What we offer as Harvest & Gather will be different than any other series in Pittsburgh. We're moving the farm dinners away from the farm, inviting guests to overlooked spaces with transformation potential. We're calling attention to the aged bones of our city, to the storied layers and the past, through design, food and storytelling. My sentiments for architecture preservation run parallel to my sentiments for farms. There are lessons in bricks and in seeds that we risk losing.
“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…
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.
I’m not one of those foodies who spends hours in front of The Food Network. My only bond with cooking shows was during my nannying stint in Paris, when I watched to learn more French and inspire my menus. The tv personalities solidified my understanding of the words butter, cream, more butter and more cream. Yet, like a foreigner attempting to swear in a second language, I pretend I have enough understanding to reference the Iron Chef in social settings.
What [I think] I know is there is a secret ingredient, and several talented chefs must scramble to highlight that ingredient in an out-of-this-world way. My understanding of the rules and personalities stops there, but I do mentally play my own version of this challenge from time to time. In Iron Quelcy (if you will), I select an ingredient to feature in a menu, incorporating that ingredient into each element of the meal, from the cocktails, to the main course, to the dessert. The challenge is for the ingredient to be a common thread through the meal, not an overwhelming, blanketing flavor that in the end feels like eating one big bowl of mush.
For our most recent dinner on the farm, the star ingredient was mint, which grows rampantly in these parts. Most often associated with sweet leanings, the true brainstorm was using mint in savory ways. First up: Mint Pesto! Akin to a traditional basil pesto, this minty version has kicks of lemon and garlic contrasted by the sweet, cooling mint associations. It pairs well with grilled vegetables (we used eggplant, onions & zucchini), as a crostini spread, or wherever you would typically apply pesto. Give it a whirl, and stay tuned for more results of my self-imposed mint challenge.