The beauty of a CSA, a Community Sponsored Agriculture program, is investing directly in a local farmer and reducing the stamps in your dinner’s passport. The beast of a CSA is being bombarded with vegetables you don’t love or simply don’t know how to use.
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.
Vietnamese Zoodle Salad with Fragrant Herbs & Peanuts & Zucchini Bánh Mì
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.
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.
Inspired by a sandwich I ate at Burgh'ers (www.burgherspgh.com), this fried chicken has a crunchy, whole grain batter and a pickle flavor in every bite! As a way to conserve more, I used leftover liquid from a jar of store-bought, organic pickles, but you can also experiment making your own brine.
"I knew you must be special," she said, "because he told me he had a new 'lady-friend.'" I beamed back at her, like an idiot, imagining the Urban Farmer telling…
If life imitates art, some of my life is starting to imitate Groundhog Day. I sit at the same table, at the same coffeeshop, writing, editing photos, trying not to hunch my neck and shoulders into Quasimodo-esque subluxations, while listening to the baristas’ same rotation of old country classics and modern grunge. Sometimes, routines can be comforting. Sometimes, routines can be lazy. Sometimes, routines can be spicy, pickled and delicious!
I could eat a variation of a bánh mì sandwich every day, and with the quantity of vegetables the Urban Farmer is poised to harvest and pickle, we very well may be eating bánh mì sandwiches every day!
A bánh mì is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich, an edible relic of French influences on bold Vietnamese flavors. As much as I may follow certain routines and respect history, I’m also one to break rules and toy with traditions. To change up my original interpretation, I replaced the very namesake bread with a hearty olive slice, added jalapeños to the pickle mix and experimented with an avocado oil mayonnaise.
If you’re feeling a little routine, or need a change of pace, spice up your life a bit, and take a gamble on this jalapeño-laced sandwich. If all else fails, go do something wild to your hair!
Change it up!