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.
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.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix is an annual car show and races right through the winding roads of Schenley Park, one of the city’s valuable green assets. In architecture school, we learned to use perspective and contour lines to translate our drawing professor’s slides (slides!) of Grand Prix automobiles to paper. Aside from the many sketches and hearing the yearly rumble of cars in race mode, I never really explored this massive gathering of car enthusiasts. However, bagpipe performances, vintage cars, and a sunny day in Schenley Park all called for a picnic, so I packed a farm-influenced egg salad, and to the car show I went!
Strolling through but a small section of the Grand Prix, I gained a new appreciation for these car enthusiasts. I once discounted this annual event as a pompous waste of resources and a flashy display of expensive collections. While I still see elements of excess (i.e.: semi trucks, with more amenities than my apartment, for carting car collections?), I also came to see the celebration of design, quality, old values and the idea of building something to last.
I had to quell the judgmental idealist inside me, acknowledge the charitable underpinnings of the event and simply indulge the side of me who believes in nostalgia, tradition and bringing people together. I also indulged the side of me who really just wants to cruise around town in a vintage, red beamer. After all, I am the owner of this beauty, who awaits some much needed love and care this winter (i.e.: when the Urban Farmer puts on his “mechanic” hat).
I hadn’t the slightest understanding of the racing rules or categories, but the people and car watching enthralled me. Plus, I may have discovered my spirit animal in this real-life Luigi. Consider this a glimpse of my future, white overalls and all!
The engine of this forest green car (above) might be impeccable. It might trace its roots to a pastural English village. I have no idea. I was simply blown away by the leather detail on the spare tire!
I went for the bagpipes, the sunshine and the park picnic, but as it turns out, I’m really a sucker for a red, vintage set of wheels. Whether you’re browsing beamers, a flea market, or simply a park on a sunny day, try this egg salad for your next picnic. You’ll revel in some sandwich nostalgia made healthier and more vibrant by farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Farm Fresh Egg Salad Sandwiches
About this Recipe: Greek yogurt, dijon and local eggs come together with accents of local celery and sweet peppers. You don’t need to measure anything. Just trust your tastebuds and your eyes to achieve the right flavor, color and texture. Using local celery makes a big difference in flavor, and be sure to include the greens. Pick a flavorful mix of greens for the sandwich such as mustard greens, which add a pleasantly bitter accent, much like a hint of wasabi. For a little sweetness, add a slathering of organic relish to the bread.
Much like a baby toddling on two legs for the very first time, the first steps toward a goal are often the heaviest, scariest, most daunting steps of all. However, once that toddler leaves the safety of leaning on the couch or clinging to grown-ups’ legs, that little one erupts with an unstoppable energy.
My inner perfectionist is like the hesitant toddler, leaning on ideas rather than taking that first scary step towards forward movement. I’m trying to change this, to really try for what I want and risk failing instead of risking regret. I just have to decide to do something, and so many times, I pass that first hurdle only to realize it was never a hurdle at all.
For so long, I lumped ceviche into the “that seems complicated” category, or the “leave it to the restaurants” category, but as my South American Inspired Picnic approached, I just decided to make ceviche. It turns out, it’s stupidly simple. The recipe practically prepares itself. Though my other ideas and dreams are not as hands-off, there is something to be said for just deciding to make something and taking that first step.
So here’s to plantain scoops of citrusy fish, with bursts of fresh, summer peaches and dreams of owning a venue, of farm events, of pickling classes, of healing gardens, chef dinners and floral crowns…. or whatever dream is keeping you clinging to a couch. Let’s all just go for it (and then remember to nudge each other along the way)!
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…
Wanderlust can be an excuse sometimes. In dreaming of distant adventures, foreign tongues and exotic foods, it can be all too easy to overlook the finer details of what’s close to home. In lamenting a lacking budget, it can be all too easy to feel lost in day-to-day routines and to visit the same old haunts. I’ve been guilty of this. Life is full of trade-offs, and when I took some creative leaps and financial risks, my passport began to collect dust, and I began to collect excuses.
My rootedness made my head spin, questioning if I were on the right path, if there were a light at the end of this tunnel, etc (i.e.: I should probably just take a yoga class and exhale these anxieties away). But wanderlust doesn’t come with a mileage requirement. I had failed to plan. I had failed to explore. I had failed to wander within my means, so I decided to cut through my own bullshit. Luckily, I had friends right there with me.
I tried to approach my city and my region like a complete outsider, and like a clipboard-toting cruise director, I made a list, with headers, bullet points and links. I tried to recall all the “Oh! What’s that? We should go there!” moments and let Google fill in the gaps. One such place to make the list was the Sri Venkateswara Temple.
Perched atop a hill, this Hindu temple is visible from a busy Pittsburgh highway, but no matter how many times I’ve traveled that route, the temple has always shocked me. It was as if my eyes were playing tricks on me, as if an acre of India had somehow dropped onto available real estate in Western Pennsylvania. I had traveled past the temple so many times, it was high time to explore it!
With very little understanding of the visiting procedures, we made our way to the beacon of white, and much like the observation required of traveling abroad, we had to look, listen and imitate so as not to offend or overstep our boundaries. Photography isn’t permitted inside the temple, so I had to look and listen all the more.
When I stepped into the temple, the coolness of the floor hit my bare feet, the bright white of all the details radiated light, and I felt this immediate calm. Guided by the layout, we unknowingly performed the ritual circumambulation. The priests’ chants formed a relaxing background as we watched the rituals unfold. My friends and I sat close to one another, silently appreciating the sacredness all around us, and then we worked up the nerve to join an Archanain a shrine.
The priest walked with a lit flame on a silver lantern/urn of sorts, and we cupped the smoke toward our faces, followed by a turmeric-dyed water and another silver urn placed quickly and gently on our heads. We didn’t understand the significance, as the ritual all happened in what I assume was Hindi, but the process was very humbling and quieting.
Walking through the temple and joining the rituals made us appreciate the more philosophical elements of religion and the more universal messages- clear your mind, clear your heart, humble yourself, be present, be the light. I recalled a similar feeling when I sat in a Parisian Catholic church to escape the rain. I spoke French well enough to understand the priest, but if I let my mind drift, the verses were simply beautiful sounds strung together. There was something about the architecture and the ritual that combined to stir my emotions in a profound way. Some might attribute that feeling to a deity, but I prefer to linger in the agnostic and cull together the attributes that touch me the most.
With a new level of calm, we departed, found a park and enjoyed an Indian inspired picnic.
I often explore the way a journey inspires a recipe, but this day-trip and picnic were an example of a recipe inspiring a journey. I had received a packet of Rose & Chai spices in my RawSpiceBar subscription, which arrives like a souvenir, with stories, recipes and even a patterned paper from the spice’s land of origin. Receiving the package in the mail feels like a ritual unto itself, so I wanted to share the food in a special way as well. Knowing I was going to bake these Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookieswas the impetus for visiting the temple at long last.
I might never have thought to have an Indian inspired picnic if it weren’t for my little elephant chai cookies, but the menu turned out to be perfect picnic food so much so we coined the term piknir.
Nina packed several traditional Indian dishes in her authentic, stackable Indian lunch tin and paired them with a few varieties of naan. Kara provided the iced chai and fresh mango. Didi provided chutneys and the mint & fennel combination Indian restaurants serve after a meal. I added the chai cookies and a curry roasted sweet potato salad.
In a tribute to the spiritual calm we felt from the temple, we made our own picnic basket shrine to Ganesha, complete with the bananas we received after completing the Archana. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, so we shared our individual obstacles. These topics may never have emerged on a typical picnic, but sharing these vulnerabilities was really comforting and inspiring. We were able to hear each other, to relate, and to boost each other as well, and that may never have happened if it weren’t for a cookie recipe!
Here’s to cutting through our bullshit. Here’s to exploring. Here’s to observing. Here’s to gleaning the philosophies that make us better beings, and here’s to cookie inspired journeys!
Curry Roasted Potato Salad for an Indian Inspired Picnic
About This Recipe: Be loose with this recipe! It should come together fluidly, tasting as you go and trusting your spice instincts. The addition of greens means you take in more veggies than a traditional picnic potato salad. I suggest kale or a heartier green for texture. I added hemp hearts for a slight crunch. They’re available at Trader Joe’s, but if you can’t find them, you can substitute flax or the chopped nut of your choice. I spiced my version heavily with turmeric, which adds a mild, warm, peppery flavor but a bright color and a variety of health benefits.