The Urban Farmer arrived at home with a box of local peaches, which meant it was time for some healthy sweets! These chocolate drizzled, raw peaches are just the healthy sweets you need to satisfy your dessert cravings, and best of all, they come together so simply.
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.
Several years ago, I stood in awe, taking in the brand newness of Wigle Whiskey in its infancy. “Try this!” the owner said, as he stood in front of the shimmering new copper still. I dipped my finger under the slow drip and eagerly plunged my finger into my mouth, expecting that caramel-like, oak-aged flavor.
The wrongness of my false assumption hit me immediately. I tried to regain the composure I had surely lost. Today, that clear liquid has character, a deep amber color and the oak notes that tickle the nose and throat with a little heat. Today it is whiskey, but then, it tasted like I had licked a raw grain like a popsicle. Whiskey takes time, so much time and care.
I imagine parenting to be something like the smack of wheat that hit me when I was expecting maturity. A man might look at a baby bundle of little girl and expect his daughter to carry his belief systems, not to challenge him on everything, to grow up, choose a career path, follow that path and maybe settle down. But then reality hits like a drip from a still, and it’s dreadlocks, a tattoo, a wandering spirit, what some might call a restlessness and others would call curiosity. She’s opinionated, stubborn, a dreamer and a risk taker.
I imagine parenting to be something like the smack of wheat that hit me when I was expecting amber, oaky flavor. The process requires time, patience and a good deal of faith. I’m eternally grateful my parents put trust in the process, allowing me to carve my own path, supporting me along the way.
My dad is not a whiskey drinker, but I am. It’s just one of our many differences. However, the spirit is symbolic of our relationship. I was the surprise smack of wheat, but he was the one who aged well, who changed the most. He opened up, made himself vulnerable and supported me fully. When people say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” I grab a frisbee because my dad has changed more than anyone I know, and I am immensely proud of him for that.
I’m far away and belated (as always), but this is my Father’s Day dedication to my dad. Here’s to the man who placed me in front of a bull and believed I could herd that bull where I wanted him to go. Here’s to the man who handed me big ol’ truck keys long before the state would allow. Here’s to the man who cheered for me from every sideline and from every awards ceremony and then hauled me to my dream school.
Here’s to the man who reads my articles on glorified tea parties because they are my articles on glorified tea parties. But above all, here’s to the man who has wept with me when I needed him to, who shed stereotypes to be sensitive, who tells me he is proud of me and loves me. He made me tough, but he made me sensitive too.
This whiskey cake was for the local dads- the one who raised my Urban Farmer and the one who made that father a grandfather. It’s a cake for the way they melt around the new grand baby, the way they rally to build deck steps, the way they show up and support everything farm related. Here’s a belated ode to my dad, my local dads and to those who act like dads everyday. It’s not an easy role. It’s full of smacks to the face, and not everyone steps up to the plate, but to those who do, I salute you in the only way I know how- through cake!
Peach Whiskey Spelt Cake
About this Recipe: The cake batter will be very wet, but it yields a moist cake with a rich molasses flavor and a hint of whiskey. While the cakes cool, prepare the caramelized peaches, then the caramel and then the whipped cream. The recipe looks intimidating because of the many steps, but the whole cake comes together rather quickly. The alcohol in the cake bakes out, but the whipped cream will maintain the alcohol content, so this cake is not for younger eaters.
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!
Large, umbrella-like lights filled the space where waitstaff would normally scurry, the cords creating their fair share of death traps. Cooking wine filled glasses that would normally contain a fine vintage. An eclectic group of “friends” and “family” gathered around a reclaimed-wood table and awaited instruction on how to hold their forks, glasses and napkins “naturally.”
The photographer and camera dangled precariously above the table. Meanwhile, I tweezered and plucked at the plates, fluffing, spritzing and making them ready for their moment in the spotlight. It was the makings of a restaurant ad.
That restaurant featured in the ad is one of my favorites. The chef, long before “local” was the trendy buzz word to list on a menu, sourced as locally as possible. Yet his octogenarian clientele showed more appreciation for the granite floors and decadent details passed down from restaurant past. The goal of the ad was to outstretch arms and welcome everyone to the restaurant, everyone including kids.
The child “actor/model” [ie: the art director’s son] was an astute nine-year-old with a palate for fine dining and artisan fermentation. Together, the nine-year-old and I stared at the shelves of house-made pickles in awe. The budding food critic extolled the virtues of that pickle wall and the restaurant’s menu. Being a loyal fan of the menu’s “fancy burger,” I asked for his review.
“Oh, I haven’t had their burger. It’s good?” he asked sincerely.
“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites in the city, and they rotate the toppings quite a bit,” I responded as if speaking to any foodie in my peer group.
His eyes lit up, and he had an epiphany, “Oooh, I know! What if instead of the ham in the hamburger, you used peaches?”
“Like, peaches in the burger, or grilled on top?”
“Yeah, in it. Instead of the ham.”
“I’m into it,” I said.
Despite eating a smoked blue fish pâté, pickled scapes and picking at a tartare, the kid had a ways to go in his understanding of hamburgers. However, he was onto something with his peach idea. I really was into it.
Hamburgers are practically a food group in my own personal pyramid. My stacks of ingredients never make it to the light of day, when photographing and recipe sharing come into play, but for this burger combo, I exercised forethought and willpower. I veered from the petite foodie’s idea of replacing “ham” with peaches. Instead, I opted to stretch the meat further by adding a coarse beet puree or beat meal because although I believe in eating meat from humanely-raised animals, I may still be guilty of eating too much meat.
The peaches still came into play, but in the form of a roasted peach and mint salsa topping, making this burger the main course in my Mint Themed Dinner on the Farm. Paired with blue cheese for a salty, creamy contrast, I dare say even the nine-year-old would be impressed!
p.s: Blue or Bleu? You decide.
Beet & Beef Burgers w/ Blue Cheese and Roasted Peach & Mint Salsa
About This Recipe: Adding beets to your burgers is a way to stretch the meat, eat more seasonal produce, and add a subtle sweetness. The texture is a little closer to a sloppy joe than a beef patty, so use foil when grilling to avoid any loss, or experiment with adding a binder such as eggs and breadcrumbs.