A Southern-Inspired Menu for our Anniversary Meal
"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…
"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…
Starting an episode of The Chef’s Table on Netflix somehow initiates a chemical reaction which bonds my molecules to those of the couch (#science). I become glued to the cushions, obsessively committed to consuming as many episodes as I can before my eyes become heavy, the whiskey drinks kick in, and I fall asleep in some unattractive, gangly pose and then have to will every fiber of my being to go to my actual bed. The show inspires me, to say the least.
Aside from the dance of the camera, the insane food creations, the remote jet-setting possibilities, and the heartfelt personal stories, what drew me most in season two was the idea of the “nudge.” A few chefs mentioned a moment when they were hitting their stride, and a voice of reason would say “you’re almost there, but you need _________.” In the case of the self-taught Ana Roš, a food critic friend told her she was getting good, but she’d be great once she started to pull from and appreciate her Slovenian roots.
The friend’s words stuck with her, and she began to explore her region, visiting cheesemongers in the early morning, when the green mountains were still misty. She began to fish from the crystal blue waters of the Soca River. She began to cherish and preserve her culture through her own creative updates and twists. She set out to be a diplomat, wound up as a chef, and arguably, through hard work, fierce dedication and a little nudge, she became a diplomat for Slovenia nonetheless.
I’m going to go on a limb here to break that cautionary writing guideline about avoiding the use of “all, none, every, never, etc” to say that all of us need a little nudge sometimes, even those arrogant bastards who were born with enough confidence to try anything and put their names on everything. Even those types need nudges toward greatness sometimes, or I’m just projecting that need because I need a nudge every now and then.
At any given moment, I have a back burner stewing with ideas for shops, bakeries, retreats, art, workshops, products, illustrations, etc. Whether it’s fear, distraction, not enough hours in the day or a lack of funding, a lot of these ideas just continue to simmer. Sometimes the ideas themselves nudge me, nagging at me, lodging in my head like strikers rallying for their right to exist.
But other times, a lot of times, it’s this guy… The Urban Farmer.
He’s braver and bolder than I am. He’s willing to tackle anything, committed to figuring it out along the way, even if he has never tackled it before. When I hem and haw with the typical doubts and insecurities of a perfectionist, he is my nudge. “Nah, just do it,” he’ll say, and more importantly, he really believes I can just do it.
Nudge and support, nudge and support. It’s an important combination, so rare to find in a partner, and day by day, we’re becoming partners in more ways than one, scheming and brainstorming and creating together. I’m so excited for what’s in store, even if I’m not yet ready to broadcast those ideas to the far reaches of the internet.
Yet, even the boldest, bravest nudger occasionally needs a nudge himself, so when the Urban Farmer turned the big ol’ 3-1 this year, we gathered to weed, to mulch, to compost, to dig and to dine. We gathered to nudge him along, to encourage his efforts, trying as those farming efforts can be. And my gift for him?
A peach tree. I gave him a peach tree because a tree is an investment, a living, growing symbol that I believe in his vision, his labors and perhaps the biggest testament to my faith in him- I believe he’ll overcome city bureaucracies and get his name on the land, and one day, his farm will grow and grow and all of it will officially be his. On that day, I’ll make this crisp with farm-fresh peaches and muddle even more of those peaches into whiskey drinks, and I’ll raise a glass to him, my constant nudger and supporter!
Here’s to the Urban Farmer, the birthday boy! And here’s to many, MANY more birthdays by his side!
Strawberry Peach Crisp (Gluten Free)
About this Recipe: A great way to feed a group at the last minute, this crisp takes advantage of gluten-free muesli to add extra fruit, nuts and seeds to the crisp layer. Alternately, you could use gluten-free oats. Serve with homemade whipped cream or an all natural vanilla bean ice cream if you’re near a fridge/freezer, but for farm/outdoor gatherings, this crowd-pleaser dessert is sweet enough on its own.
They call it a “fat letter,” and I’ll never forget the day I received mine.
After a guidance counselor told me about Carnegie Mellon University, I fell hard- that weak in the knees, hearts in the eyes, wish-it-to-be-so sort of way. Being that my confidence was just as weak as my knees, I doubted the school would feel the same about me. As I gripped the overstuffed letter in my shaky hands, my first thought was “why would they make the rejection so thick?”
After fighting the nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and finally daring to break the adhesive seal, my eyes skimmed frantically and landed on “congratulations.” So many emotions pulsed through my body, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Overcome with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment like never before, my body rocked back and forth like a person in the midst of a psychotic episode.
A few months later, I packed my parents car to the brim and began one of the most challenging chapters of my life! All my preconceived notions were broken and rebuilt, in a way that taught me to think for myself, to trust my instincts and to learn the importance of quitting frequently and redirecting quickly (still learning this!). On campus, I finally found peers who made sense- people who were work obsessed dorks with creative sides. After all, the school’s motto is “My heart is in the work.” Though there were still students whose brainpower could crush me, acceptance to this place empowered me.
When I say attending Carnegie Mellon was the hardest challenge I’ve faced, it’s no understatement. Days and nights bled together in periods of sleepless, intense work leading to that moment when I had to stand in front of accomplished critics and defend my thought process. The well traveled route from home to studio was often a blur of stressful to-do lists running through my head, but every now and then, something would jar me from my crazed mental state. One of those distractions was Pi Day!
Pi = 3.141592… March 14 = 3-14, therefore, Pi Day = March 14
Welcome to the nerd holiday known as Pi Day! On this day, math enthusiasts (is this the originator?!?) would chalk the never-ending number all over campus. The combination of the nerd enthusiasm and the element of tradition made this day comforting to me, a day on which I could rely despite all the uncontrollable, non-constants in my life. It was a celebration of CMU in all its quirkiness, and I looked forward to it every year!
After graduating, I still looked forward to the holiday, and in the meantime, I found myself drawn to baking. Pi Day became Pi(e) Day, which eventually became a new obsession in its own way.
In 2010, my friend Erin Pischke (also a CMU grad!) and I created The QT Pi(e) Project. On “Pi(e) Day,” March 14, 2010 (3/14/10), The QT Pi(e) Project used bicycles to deliver 31 pies (314 would have killed us), made from all local ingredients, to Pittsburgh homes with 314 addresses. Each pie arrived in a custom-made recipe box, with recipe cards explaining the project and the benefits to buying and eating local foods.
The QT Pi(e) Project was a grant funded endeavor, which gave me a confidence boost to put more of my ideas into motion and into the world, and the foundation of that idea was Pi Day at Carnegie Mellon. Life had come full circle! (see what I did there?)
When the good folks behind Carnegie Mellon’s website contacted me this year and asked if I’d like to share a recipe on the school’s website for Pi(e) Day, I was OVER THE MOON! In dorky pun terms, this recognition felt like being nominated for an Academy Award! Be the face of Pi(e) for 2016? OF COURSE OF COURSE OF COURSE I wanted to make that pie!
This Scottish Inspired Savory Meat Pie with Black Lava Salty Scotty Dogs is the edible ode to my alma mater, the place that made me appreciate Pi and in more ways than not, shaped me into who I am today. I still can’t fathom how the world expects 18-year-olds to make informed decisions about the rest of their lives, but at least I chose a rewarding place to figure out how little I knew about myself and the world.
Happy Pi(e) Day ya nerds!
p.s: If you’re wondering why Scottish, you’re clearly not a Tartan. If you take a stroll on campus in the spring, you’re likely to encounter a Scotty dog or two, a bagpipe band in kilts and a fair bit of Tartan plaid. The Scottish roots run deep via Andrew Carnegie.
A Scottish Inspired Savory Pie for Pi(e) Day 2016
About This Recipe: This pie is a labor of love, which is why it is fitting for Pi(e) Day celebrations! It consists of a savory, whole grain pie crust, filled with a slow-cooked Scottish stew and a variation on traditional Scottish mushy peas. Make the Scottish Beef Stew first, and while the stew is slow cooking, prepare the crust, then Mushy Peas & Potatoes while the crusts chill. The stew and mushy peas recipes yield more than necessary for one pie, but I like to make the larger quantities and freeze the excess to make future weeknight meals a lot easier. Alternately, you could halve the stew recipe, or better yet, double the crust recipe and make two savory pies!
The person I am right before embarking on a trip is not a person of whom I am proud. This version of Quelcy is frenzied, snippy and probably in need of a happiness project. This version of Quelcy loses her sense of priorities and time management. She thinks it’s an appropriate time to mop a floor or reorganize a shelf. Yet, she doesn’t seem to think it’s an appropriate time to select her outfits and put them in a travel bag.
This Thanksgiving, The Urban Farmer, Julep and I hit the road for a very long drive to the snowy midwest. True to form, that pre-trip Quelcy reared her ugly head, trying to squeeze too much into too little time and naturally, leaving packing for the last minute. In her fits and frenzies, this version of Quelcy thought the best plan for the abundant fruit bowl was a late night baking session.
This may have been pre-trip Quelcy’s only redeeming quality. In the storm before the calm, apples, pears and Chinese five spice combined into a whole grain treat. She packed the maple and spice scents into the car, and off they went. Somewhere between Pittsburgh and Ohio, my saner self re-emerged, appreciative of the treat we’d be able to savor throughout the long journey.
Once settled into our snowy retreat of an Air BnB, the warm crisp was wholesome enough to savor for breakfast with big mugs of slow sipping coffee. If this time of year brings you a fair share of stress, skip pie crust entirely, and try this wholesome crisp. If you’re attending dinner party after dinner party, this is easy to whip up last minute and share, or escape the frenzy and savor it with someone special.
p.s: My personalized pie plate was a gift from Personal Creations. If you want to be sure your pie plate doesn’t get confused with another dessert plate at a holiday party, you can use Personal Creations to add your name. If you’re the more obsessive type, like yours truly, you can even use your pie plate to broadcast your dedication to whole grains.
p.p.s: Stay tuned for posts about my Midwest adventures!
There are nights when the pending evening pushes bursts of fire just beyond the city and its sky-carving lines. On these nights, the steeples, the songs and even the speed bumps are complicit in the sky’s vanity. Sentences digress and escape, knowing they’re not needed. The radio participates, playing something slower, a more mesmerizing tune, and words find their role in melody and song.
Where chaos and ruptured infrastructure reigned by day, a shadow creeps in, vignetting the mundane frustrations and focusing the eye on the exquisite, the heavenly, the celestial painting the tortured artist will erase and recreate. Our praise and appreciation will never be enough, never satiate the infinite ego above. The meter slows, and at best, we mere mortals below ty to soak it in. Like a bite meant to be eaten immediately, the camera would never do the moment justice, and the intensity of the flavor would be lost in the attempt to preserve.
These fiery skies seem to pull and absorb summer’s last bursts- the tomatoes’ sweetness, the wispy blades of bright green grass, the heat swirling on the horizon, the cooling blue waters, the bronze of bare shoulders and the freedom of exposed toes. Combined, they will form the matted earth tones that will blanket us and prepare us for the quiet winter months.
Before the blanket is fully drawn, pay one more ode to the summer, to the peaches whose color feeds the sunset’s fiery palette, and then we shall be ready, to fully bask in the warmth of the earthen tones. This crumble tart was a celebration of the nectar flows. It was the very first time the Urban Farmer’s honey and my baking combined their sweet powers – a last summer embrace like a vibrant golden hour on the cusp of a new season!
Floral, salty, crunchy, icy, juicy, fruity, creamy, minty and mapley… this tart is all of those elements in one bite! This spring inspired tart is easy to make, can be made the night before a gathering, and when garnished with a mound of fresh berries and mint, this tart is quite the show stopper!
After you make this tart once, you’ll surely have new ideas and inspirations for different versions. I’m already dreaming of swapping the blackberries for pureed peaches in peach season and riffing off my corn popsicle recipe for a dessert with a surprising key ingredient and a pale yellow palette.
Whether for a crowd, or for your own, sweet, spring and summer indulgences, I hope this tart finds its way to your freezers!
Frozen Blueberry Tart with Lavender Coconut Crust
Gluten-Free with Vegan Option
About this Recipe: You’ll need a food processor or blender for the crust to thoroughly grind and blend the lavender. Use organic lavender buds for the crust (i.e.: food-grade/pesticide-free). Make the tart the night before to ensure it freezes, but if you’re in a pinch, a couple hours will suffice. Pull from the freezer a few minutes before serving (in summer months, serve directly from the freezer). The whipped cream I featured uses dairy, but I offer a vegan option below to make this recipe completely vegan.
Every other Saturday, the Urban Farmer bursts through the kitchen door in his decades-old Woolrich coat and snowy boots, and he raises a green bag into the air triumphantly. This prized green bag contains his CSA allotment (Community Supported Agriculture), and aside from supporting our region’s farmers, these bags of veggies have pushed us to cook more and to cook more creatively.
Each CSA share is like a cooking show challenge. Beets, turnips, celeriac…go! For this specific green bag, the Urban Farmer really had pie on his mind. As I began to muse, he interjected my visions of beet slice rosettes atop sweetly spiced squash, “No, I want to make a savory pie.” Before he had finished verbalizing his pie goals, he had already begun peeling and chopping, so we dove into his savory plan in that fluid style of cooking- a sprinkle of this, a dash of that, a slice, a chop and a vague recipe underpinning.
Recipe Notes: This recipe is very loose, and you can adapt it based on your winter vegetable bounty and personal preferences. We began with a large baking stone’s worth of roasted vegetables and had more than we needed for the pie, but that excess makes for easy, healthy dinners later in the week. I’ve been reading about sneaking vodka into pie crusts as way to combat the gluten formation that risks a tough crust. Rather than Vodka, I used a few Tablespoons of Art in the Age’s Sage liquor, hoping to avoid gluten and reap the benefits of the herb flavors. You can also experiment with the cheese, herbs and proteins. This would be delicious with salty shavings of pecorino, and next time, we’ll probably add a spicy sausage to the filling. Be inspired, get creative and go crazy!
p.s: We’re looking forward to this time next year when we’ll be making rustic root veggie pies from the fruits of the Urban Farmer’s labor. He’ll be farming his own land this spring!
September 2014 “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” -John Steinbeck Poor Autumn. The vibrantly colored in between. It's such a…