food on Sunday (like this grain bowl). Others, like my longtime friend Heather, buy enough banh mì to ruin the structural integrity of a plastic bag. At the time, I didn’t get it, but I enjoyed listening to my friend’s Vietnamese pronunciation of the sandwich interrupt her otherwise perfect English. It could have been the influence of her love for the food itself, but the words “bánh” and ” mì” seemed cheerier, nearly an octave higher than her normal chatter, as they rolled off her salivating tongue. With a car full o’ bánh mì, we returned to the normally scheduled activities of my weekend visit.
Even though I shared the seat with that bag full of Vietnam’s classic sandwiches, I didn’t bother to sample one, not a single bite (not that Heather would have shared). If me of today met that version of me, I’d be soooo condescending. “You’re not even going to try that?” Then again, the me of today might plow through niceties, ignore the past me’s shock at time travel, dive into that busted bag of sandwiches and try to be cute through a full mouth “#sorrynotsorry.”
Me of today constantly craves my neighborhood cafe’s vegan version, teared up (i.e.: sobbed/choked) eating Pittsburgh’s famous one (those jalapeños will get you!), and in the interim, is constantly trying to channel the magic of pickled vegetables and spicy mayos.
In so many ways beyond adopting bánh mì habits, I have changed since that sandwich excursion. Yet, had you asked me then, I probably would have said I had hit some sort of stride, pushed myself, expanded myself and grown into me. My current self might eagerly say the same, but that’s just setting the groundwork for 40-year-old me to look back lovingly and laugh, “Oh you! You have no idea what is in store!”
Beyond food preferences changes and the willingness to dive into “exotic” samplings, it seems we humans are constantly evolving more than we admit. It’s an idea worth dissecting, especially when you consider how easy it is to write off humans based on past transgressions or current associations. We attach labels like “ex con,” “Republican,” or “Democrat” (said with equal levels of disgust depending on who is speaking).
This notion of fixed personalities is not only unforgiving, but it’s flawed. It’s a notion that stuck with me after listening to a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia. In “The Personality Myth,” the co-hosts follow an inmate with a horrific record as he plans a TEDx conference in a prison. He speaks eloquently and poetically about feeling different, a new man down to his very DNA, all with a proper deference for the heinous acts he committed.
If a little thing like a pickled Vietnamese sandwich can shape so many aspects of my life, it’s worth talking about how second chances, good faith and human decency might have grand powers for bigger changes. We live in ugly times in need of beauty and connection, so hard boil some eggs, pickle some vegetables and put little delicate dill flowers on those eggs!
Then maybe take a real risk and reach out to a neighbor in need, or speak out on behalf of someone who needs a voice, or try to pay off some of society’s debts through good ol’ acts of kindness. In my case, I made these for the one I love the most, to celebrate how we have spent two years growing and changing together.
Bánh Mì Style Deviled Eggs
About This Recipe: Banh Mì actually refers to the bread used in the namesake sandwich, but these eggs borrow the pickled vegetables for a twist on deviled eggs. If you want a spicier/hotter pickle, keep the jalapeño seeds in the mix. For a more mild flavor (i.e.: a no-tears eating experience), skip or reduce the number of seeds in the mix. The pickle recipe yields more than you’ll need for the eggs, but I like to have the pickles on hand for toppings on sandwiches and grain bowls.
A gradual progression from developing recipes and sharing the yields is to demonstrate how to make a recipe in front of an interested audience. This idea intrigues me and intimidates me. Am I qualified to teach? Are people interested? I’d toyed with these thoughts for a while, and then I met Amber!
Amber is the Education Coordinator & Chief Blogger for The Brashear Association, a community development organization in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Amber spoke about teaching the kids who come to the center about growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, an endeavor I respect and support wholeheartedly. Some of these lessons come through “Cooking Together,” a series of cooking demos with local chefs and food experts. Though kids can be brutally honest, they can also be more forgiving than adults with social media accounts poised to wreck you, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a cooking demo under my belt. Before I could second guess myself, I volunteered!
When it comes to making healthy choices, the convenience store options have a lot more appeal than an apple or carrots, so I wanted to share a recipe with the kids to appease a sweet tooth without consuming all the unpronounceable, artificial sweeteners. To start, I had a volunteer read the ingredients in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. TBHQ? I have no idea what that means! As my volunteer stumbled over a few of the ingredients, I assured him most adults have no idea how to say these words either, and if we can’t say them, we probably shouldn’t put them in our bodies. Instead, let’s make our own peanut butter cups!
While the first layer of melted chocolate set in the cupcake trays, we talked about how we’d sweeten our treats. Since we live in Western Pennsylvania, honey is prevalent, and more importantly, it’s good for us! Buying local honey also supports beekeepers and honeybees. To emphasize this point, my good-hearted Urban Farmer stepped up to teach some beekeeping basics.
“So we’re really just eating bee puke?” Yes, delicious, delicious bee puke! One after the other, the kids asked really detailed and astute questions about beekeeping. Amber is clearly steering these kids in the right direction, and we were amazed with their fascination. Hopefully, we have some future beekeepers in the making!
Kid tested, and Quelcy approved! The kids loved the treats and thought they’d be able to make them at home with their parents. A big goal of these cooking classes is to educate entire families to make healthier choices, a decision made more difficult by the lack of a proper grocery store in the neighborhood. This is the same issue facing the neighborhood surrounding the Urban Farmer’s farm, and one of his longterm goals is to provide fresh food accessibility to the community.
Food access is another reason I chose Peanut Butter Cups for my demo. Organic and natural peanut butters are far more common than they used to be, so it’s a more accessible ingredient. Dark chocolate is typically healthier than a gas station candy, and honey doesn’t go bad. Rather than push “organic,” which can be economically limiting, I stressed the importance of minimal, pronounceable ingredients. What would we expect to find in peanut butter? Kids can answer that question. Why can’t peanut butter brands?
My apron’s off to Amber for her dedication to these kids. From implementing fruits & vegetables into their diets, to teaching them to feel confident in the kitchen, to exposing them to various career options and to inspiring them to dig in the dirt and grow their own food, she and her team are an inspiration! I imagine working with kids is often thankless and always tiring, so three cheers to the Brashear Kids coordinators!
Thank you to Amber & Brashear Kids for having me and supporting my first cooking demo opportunity! If you’re a Pittsburgh chef/foodie/maker, consider volunteering to lead your own demo. If you want to learn more about beekeeping from my fella, check out this blog post. If you want something sweet, salty & nutty, keep reading for the recipe! Pair a peanut butter cup with a cold-brew coffee, and you’re in for a decadent afternoon moment!
p.s: Photos by Kyle Pattison, ie: The Urban Farmer, and myself.
Homemade Peanut Butter & Honey Cups
About this Recipe: The best way to approach this recipe is to buy a large jar of all-natural, peanut butter and a large container of honey with a squirt top. Then you can freely dollop peanut butter and squirt honey into each cup, without having to rely on measurements. These treats come together so easily, you’ll be able to make them whenever you have a chocolate craving.