Every couple weeks or so, the Urban Farmer comes home smelling like a campfire in the best possible way. Occasionally, this aroma is coupled with a swollen eye or red…
“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” ~ Henry David Thoreau In the middle of August, we gathered to celebrate the farmers, the fields…
A cake can be a meditation, each slice a chance to savor the here-and-now. If made with care, each bite passes without judgment, eyes close, stresses escape, and gravity feels lifted for but a moment. Just as you acknowledge the light in others through meditation, a cake is a testament to many hands and contributors. After all, as Carl Sagan said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
This cake was a man who spoke very little English, his reserve offset by his immense talent. He peeled limes into fire-breathing dragons, twisted fish into floral arrangements and carved beets into beautiful roses. He obsessed over granules of rice and valued the spacing between sushi. I watched his mastery in awe. In urban terms, game recognize game, but in the world of creatives, my neuroses is humbled by your neuroses, and I applaud your details! Less catchy, but it’s equally an ovation!
This cake was the Urban Farmer, his mother and his grandfather before him. They taught the him to gently respect nature, believe in nature, fight for nature, and in the end, reap her rewards. Her zucchinis continued to appear under his tutelage, as if by magic, under broad leaves that could transport the imaginative mind to island vacations. Her beets merited gallery time, with mesmerizing patterns of burgundies and whites circling like aging trees. And her mint…! Her mint runneth over!
This cake was a gathering. It was a celebration of the new guard of hands that work the land and restore value to the foods we eat. It was a celebration of edible weeds and fresh pickings. This cake was a campfire, warming the prematurely cool evening. It was laughter. It was sparks in the night sky. It was time savored.
These are the benefits of the “slow foods” as they are called – the foods with integrity and time amongst the ingredient lists. These foods are not “cheat foods” or “guilty pleasures.” This cake is a testament to the season and the many hands contributing along the way. Perhaps you will become part of this cake’s story too?
Sprouted Spelt Zucchini Beet Cake with Vodka Mint Glaze
About This Recipe: This bundt cake begins with my new favorite flour- One Degree Organic Foods’ Sprouted Spelt Flour. Through their website, you can read about the farmer who grows it. This combination of local zucchini and beets adds moisture and subtle sweetness. The glaze uses a Mint Vodka Simple Syrup instead of water or milk. I used Boyd & Blair Vodka instead of water when making the simple syrup to take advantage of the vodka’s rich, vanilla notes.
“If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
“Sandwiches” he said with gumption, as if he had played the what-if game correctly.
My hand snapped to my hip bone, my head tilted, my eyes rolled, I leaned in, and each syllable I spoke dripped with sarcasm. “Oh, so you would choose to eat food for the rest of your life? Is that what you are telling me?”
I’m a stickler for rules when it comes to games, a weird fluke of my perfectionism that somehow doesn’t always manifest in real-life rule situations. No turning from 3pm-6pm, even if no other car is in sight? …optional…. “Narrow” down your one and only food source to “SANDWICHES?”
In this hypothetical game of sacrifices, my roommate Dan had not sacrificed a thing. While the rest of us would be chomping on french fries or cheese until the grease or lactose did us in, he’d be converting his every inkling of a craving into sandwich form- pizza sandwiches, egg roll sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, taco sandwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches… ice cream sandwiches.
Foul, I cried, FOUL!
Though Dan was a complete and utter cheater, he was onto something- sandwiches are awesome (I didn’t say he was onto anything profound, just something). Whoever decided to stack ingredients between layers of bread- so smart! Whoever decided to swap that bread for cookies, and fill the space with ice cream? Genius! In the spirit of my college roommate not sacrificing a damn thing in a game of sacrifice, I bring you a recipe for wholesome peanut butter cookies. They make delicious bookends for ice cream, so you can eat sandwiches for every meal!
Here’s to you Dan Cohen!
p.s: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Sprouted Spelt Peanut Butter Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches
About This Recipe: These cookies are soft and chewy- perfect for pairing with ice cream and withstanding a bit of freeze if you prepare the sammie ahead of time. However, the truly exciting element in this recipe is the flour. I just discovered One Degree Organic Foods’ Sprouted Spelt Flour, and so far I’m hooked! I couldn’t agree more with the company’s tagline “Every ingredient has a story.” It’s more than a tagline though. Each package includes a picture of the farmer responsible for that grain. Meet my farmer, (well, not my farmer, but my flour farmer) and maybe he’ll become your farmer too!
An alarming crunching sound interrupted our late-night dinner preparations. We ran to the window, half expecting to see ruby red slippers pinned under a house. Instead, we discovered a battered and bruised car thrown into reverse. It began to zig and zag away from the parked car it had just launched a good six feet through impact. As if performing the role of a movie extra, the Urban Farmer exclaimed “He’s trying to get away!” and pointed to the ensuing action. The dog barked and jumped in a confused mix of excitement and alarm.
The neighbors flocked to the street immediately, like ripples in a puddle pierced by a droplet of rain. One brave soul waved his arms at the drunk driver, beseeching him to stop. Whether it was the presence of witnesses or the absence of all motor skills, the man swerved onto the sidewalk, hit a planter and a tree, and the getaway was over. Amidst a sea of obscenities and cigarette smoke, the neighbors managed to sequester the vapid and staggering man until the police arrived. Like the nosy neighbor I am, I watched the event unfurl from my third-floor window, my BLT growing colder as I pieced together the incoming evidence.
These neighbors of mine are far from perfect. A lot of them are loud. One is far too nosy and negative for her own good. They yell. They fight. They publicly air more grievances and dysfunction than I would ever care to display. However, I have neighbors who save treats for my dog, look out for our cat, wave to me from their cars, greet me at the local coffee spot and fill me with an unexpected sense of home and comfort. When it comes down to being neighbors, to defending another member of the block and looking out for the safety of the street, I prefer these folks to the quiet types who remain hidden behind closed doors.
This sentiment had been there, had been growing in me for quite some time, but it wasn’t until the accident that I began to appreciate what had been under my nose. Much like my neighbors, this chocolate bread is more than meets the eye. The lurking zucchini is easy to miss until someone or something points out the wholesome goodness waiting to surprise you.
‘Tis the time of year when zucchinis bombard us, so make this loaf and maybe make some to share with your neighbors too.
“You can do anything for 20 seconds,” he shouts while leaping up and down like a frog. His springiness is comical, but his ‘give your all’ approach triggers the reserves inside the three people leaping in front of him. I watch this video, over and over again, while I sit and twist my spine. It’s all part of my new chiropractic routine, but that physical trainer’s message started to echo in my head long after I left the doctor’s office.
As I write this, I’m snuggled in a flannel and sipping a hot coffee, but my skin is still bronzed, and the forecast insists there will be days of sweaty inactivity. However, these flagship fall temperatures lead to a lot of universal grumblings, “where did summer goooooo?” the protesters wine. “Ugh…. I’m not ready,” they say while wilting into a pile of defeat (myself sadly included). This is the moment, like that last 20 seconds of grueling physical exercise, when we have to dig deep, commit and eek out every last drop of summer we can!
Summoning our last summer reserve might mean grilling more hamburgers, finally kayaking on the river, sleeping under a blanket of stars, taking a hike, or quite simply allowing more tan lines to form. It might mean the drive-in movie theater, a picnic on a sunny hillside, a last pencil-dive into the deep end or an impulse sunglasses purchase. Whatever it means for you, when you dig deep and truly try to appreciate this last leg of summer, I hope your plan includes popsicles.
In my zeal for homemade, healthified fudgesicles, I went a little overboard, overshooting the capacity of my popsicle molds. Since you can’t have too many fudgesicles, only not enough fudgesicle molds, experimentation mode commenced. Like a middle-aged lunching lady, I grabbed for the vodka bottle. The result is what happens when a Vegan Fudgesicle gets a little sloshy, but in a crowd-pleasing sort of way, not a “miss, we need you to leave” sort of way.
As the season begins to turn, let’s all commit to dig a little deeper and relish what’s left of summer. Let’s also agree to stretch our fudgesicle “batter” a little further.
Here’s to Summer!
Avocado Fudgesicles & Boyd & Blair Vodka Semifreddo (Vegan)
About This Recipe: I’ve separated the kid-friendly, non-boozy and the after-hours, boozy version into two recipes below for ease of making smaller batches. Essentially, the vodka version is the same, but poured into a loaf pan. You could pour the mixture into popsicle molds as well. I recommend Boyd & Blair Vodka. Not only is it made from high-quality ingredients, but it adds a sweet notes of vanilla. Plus, the vodka keeps the mixture just shy of frozen, resulting in a more spoonable, frozen treat!
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.
The cashier withdrew the receipt he had been pushing towards me. He skimmed it with a puzzled look on his face, searching for an error. “I guess it’s right. I just didn’t expect your order to cost that much money.”
“Consider it my super power,” I responded, grinning through the sinking feeling.
As I pulled into the driveway, the neighbor boy dangled from a tree, his summer tan nearly camouflaged by the bark of the shady branches. “Where did you go?” he pried.
“To the grocery store,” I responded in the general direction of the tree.
“That’s all you got?” he asked in disbelief.
Debby Downer from the adjacent house probably judged me silently behind a curtain, as I schlepped my “meager” quantity of groceries to my third floor abode. Fortunately, the dog was eager to encounter beef cubes and minty sticks, so she put up little protest to my apparent failure.
I get it! I spend a lot of money on food.
However, with hormones, GMOs, pesticides and God knows what else being injected in our food, it’s hard not to spend excess money on what should be the simple act of eating and feeding those we love. Thus, I justify these expenses as health insurance or better yet, preventative care.
Fortunately, this summer’s ingredients have been boosted by the Urban Farmer’s efforts. Contrary to popular belief, we haven’t been swimming in vegetables, with the majority of the harvest making its way to the CSA members. However, late July and August have been kind to us, especially on the juicy tomato front!
The Urban Farmer and I recently hosted friends on the farm, and that Mint Themed Dinner on the Farm was the first time I had to do very little shopping to prepare a meal for a gathering. Not only was it refreshing to celebrate the farm as a beautiful piece of land with a spectacular view of the downtown skyline, but it was refreshing to celebrate all the farm has produced recently like these exquisite beets…
Each slice into the beets revealed a different fuchsia intensity and pattern worth painterly strokes, but most importantly, roasting revealed a tender, flavorful bite, complemented by smoky sea salt and subtly sweet coconut oil.
Beets, cucumbers, tomatoes and mint- all from the farm- became one colorful, healthy, flavorful, juicy salad to celebrate the farmers, the fruits of their labors and the height of summer. There were very few groceries, and there was no one critiquing my food-buying habits. It was a win-win scenario. Harvest or hop to the farmers’ market, and snag these beauties while the season allows.