“My purpose here [in My Life on the Road] is to tempt you to explore this country. American travel seems to need an advocate. If I’m going to Australia or Zambia, people tell me how exciting it is, yet if I am traveling anywhere in these United States, they sympathize and tell me how tiring it must be. In fact there are many unique satisfactions here.” –Gloria Steinem
Not even a chapter into Gloria Steinem’s book, and I could already feel that familiar feeling- the desire for the new, the different, the attempt to define at least the corner pieces in the puzzle of a new place. Wander lust. Though my odometer would read far less than hers, I too have logged many a mile traveling, both near and far, and her advocacy for American travel struck a chord.
This past fall, the Urban Farmer, Julep and I were Westward bound, en route to see my parents in a small, snowy, Iowa town. Along the way, we made Milwaukee our destination. Our choice may have inspired some jokes and some raised, questioning eyebrows, but we wanted to see Milwaukee, albeit as a brief stop along the way. “American travel seems to need an advocate.”
Food and architecture, aimless walking and reviving coffee. These tend to be my main goals when exploring new cities, and luckily, the Urban Farmer is cut of the same cloth. These loose agendas led us to the Milwaukee Public Market, where we ate breakfast sausage poutine with Wisconsin cheese curds and a brick-oven pizza (just in case we hadn’t consumed enough cheese). The Public Market was also the source of these adorable gifts and provisions for dinner, so we could enjoy our AirBnB retreat all the more.
With more time, more days, we would have explored the many rooms and collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, but on these first-taste, dip-your-toes-in trips, there is only time for the shell. What a shell it was! Designed by Santiago Calatrava, whose skeletal forms I admired in Argentina, the many hand-poured concrete forms of this building were purely Milwaukian.
“I had clients who truly wanted from me the best architecture that I could do. Their ambition was to create something exceptional for their community…. Thanks to them, this project responds to the culture of the lake: the sailboats, the weather, the sense of motion and change.” -Santiago Calatrava
Taking in that view of Lake Michigan, in that cool wintry light, caused me to pause and enjoy feeling far from home. There was still a farm to see! Stay tuned.
One of my biggest fears in life is being interviewed about American history by some secret talk show reporter (I know- first world fears). Like the fools unveiled on Letterman or Leno, I’d stammer, make up answers and reveal an overwhelming lack of knowledge (at least I can identify Mount Rushmore- c’mon!).
The exhibit begins with a typical Pittsburgh living room from WWII.
I was fortunate to have really motivated, inspiring high school teachers, but cramming six years of complex WWII history into one lesson plan leaves a lot to be desired. Very little comes to life in such a consolidated academic approach, so mine became a position of apathy. Hence I first ignored the Heinz History Center’s WWII “We Can Do It”, brushing it aside with “I’m not interested in war.” Then I saw a listing for “WWII Cooking with Chris Fennimore,” and my curiosity was piqued!
By 1933, nearly 15 million Americans had lost their jobs. In Pittsburgh, Father James Cox of St. Patrick’s Church in the Strip District organized bread drives and clothing donations. This book documented bread donations to those in need.
That’s how I found myself diving excitedly into a WWII exhibit. Unlike a high-school class, the History Center has the ability follow smaller threads and more personal stories. The Heinz exhibit focused on how Pittsburgh affected the war and vice versa. Who knew the rugged, war-tested Jeep was a Pittsburgh/Western PA contribution? I didn’t even know Rosie, the beloved, iconic Riveter, was born right here in this steel city!
Beyond war strategies and alliances, the exhibit brought the home life to the forefront. WWII era America was progressive, with women filling traditional male roles such as mechanics, ground crew and security at the local airport. Women soared in WWII, yet 75 years later, we are still fighting for workplace equality.
Viewed through the lens of food justice today, America’s local food scene was also quite advanced in the war era. In the face of constricted food channels and the resulting rations, families and communities rallied in “Victory Gardens.” During World War II, these rural and urban gardens provided nearly 40 percent of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. The government elevated gardening to a civic duty through patriotic posters and campaigns.
Americans used imported foods in extreme moderation. One recipe advised waiting until several sugar rations could be compiled before baking the cake. After the war, however, the gardens were no longer necessary for sustenance, and urban developers excluded them from their plans. Advancements in refrigeration and transportation filled bright, shiny supermarkets with year-round produce, leading to the onslaught of overly processed foods and the associated health and environmental risks we face today.
Nearly 7,000 dog tags hang from the ceiling. Each one represents 200 Pennsylvanians who served during WWII. Each one also represents five who gave their lives.
Walking through the exhibit with curator Leslie Przybylek and cooking show host Chris Fennimore provided a mix of history and nostalgia. Fennimore’s father was a vet, and though he was often tight-lipped about his experience, he would often revel in certain foods, outright refuse other foods and delight in WWII supplies reborn as camping gear.
WQED Cooking Show Host Chris Fennimore demonstrating a WWII inspired recipe for Corned Beef Hash.
Fennimore brought even more life to the exhibit through the History Center’s test kitchen. He managed to strike a balance of historical accuracy and edibility, no easy task considering the canned meats, fat alternatives and overall scarcity of the era. He even managed to source a can of corned beef from a supermarket- a true vestige of WWII, with a key can-opener and all!
Since meat rations were especially lean, home cooks had to find ways to stretch the flavor of meat and fat. Channeling that necessity, Fennimore fried onions, peppers and finely chopped potatoes to create an affordable, flavorful, meaty hash. His cooking demo marked the first and hopefully the last time I will ever eat meat from a can, but questionable meat sourcing aside, the dish merited a second helping!
While cooking, Fennimore chatted about the reason he started his show. Much like my own motives for starting a blog, he began cooking on television to celebrate the nostalgia surrounding recipes and meals.
I highly encourage a visit to the museum for the “We Can Do It” exhibit (hurry, it closes January 10th). Beyond history books and academic lessons, the center provides several lenses through which to view this significant event. Perhaps like me, you’ll find new threads to spark your curiosity. For instance, now I’m wondering: When did dog food become a store-bought commodity? Why did jello become such a staple? Why did women disappear from the work force and have to fight so hard to prove themselves again?
Though Chris Fennimore’s cooking demo was a one-night treat, stay tuned as he’ll likely return to the History Center’s kitchen for the next exhibit- Toys From The 1950s.
Happy History Trails, my friends!
Disclaimer: I did receive free admission to the event, but all opinions are my own!
That quote resonated from the podcast and cut through my work session like garbage trucks disturbing an early morning’s peace. I couldn’t always say this, but I like what I do, although what I do is an ever-changing, difficult-to-describe-succinctly, hodgepodge of creative assignments. However, I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near content with what I do. I’m still figuring out what my freelance job description looks like, what I want it to look like, how to make it sustainable, how to force myself from bed in the morning, when to take breaks, and so on, and so on, and so forth. Suffice it to say, I’m prone to a rambling mind and stressing myself out, but there was Stuart Brown telling me to play more. He was practically prescribing play, and as the founder of the National Institute for Play, he knows a thing or two about the subject.
Brown’s research explains how play shapes our brains, creates our competencies, and ballasts our emotions. The benefits do not fade with age, but for some reason, as a society, we leave play behind us, along with our old dolls and missing puzzle pieces. However, if we look to the animal kingdom, we see animals engage in playful activities throughout their entire lives. Taking his message to heart, some friends and I decided to extend a brunch gathering and channel the classic childish Easter pastime: an Easter Egg Hunt! To celebrate the Urban Farmer’s progress, our egg hunt took place on his farm. Appropriately enough, he told our guests, “you’re the first friends to visit who I haven’t put to work!”
While Didi and Kara dispersed the bright, plastic eggs and their mystery contents in the farm’s nooks and crannies, the rest of us basked in the warmth of the hoop house. My playful pup couldn’t decide which forces to join, so she kept tabs on both the hiders and the seekers.
If you ever want to glimpse purpose and play colliding in one giant smile, you just have to watch Julep on the farm. It warms my heart every time I see her there. The freedom of the wide open space, the abundance of sticks to chew, the deer to chase, the seeds to protect… it fills her, and consequently me, with immense joy. She also offers me plenty of excuses to channel my inner child, so I’m assuming Stuart Brown’s research has an ode or two to our four-legged friends. Sometimes they even lead you to Easter eggs!
The term “Urban Farm” is no misnomer. The “urbanite” soil is still a work in progress, with plenty of real estate remnants in the mix, making for several egg hiding spots. As silly as it seemed, spotting those ill-fitting eggs was really fulfilling.
I may have become a little competitive as the eggs began to fill my seed tray.
We each were responsible to fill a few eggs. I’m not sure if this is a tradition, or if it’s a tradition Didi created, but the surprise element made the hunt all the more thrilling. I can’t say all the contents were With The Grains approved, but somebody got a little creative with jamming gas station delicacies into neon eggs.
Other goodies included my new squishy dinosaur friend and hand-dyed fabrics.
…and these crazy eyes! This is what happens when the Urban Farmer stares at a computer for too long…
The other quote to really hit me from Stuart Brown’s talk?
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato
I’m fortunate to have brunches that lead to Egg Hunts, the Urban Farmer, my playful pup, and friends with playful spirits and creative minds. As we hinge on spring and summer, let’s make lists of adventures, explorations and picnics galore! Those are the goals, so stay tuned for more ideas and more farm updates.
In architecture school, the why was always waiting around the bend in the critique. We learned to think analytically, artistically and technically. We learned to push our preliminary concepts and defend our assertions. We learned to use buzz words and reference history. We learned to turn our noses up to symmetry, unless viewing its prescriptive balance through an historical lens. Somewhere along the way though, I lost site of beauty. I buried it because beauty was not enough of a defense to answer those looming whys.
It wasn’t until recently I realized how important beauty is, how misunderstood it is, how scapegoated it is. While in a business class, I listened to a woman belittle her ambitions. “I want to open my own salon. I know it’s cliché, and I know it’s just hair, but that’s what I want to do.”
I refuted her lack of confidence. Her work is not just hair. Her work is expression. It is art. It is the ability to listen to someone’s wants and desires and translate them to a style reflective of the words. At its best, her work is beautiful, and it shouldn’t be underrated, especially by her. Her work is more than the hair, it’s the hours, days and lives it touches. To desire beauty is not to be entrenched in the superficial, but we often feel guilty when admiring beauty.
While learning to answer the whys, I traveled to remote Kenya. Without magazines or mirrors, the Turkana women of the desert still sought beauty. They walked with dignity and grace, with necks laden with brightly colored beads, with hair spindled and accented with a desert crimson. Beauty is part of our makeup. It brings joy, brings us together and fosters memories.
Lately, these ideas have been floating in my head. The pursuit of beauty instigates so many of my endeavors, and I’m finally beginning to appreciate the value of such a contribution. This is not to abandon the whys or the narratives behind my thinking, but it’s to give myself permission to enjoy the beautiful results and the lasting effects they have.
A warming plate of waffles and a poached apple from a recent brunch at Lili Cafe. I’m very fortunate to live so close to this neighborhood coffee shop. It has rejuvenated me on so many an occasion.
These musings are the impetus for seeing past the gloomy grays to see bright reds scattered throughout a wintry neighborhood…
…to see fanciful creatures in an imaginary sea…
…to see amber waves of grain jutting through metal curlicues…
…to remember what brought me here and look at it anew…
…to see tranquility in quiet resilience…
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness.
It’s been a whirlwind year (aren’t they all, really?), full of extreme ups and downs, so I dedicated time to sitting in my window seat, cuddled under a blanket [and dog fur], sipping coffee and penning my reflections on paper. Not far from my comfortable chair and window view, is a desk and a laptop beckoning me to give my digital world the same due diligence. There I sat reminding myself that as much as I want to share my adventures, and recipes, and engage in a food dialogue, these pages and posts are primarily here for me. These collected words, images and flour proportions remind me exactly how much one year can contain, but only if I take the time to review them. So review them I did, and these were a few of the highlights…
A bright spot of tea in the bleak month of snowy, gray February was a visit from Heather Mulholland of Tea With Me. I was so honored to be a stop on Heather’s big world tour, and I enjoyed the time we had together to connect in the real world after so many online exchanges. This proved once again the world is small if you make it so!
Photo by Adam Milliron
In April, I began styling work with Table Magazine, and in a rare role reversal, I had the chance to be in front of the camera for an article on gatherings. Eat a delicious Italian meal amongst good company? Of course! I am so grateful to be part of this magazine. Each issue gets better and better, and my creativity has been stretched and challenged. I’m thrilled for what lies ahead!
Tacos from the Tampa Taco Bus is a worthwhile foodventure, but this trip was especially meaningful because I was eating tacos with two of my BEST friends. We had reunited for one of said ladies’ wedding! One look at Sandra’s wedding shoes, and Nina and I were a mess of squished, teary faces. It was love! Full disclosure: even the thought makes me tear up a bit. I love those ladies!
May was bittersweet. I watched my best friend walk down the aisle, and I couldn’t have been happier, but I returned home to heartbreak. My love, my best friend, my “special one” concluded our relationship and broke a piece of my heart. Our lives had been intertwined, but I had to move forward and learn to flip my own pancakes. In a twist of fate, this batch of independence, in the form of peach & bourbon pancakes, made its rounds on the internet and earned me some press, which humbled my heart and reaffirmed my journey. I was also grateful for the way my friends rallied around me, both in person and via the internet. Through all the sadness, I managed to hold my head high and I also found one of my greatest joys…
Bourbon is a girl’s best friend, and so is my sweet, minty Julep! My search for a four-legged companion also had its fair share of ups and downs and disappointments, but as soon as I saw this tiny little face, I knew I had found my pup! Julep reminded me of the importance of patience. The best things in life are worth the wait. One glance at my instagram feed is evidence of how quickly I slipped into crazy dog lady territory, but I can’t imagine my life without this little lady. She brings a smile to my face every single day. Her sweet demeanor even charmed my family who typically prefers dogs to earn their keep in the pastures amongst cows and sheep.
July was a dance party for one when I discovered my grandma-style, beet-substitution semi-freddo made a slideshow on Bon Appétit’s website. I was dancing with delight! Now if I could just get Martha to pay attention to me!
Though sundresses and warmth on my shoulders feels forever ago, I am grateful for the friends who surround me, especially these two ladies who have become even closer to me this past year. Being single has reminded me not to cut out important friendships and lose myself in one person.
Sweet, sweet respite. It’s so important! This year I experienced Maine for the very first time, and it was the most perfect way to find respite. I was honored to help my friend Acadia with her wedding decor, and I was so graciously welcomed by her family’s neighbors. They were like instant family, and I look forward to many more adventures north!
En route from Maine to Pittsburgh, I made a Boston detour and a deeper connection with my wise-beyond-her-years friend Jill. This lovely lady happens to work at a foodie mecca- America’s Test Kitchen, so she generously invited me to tour the place where recipes meet perfection. Though my approach to cooking and baking may differ, I walked away truly inspired nonetheless. The coming year will be filled with even more ATK inspiration as I work my way through one of their newest books.
Throughout the summer and fall, I enjoyed plenty a farm dinner. There’s nothing like tables extending into the horizon, fresh farm air, beautiful barns, fresh, seasonal food and down-to-earth chefs full of talent. All these dinners led to the creation of Farm Week on my blog, in which I recounted the many meals shared with fellow foodies on farms. I hope Farm Week becomes a tradition!
Photo by Chris Goodman
Summer quickly faded into fall, and elegant tables moved indoors. As I took a leap of faith and dove headfirst into doing what I love- styling & event design- I found myself at more and more festivities. The one that stood out the most was Thanksgiving. This golden table marked the start of Harvest & Gather, an event design collaboration with painter and floral designer Thommy Conroy. Thanksgiving affirmed all the twists and turns my path has taken this year. I finally feel like I’m on the path which leads to my skills and passions aligning fruitfully. I’m finally challenged and fulfilled by the work I produce, which makes for a very exciting start of a brand new year!
So here’s to a brand new year with far more dancing, cherished pals, growing friendships, wine refills, artful cappuccinos, brunches that spill into evenings, fulfilling endeavors, foreign vocabulary, and warm puppy snuggles! Here’s to 2014!
Since bringing my little one home from the farm, I have made many, many, many a trek up and down a few flights of stairs en route from my apartment to her little patch of green. In this mad dash, I flash by the neighborly mailboxes all in a row. During one such green-pastured frenzy, a little hint of red, on a bright white box, caught my eye. Oh the thrill that welled inside me when I discovered the package aligned with the mailbox marked with a Q! My little Julep was just as excited to see what the surprise parcel contained…
In spite of her anticipation, she still minded her manners patiently for permission to approach the surprise…
Oh joy! That hint of red was the seal of the tried and true recipe developers I had recently visited- America’s Test Kitchen.
Oh more joy! The bubble wrap revealed the Cook’s IllustratedBaking Book. Intended to demystify baking, this new addition to my library features 450 foolproof recipes from those precision lovers at America’s Test Kitchen.
“Now what?” her round eyes seemed to say.
Now we bake, Little One, now we bake a LOT!
Stay tuned as we adventure through the many, many pages of black and white baked goods.
I remember the details surrounding the first time I purchased an America’s Test Kitchenmagazine more than I remember purchasing my first and only car. On one particularly fated checkout session at Whole Foods, the clean, crisp visual of America’s Test Kitchen drew me into its pages and pages of tantalizing food images. “I must have this I thought.” When I finally glanced the price on the cover, I though, “I must have this and use this!” Use it I did, checking off page after page, as I worked my way through the majority of recipes.
A very impressive table marks the center of the America’s Test Kitchen library, one of the largest private cookbook collections in America, with more than 4,000 items. Each recipe process begins here.
As my checkmarks increased, I learned the true value of that $9.99. Each recipe was more than just a set of ingredients and steps. Each recipe represented a precise approach to obtaining perfection! Each recipe had been analyzed, tested, discussed, improved, rejected or accepted, etc until finally fit to bear the America’s Test Kitchen name and appear in print. Though this approach varies from my “ah, I’ll just use this and sub [just about everything],” I respect their maniacal methods tremendously!
Photo schedule and details (left). Photo props for backdrop and base textures (right).
Thanks to an invite from a very talented friend who works for ATK, I had the chance to experience the devotion and dedication behind the scenes.
Prop collection for the in-house photo studio.
In their own words…
America’s Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen, full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe.
The origin of all those tantalizing food images. ATK uses all natural daylighting for their photos.
After stifling my jealousy for those who work in the beautifully minimal photo studio and the ABUNDANCE of props, we continued the tour, and our path opened to the reason behind the name.
I asked one of the head recipe developers what the note-taking is like for such an intense process, and she showed me this (good thing she wasn’t using an iPad!)…
A recipe in progress might look like a stained, ripped printout long before it becomes a beautiful magazine page.
After the research phase, the ATK process draws from five existing recipes. After scouring their own extensive cookbook collection, the other sources might include a recipe passed down from a relative, a NY Times article, a famous chef or a food blog. Then the testers hit the kitchen!
If your mom turned her taco dip into a casserole and put A LOT of time into perfecting that recipe, you’d see this on your dinner table.
Comparing rice puddings. Here’s a helpful tip: use coconut milk!
I was fortunate to tour on a day when there was lots of taste testing opportunities. While savoring my two spoonfuls of rice pudding and drawing my own conclusions, I suddenly felt transported to a critique in architecture school. “Have you thought about..?” “I like ______, but what about _____?” “This is what I was thinking when I tried this approach…” It really was a creative, constructive process, but the advantage of architecture school was obvious when I took my second helping of the rice pudding with coconut milk!
Testing the effect of the pans on the recipe.
Of course she is smiling to herself. This cake was memorably delicious!
Imagine your favorite banana bread/cake with a cream cheese frosting marked by a walnut crunch. Enticing as that may be, now imagine the bananas were roasted, and the remaining juice from the roasting became a sweetener for the icing. That’s the America’s Test Kitchen difference, and it’s the difference between a long-lasting craving and an “oh yeah, I think I ate a piece of that cake.”
America’s Test Kitchen grilling station.
What looks like your average grill in an alley transforms to an idyllic backyard scene when the camera rolls- the wonders of tv!
What’s it like to work for America’s Test Kitchen? Sometimes it’s hard to see over the stacks and stacks of cookbooks.
From a checkout lane magazine to the heart and soul of the publication, my many paths had taken me on quite the journey! The peek inside the well oiled machine [olive or canola? ;p] inspired me on many levels. I left eager to delve into a cookbook or two, fiddle with this and that and then review, critique, taste, review, critique, taste, repeat. Granted, you’ll still find me making substitutions with abandon, but I’ll be doing so with the utmost respect for those whose mission is perfection.
Our common thread is a school so nerdy its mascot was Tartan plaid. When the eight of us gathered at that Special Cabin in the Woods, naturally, the occasion also called for plaid all around (and not one but two roasted chickens).
No matter how I describe this weekend, my words would pale in comparison to Doug’s poetic conclusion penned in the cabin’s visitor book. Thus, I am borrowing his prose:
As I sit here eating jack links premium cuts beef jerky, before shortly leaving to drive back to Philadelphia, I realize the eight of us who spent the weekend here, thanks to the generous hospitality of Jono and his family, have a great unknown future ahead of us, one filled surely with stardom and success and newfound celebrity status. And we have the cabin to thank. For it was here on the evening of February 16th that we filmed our version of the Harlem Shake viral video- the Cabin Fever Edition. Like any masterpiece, it will not be fully appreciated for its ingenuity and vivre for decades- or unless watched at least eight times. The filming of the video was not without its obstacles and roadblocks. We weren’t going to make it!…We made it! The 31 second video starring Jono, Dan, Ben, Kyle, JP, Quelcy, Doug and Diane has 251 views already on YouTube, and if my math is correct, at this rate, we should surpass 1 million votes by Memorial Day.
Clearly, the weekend at the cabin called for a Harlem Shake- A Cabin Fever Edition! Take away the plaid, and what do you get? A video worth watching at least eight times!
After all that, it was time for dessert- dessert and a nightcap in one!
Without discipline, our various online personas can easily lead to lost time and lost connections. On the other hand, through these portals, we have more opportunity than ever to find kindred spirits. It’s amazing what can develop in exchanges of 140 characters or less!
It was through Twitter I came to know Heather Mulholland of the beautiful blog Tea With Me. I was honored when Heather asked to interview me for her “Tea With…” series, which inspired my High Tea Hike. After “sharing” tea in the blogosphere, I was faily certain our paths would cross in real life too; I just thought I’d be the one venturing to Vancouver. As the journeys would have it, Heather came to me as part of her enviable travels throughout the US and Europe. This special visit called for a proper tea together, which in Pittsburgh means a trip to the Cafe at the Frick!
This was the perfect time for us to meet. Earlier this year, Heather quit what she called her “cushy marketing job.” A major, international trip was a way to start fresh and inspire herself anew before pursuing her passion for holistic nutrition. Meanwhile, yours truly is on the verge of something far more creative for those 9-5 hours. Inspiration, tea and cameras all around!
A morning of art, an afternoon of tea and thoughtful conversation throughout…not bad for a Thursday!
The moral of this tea is to reach out, connect and find a kindred spirit and maybe even live a little vicariously as well, which is exactly what I will be doing when Heather posts beautiful pictures from Paris!!!
And, as it turned out, this wonderful Thursday was Valentine’s Day!