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.
“You know what I call this?” the Urban Farmer said while proudly photographing the rickety wooden crate full of fresh-picked vegetables. “A case of the Mondays,” he said beaming with pun pride.
He chose another caption for his photo, not wanting to offend those stuck in Monday drudgery. I have often hesitated on sharing a pure joy lest it be regarded as boastful, so I understood his reserve. I’m not sure if this stems from deep-rooted American values or a Christian upbringing or both, but hiding happiness is RIDICULOUS, no?
I may be riding the emotional highs of listening to a lot of Elizabeth Gilbert wisdom, but who wouldn’t be happy watching that barefoot boy celebrate his dream farm on a weekly basis? Truth be told, Mondays with the Urban Famer were so far from the Mondays I once knew. On Mondays, man, woman and dog piled into the red truck, picked vegetables in the sun and then delivered them to the supporters who made this year’s farm efforts possible. Why would we hide that happiness from imagined miserable people?
Today is the last of these CSA Mondays for this season. There will still be farm work to do- bulbs to plant, invasive trees to cut, flowers varieties to select- but the CSA routine concludes today, just as the foggy, gray, frosty mornings are blanketing the fields. It feels more special than sad, more celebratory than conclusive. This was the beginning, and so much is in store! There is still so much room for expansion, so many lessons to teach, so many lessons to learn, and best of all, there will be so many new dishes to eat!
The farm calmed my Mondays, calmed my spirit and inspired new kitchen experiments. Monday after Monday, I combed the fruitful tomato vines in search of the bright reds, burgundies and yellows. Despite the challenging weather, the vines persisted with an inspiring abundance. However, the frost brought a new color spectrum- the greens!
I knew fried green tomatoes from the movie title and perhaps the occasional menu item, but I’d never eaten them or made them. I’m sharing Monday happiness with you in the form of these fried green tomatoes. The recipe is loose, like cooking with my mom and her mother before her. Both women knew to follow their instincts, adding a pinch or heap here and there, so allow your traditions and whims to transform this recipe accordingly.
365+ days ago, I walked into the empty coffeeshop, like so many other days, and I took my place at the counter. On this particular day, the barista ignored me while she toiled laboriously on a green smoothie. I shifted weight from foot to foot, pretended to look at the art on the walls, scanned the perimeter in case I had missed some detail. She continued to blend, I repeated my routine, and the wait grew ever more ridiculous. Finally, a customer emerged from the back room to retrieve the damn smoothie. As I realized who he was, the room suspended in slow motion, but the monarchs fluttered sporadically inside my stomach, and my cheeks surely reddened. Suddenly, that smoothie was my favorite drink on earth. That smoothie was for the Urban Farmer.
At that point, we’d only met briefly, but everything my matchmaking friend told me about him made me weak in the knees. This was a serendipitous encounter, while she plotted a significant setup. “Be entertaining. Be charming,” I thought while probably questioning what I was wearing and if my hair and the humidity were collaborating to betray me. I wanted to abandon my laptop and stare into his tan, smoothie-drinking face.
As I pretended to focus on my work, the reason I had come to sit in that coffeeshop, I asked if he knew the date. “I do because it’s my birthday. It’s the 12th.” “Happy Birthday!” I exclaimed with too much enthusiasm while etching this date in my mind for the future. On that note, he had to pitch his smoothie cup and depart to meet his dad for beers. His dad. Even that sentimental detail made me swoon. I was left in the coffeeshop, head and heart a happy mess, pretending to regroup and focus, with a big, dopey grin stretched on my face from ear to ear.
That was a year ago. The coffeeshop cut smoothies from their menu, since they take a ridiculous amount of time to make. However, the monarchs in my stomach, the blushing cheeks, and the dopey grin stretched from ear to ear? Those all still exist! In the year since that chance encounter, our matchmaker friend worked her magic, and lucky, lucky me was able to join this man as he made the transformation from dreamer, to planner, to hands-in-the-soil, legit farmer. It’s a story, it seems, that was destined, little dog and all. Now to get that pony!
We brunched, we farmed, and when it came time to eat something special for his birthday dinner, he requested fried chicken, mashed potatoes and whiskey drinks. There was a camera-shy peach tart with notes of whiskey, reminding me some desserts are meant only to be enjoyed with someone special and not blogged. Sorry friends, but I’m sure there’ll be more peach desserts to come, and I hope there will be many more birthdays to come!
Happy 30th to my Urban Farmer!
p.s: On a birthday & aging note, I recommend reading this little tale about growing old. It’s best when read while eating Chipotle, but it’s worth reading even without a burrito.
Spicy Fried Chicken fit for a Farmer
About This Recipe: Choose a local, pasture-raised chicken as a farmer-approved foundation for this recipe. The cornmeal crust was golden, crispy and spicy. Since I was using Butt Pucker sauce (from this spicy themed gift), which has visible pepper seeds, I only added a few Tablespoons to the egg mixture. If you’re using a milder sauce, or you really want the heat, add up to a cup. Fry without the guilt by choosing a healthier oil such as organic, non-GMO safflower. It’s the fastest way to a farmer’s heart. It’s helpful to use a fry thermometer to avoid over-heating the oil. The Urban Farmer recommends eating this chicken with a drizzle of Honeysuckle Infused Maple Syrup.
Join me on this wandering train of thought…
I know about as much about Cinco de Mayo as I do about St. Patrick’s Day, i.e.: I celebrate both thematically, and not very historically, through food. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday. Churros, though probably of Portuguese origin, are common throughout Central and South America. Inspired by my love of chocolate and Mexican spice levels, my Spelt Flour Churro recipe includes a spicy, Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce, which leads me to the history of one South American chocolate hero and one South American chocolate heretic.
In reality, I’m talking about one, polarizing man.
Half a century ago, Ecuador was world famous for its cocoa, and the cocoa farmers were kings, but like all gambles with nature, no throne is ever safe from nature’s fury. A fungus called Witch’s Broom sucked the life from the cocoa trees and threatened world’s chocolate cravings. However, a short man, fondly and diminutively called Homerito, i.e.: little Homer, was intent on solving the crisis. Homero Castro was a plant scientist set on creating a new cocoa tree, one that would be highly productive and immune to Witch’s Broom. His enviable chocolate quest took him to Africa, the Caribbean and the Amazon, to collect different kinds of cocoa plants and crossbreed them (a modern-day Customs nightmare).
For twelve years, the entire life of a tween, he diligently crossed variety after variety, until finally, he believed he had succeeded. He arrived at a cocoa tree that was immune to the very fungus that threatened happiness itself. Castro named the new plant after himself and the city where he lived – Coleccion Castro Naranjal– CCN. He added the number 51 because of how many attempts it took to get it right- CCN-51. Cocoa farmers responded quickly and planted it by the acre. Chocolate tycoons arrived from all over the globe, and the cocoa crisis seemed to be averted except for one glaring detail: the taste!
Gary Guittard, owner of the company behind my recommendation for dark chocolate baking, likened the taste to “rusty nails.” These are not the fine palate notes or terroir adjectives you want from a cocoa bean description. The cocoa tycoons panned the product, the farmers were once again in dire straits, and Homero died tragically in a car accident, thinking his life’s ode was an utter failure.
However, the resourceful farmers determined a way to ferment the harvested beans, by sunning them in burlap sacks. The process eliminated the “rusty nails” quality, and CCN-51 was back in business! At this point in the historical tale, Homerito seems like an indisputable hero, but chocolate puritans scoff at the fermented CCN-51’s bland flavor. Gone are the nuances of these heritage cocoa beans, but as the chocolate industry discovered, the masses didn’t notice. We all want to think our tongue is God’s gift to rich flavors, but in reality, most of us never knew there was a switch.
As a chocolate lover, I mourn for the rips and tears in the ecosystem that put the sacred cocoa trees in danger and threatened the traditional farmers’ livelihood. However, as a chocolate lover who wants to keep eating chocolate, I see Homero as a hero. Like a true artist or tragic hero, he died without knowing the mark he left, so let’s all eat a spicy churro in honor of such culinary and botanical passion. Here’s to Homerito!
Spelt Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Dipping Sauce
About This Recipe: Made with wholesome spelt flour and fried in a non-gmo safflower oil, these churros are far healthier than their street food inspiration, but they’re equally crowd pleasing. The dark chocolate chile sauce starts with a homemade cinnamon simple syrup. If you want to skip this step, substitute pure maple syrup, agave or honey. I used a dried Morita chile, which I found at a local Mexican grocer. They had several varieties available, so follow your senses and see what smell and spice level inspires you. If you have extra chocolate sauce, it makes a great cake or ice cream topping.