I had very concrete plans to spend my 30th birthday sipping flat whites and beholding the beauty of the Sydney Opera House. However, life happened, and plans changed unexpectedly. Though I still long to…
“Farming is a strange combination of forced patience and instant gratification,” is how local farmer Tara Rockacy explained her endeavor, and she would know! The lady has been moving and hustling, expanding, growing and evolving with each season, from CSAs to goats emerging from new barns to mingle with the city’s top chefs. The “forced patience” aspect reminded me how a farm must work in tune with the season and the elements. Unlike a business startup, there can’t be a complete change of direction mid-season. There can’t be a last-minute decision to focus on flowers because that’s what the market wants. That decision has to be planned and put in motion long before the competitive scrambling to catch a bridal bouquet. That’s why a bloom, at long last, is so instantly gratifying.
Nonetheless, my dreamer, imaginative, event designer, stylist side gets swept away with the farm’s full potential, until a brief reality check finds me ensnared in visions of long tables, farm-fresh bouquets, wedding vows amidst the basil, banjo nights, yoga by the hoop house, drawing classes with edible still lifes, herbalism workshops, etc, etc, etc. The “forced patience” is remembering the main goal for this season: to repair the soil, grow food and feed people. Everything else will come in its due time. Due time means starting small: one picnic table, four friends, and one enjoyable evening of just being on the farm.
“This is the first time I’ve had people on the farm and haven’t put them to work,” the Urban Farmer joked, and though the work is rewarding, just sitting, laughing and eating sausages was a welcomed change of pace.
Starting small, or simply starting, can be such a hurdle, so this cookout was a much needed reminder for me to slow down, enjoy this season, and take advantage of the here and now. I should probably plaster that reminder all over my apartment: Start small, start small, start small!
Bricks that once clad homes on these vacant lots, were born again as a our fire pit, where we grilled sausage and smoky potato wedges with herbs. The Urban Farmer picked the salad straight from the ground- a flavorful mix with bitter, citrusy notes and crunch- a far cry from the plastic container of greens in the produce aisle. The watermelon was juicy, the cocktail was refreshing, the view of the city was stunning, and dessert was just the right mix of sweet and tart.
While my head will probably always spin with ideas and grand dreams, I’ll take plenty more of these small, first steps and remember to appreciate patience, albeit forced, and cherish the ensuing moments of instant gratification!
Whole Wheat Lemon Mint Olive Oil Cake & Sage Lemonade Cocktails
About These Recipes: Olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest make this a moist, spongey cake fit for vegans and dairy-loving fools alike! Serve with homemade whipped cream, organic vanilla bean ice cream, or vegan whipped coconut cream. The cocktail is a loose recipe for a fruit-infused punch. Free of precise ratios, it’s an effective way to serve cocktails to multiple people. You’ll need a gallon jug or pitcher.
Without any regard for my presence, just across the regularly traversed street, he emerged from his home, with a lawn chair and a bare chest. His gut bore the brunt of years of overeating, while his sporadically tattooed arms remained relatively thin. He set the chair on the sidewalk, one of the main sidewalks of this neighborhood, and he sank into his seat. He cinched up the ends of his nylon sport shorts so as to allow more sun exposure on his upper thighs, which also boasted random tattoos. The tan-line-threatening socks and killer 80s-style high-tops seemed to confirm the rumors of his return from jail and a lingering ankle bracelet. As he settled into his sun worshipping routine, I heard a sound I haven’t heard in ages- the spritz spritz of what I can only assume was tanning oil and not sunscreen.
It was noon, which meant the early spring rays were shining directly on his already bronzed body. He closed his eyes and sank into the chair without a care for his appearance or what the neighbors might think. As the sun traveled through the sky, he rotated his chair, and with closed eyes, he positioned his head toward the warm rays. It was as if he had emerged from 1980, when tanning didn’t cause skin cancer, when perhaps this street was more neighborly, when he didn’t have a record. In some ways, this soon-to-be leathery, ex-con was enviable. There he was, idling away a spring afternoon, giving zero fucks about the ozone layer, his waist line, nosy neighbors, recent fashion trends or the discomfort of pedestrians in his vicinity. Maybe it was his alleged time behind bars, but this neighbor was really soaking up the spring moment.
I’m not adding this man to my heroes and role models list by any means, but this indifferent sunbather did reiterate this goal: bask away an afternoon and just forget everything else! This goal is why I host Sunday brunches. No lines, no wait, no stressed service industry, no surprisingly bad menu items, no sending back an undercooked egg, no thoughts for Monday, etc. Just brunch, conversation, a thoughtful menu, and in the case of this early Cinco de Mayo celebration: a little outdoor time with some sunshine…
…and with a cocktail that won’t cost you $14!
When it comes to brunch cocktails, I like an elixir that uses the palate as the guide, not a complicated recipe of ratios. I infused mango nectar juice with (de-seeded) jalapeño pepper slices, pomegranate seeds, chunks of pineapple and mango and served the spicy, fruity combination with additional limes and tequila for the taking. I salted the rims of the glasses with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt for an extra colorful touch.
The menu consisted of these Baked Tortilla Egg “Nests” with sour cream and guacamole (recipe below), as well as tropical fruits and a Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Tres Leches Cake for dessert (recipe to come). There was plenty of iced coffee, and Bess kept the drinks flowing! Progressively, the tequila portioning became more pronounced, as it should on a zero-fucks Sunday brunch.
Relieved of her farming duties for the day, Julep was all about a relaxing Sunday with the ladies.
The right weather, and the right friends with their quick wits and sarcastic humor, made me feel a little like the bronzing neighbor. Worries and cares seemed to slip away with each sip of Mango & Tequila. The Chocolate Tres Leches Cake was just the right sweet indulgence, as we exchanged tales of awkward crushes, gossip, goals, plans, progress… all the topics you want to hit with good friends on a Sunday. Each of these creative friends is a mover and a shaker in her own right, so there’s always lots to discuss (Dane, Kelly and Bess), and I’m grateful for the ways they each support me too.
Inadvertently, here’s to the bronzed neighbor with the questionable past, and here’s to good friends gathering for a re-appropriated holiday, tequila cocktails, crispy tortillas and rich chocolate conclusions.
p.s: If you want to create a similar celebration, the handcrafted, Nepalese garlands and pinwheels are available at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers. The vintage, industrial trays and wooden crate are available through Toll Gate Revival, a new favorite salvage & vintage purveyor of mine.
Tortilla Egg Nests/Huevos Rancheros Cups
About This Recipe: These nests combine all your favorite Huevos Rancheros flavors, but baking them makes them a perfect brunch option, since you pop them in the oven and can focus on other details. The recipe below uses a frozen, Fire-Roasted Sweet Corn from Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find that variety at your local TJ’s, you can use regular frozen corn, and roast it with the sweet potato. The idea behind these is loose and flexible. Add other taco favorites or meat for a different variety. I used a pineapple salsa for these cups, but use whatever salsa you love. There may be extras of some of the filling, as the portioning is pretty loose. Depending on your menu, plan on most guests eating two of these.
“Have you got into drinking shrub yet?” I asked, and I immediately regretted the “yet” lingering pretentiously in the air.
I backtracked and attempted to erase the unintentional hipster tone I had assumed, while proceeding into what felt like a Portlandia skit. I explained to my friend, “Shrub is a syrup or concentrate made with sugar, vinegar and fruit infusions. The traditional beverage dates to colonial times when it was used as a fruit preservation method.” Luckily, my friend was a good sport because the more I spoke, the more “do you know the name of the chicken I am eating?” I seemed.
On that note, let’s talk about a gathering of shrub nerds . . !
Sarah Walsh, owner of Caffe D’Amore Catering, is an avid shrub maker and drinker. She had the idea to bring other shrub nerds together for a tasting and friendly competition à la… a ShrubDown!
We gathered at Wigle Whiskey, where we received a proper welcome in the form of a cocktail containing peach shrub, early grey tea, honey and Aged Wigle Wheat Whiskey. Set against the backdrop of whiskey barrels, was the “shroda bar,” where we sampled shrub (mixed with soda water) from local enthusiasts including Blackberry Meadows farm, Wild Purveyors, the Butterjoint, the Livermore, and 1947 Tavern. After adequate sampling time, the competition began.
Bartenders from said establishments shook, stirred and mixed at the designated bar before submitting their concoctions to the panel of judges. One critique of the event was the judges were the only official taste testers of the cocktails, but it pays to be friends with a competitor’s girlfriend and catch some of the extra sips. It’s all who you know!
The panel of judges declared a first place tie- weak judging, says my competitive side, but congrats nonetheless to Abbie of the Livermore and Will of The Butterjoint on winning the first ever ShrubDown!
Good news for you local Pittsburgh shrub enthusiasts. There is another ShrubDown on the horizon! Mark your calendars for November 9th, and keep an eye open for more details. For you local and non-local shrub enthusiasts, here’s my own shrub recipe.
I made the pictured shrub from local mint, fresh strawberries and a red wine vinegar when strawberries were bursting with local flavor. Pardon my blogging delay, and I might suggest using a more seasonal fruit if you’re making this during the fall or winter. I made another variety with lemon, rosemary and apple cider vinegar, which was for the more seasoned shrub palate, as it was far more tart and acidic.