“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.
“You in?” he yelled while already launching me forward.
“And this is how it ends,” I thought. “Death by homemade zip line!”
As the very questionable swing rocketed forward, I gripped fiercely and managed to scooch my bum into the very key area- the seat! The smile on my face shifted abruptly to an expression of pure panic as I beelined for the very solid tree directly in front of me. “Does this thing stoppppp?!?” I wanted to yell, but before I could form words, the swing yanked me backward in one jarring, whiplash-inducing motion.
Wooohoo! One more time!
Welcome to the Kunkle Family Reunion, Quelcy!
The Kunkles, the Urban Farmer’s family through his mother’s side, are titans of tradition! The family reunion I attended could have been any of the family reunions from the last 50 years. The faces may have aged, and new little Kunkle offshoots may have arrived, but the campsite was the same. The games and challenges were the same, and the spirit of good ol’ family fun was the same.
That family fun didn’t include technology either. I didn’t see kids scrolling on phones. I didn’t see iPads or movies. I saw rackets, gloves, tree swings, dogs and kids splashing in the creek, and middle-aged men competing against children with the seriousness of Olympic athletes. In a word, it was comforting.
The reunion was especially comforting because beyond the Kunkle family compound, “progress” threatens the beautiful hills, meadows, mountains and streams. Where families once hiked and swam freely, toxins and carcinogens now bar them from their own land. The promises of natural gas proved too good to be true, and the landscape of Western Pennsylvania is changing rapidly. In the name of “progress” so much has already been lost in our region (see these firsthand accounts if you don’t believe me).
But these external threats and unraveling traditions made the Kunkle Family Reunion all the more special. Real people. Real connections. Real traditions preserved and passed to the next generation of Reunion Presidents, Vice Presidents and Treasurers. Like a grandmother’s beloved recipe baked by her granddaughter, these ritual handoffs deserve to be celebrated. So, without further ado, I bring you this glimpse into the past, and why it stuck with me.
The legendary Kunkle Reunion Base Race kicked off the events of the day. The competitive nature of this event quickly became apparent when the historical scoreboards came into sight. The discolored boards of the 80s marked the key year when the bases were moved, lest any performance be judged unfairly by the distance differential. It was also worth noting that Mike Shoop’s slowest time was the result of a knee injury, not a lack of athletic ability.
Julep and I watched with pride, awe and maybe even a heart flutter or two as the Urban Farmer dug deep and delivered the overall winning base race score of 9.3 seconds, a far cry from his score of 39.1 seconds in 1986!
“Quelcy Kogel to the plate,” the man in suspenders announced. “Oh no…no, no…no,” I objected, but all eyes were on me. I had come merely to watch, but the Urban Farmer had thrown my hat in the ring. He had entered my name without my knowing!
My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and off I went! Every competitive nerve in my body was tingling.
I fell short of my main squeeze, so don’t be surprised if you sporadically find me running bases in the off season. Next year, I’ll be prepared, but I sincerely hope the official time-keeping uniform never changes!
Young and old kept the tradition alive, and after such exerting work, it was time for swimming in the creek, which first requires jumping from a rope swing (and requires leaving cameras safely on dry land).
As happily overwhelmed as I was, my Julep was overwhelmed in a way that gave us all quite a scare. Between the other dogs, the commotion, the anxiety of watching her papa tethered to another human and teetering in a three-legged race, the poor little one overdid it. As the Urban Farmer and I held her close and tried to decipher what exactly was causing her to drool, pant and tremble excessively, so many family members came to our side.
Family members who I barely knew rallied to offer any help they could. Closer family members overlooked dog drool and wet fur to help us ice down and comfort our poor dehydrated fur baby. They showed such sincere concern for our Julep, and I’ll never forget it.
I had come simply to observe and relish the Kunkles’ traditions, but in the end, I felt so connected to the Urban Farmer’s family. As our Julep rehydrated, refueled and showed signs of her normal self, the rest of the reunion adjourned to the campfire for silly songs, s’mores and the rest of the evening’s time-tested agenda. Though we left early, the day left me with a lasting impression.
The Urban Farmer, like his family’s reunion, borrows from the past in an effort to preserve tradition. He worked tirelessly this year, through rainy spells, dry spells and rampant groundhog spells to stay true to his farming convictions. He believes in tighter ties to our food, and more connections with the makers and growers. He believes in a self-sustaining local system, and he won’t stop until he achieves it.
As the autumn settles upon his farm, the tomato vines have given one last burst of bright red fruits. Like base races, old truck rides and creek swims, summer tomatoes are worth preserving.
In an effort to truly preserve the flavors and the spirit of summer, I returned to America’s classic condiment- ketchup!
As a Pittsburgh resident, it may be blasphemy to offer an alternative to the beloved Heinz 57, but I find it blasphemous to masquerade high fructose corn syrup as an American tradition (though sadly, it is becoming an American tradition).
This homemade ketchup won’t boast the exact ruby redness or perfectly smooth texture of store-bought counterparts, but each dollop of this condiment will impress. Make your own ketchup, and every winter burger or oven roasted french fry will become more satisfying and take you back to summer grilling and tomato harvesting in the heat. There’s something to be said for preservation!
Here’s to traditions, memories and delicious condiments!
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.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix is an annual car show and races right through the winding roads of Schenley Park, one of the city’s valuable green assets. In architecture school, we learned to use perspective and contour lines to translate our drawing professor’s slides (slides!) of Grand Prix automobiles to paper. Aside from the many sketches and hearing the yearly rumble of cars in race mode, I never really explored this massive gathering of car enthusiasts. However, bagpipe performances, vintage cars, and a sunny day in Schenley Park all called for a picnic, so I packed a farm-influenced egg salad, and to the car show I went!
Strolling through but a small section of the Grand Prix, I gained a new appreciation for these car enthusiasts. I once discounted this annual event as a pompous waste of resources and a flashy display of expensive collections. While I still see elements of excess (i.e.: semi trucks, with more amenities than my apartment, for carting car collections?), I also came to see the celebration of design, quality, old values and the idea of building something to last.
I had to quell the judgmental idealist inside me, acknowledge the charitable underpinnings of the event and simply indulge the side of me who believes in nostalgia, tradition and bringing people together. I also indulged the side of me who really just wants to cruise around town in a vintage, red beamer. After all, I am the owner of this beauty, who awaits some much needed love and care this winter (i.e.: when the Urban Farmer puts on his “mechanic” hat).
I hadn’t the slightest understanding of the racing rules or categories, but the people and car watching enthralled me. Plus, I may have discovered my spirit animal in this real-life Luigi. Consider this a glimpse of my future, white overalls and all!
The engine of this forest green car (above) might be impeccable. It might trace its roots to a pastural English village. I have no idea. I was simply blown away by the leather detail on the spare tire!
I went for the bagpipes, the sunshine and the park picnic, but as it turns out, I’m really a sucker for a red, vintage set of wheels. Whether you’re browsing beamers, a flea market, or simply a park on a sunny day, try this egg salad for your next picnic. You’ll revel in some sandwich nostalgia made healthier and more vibrant by farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Farm Fresh Egg Salad Sandwiches
About this Recipe: Greek yogurt, dijon and local eggs come together with accents of local celery and sweet peppers. You don’t need to measure anything. Just trust your tastebuds and your eyes to achieve the right flavor, color and texture. Using local celery makes a big difference in flavor, and be sure to include the greens. Pick a flavorful mix of greens for the sandwich such as mustard greens, which add a pleasantly bitter accent, much like a hint of wasabi. For a little sweetness, add a slathering of organic relish to the bread.
There’s a lot of time to think when watering an acre of organic heirloom vegetables. I took a few turns with the hose while the farmer was busy with bees and helping other green thumbs and good hearts. I tried to embrace the effects of the sunshine, forming some sort of mental reserve for the gray winter months ahead, but mostly, my mind just wandered wildly… until I reached the tomatoes. The tomatoes transfixed me.
If the color green had a smell, it would be the smell of water hitting tomatoes on the vine. As the water arched from the hose and rainbows formed in the mist, that aroma conjured a nostalgic mix of the purest, happiest moments of summers past. BLT’s eaten on the porch swing, my parents in the garden and dinners featuring simple plates of tomato slices were all alive in that scent. That moment was the tip of the tomato iceberg. They were still growing, still sweetening, still changing colors, but shortly thereafter, the tomatoes poured into our kitchen!
In the height of tomato season, I feel wrong bringing heat to a tomato (or rather, the juicy, sweet, fresh tomatoes never make it to heat, since I eat them like candy). Those reservations, however, change abruptly when staring at wooden crate after wooden crate of tomatoes- 75 lbs of tomatoes to be exact!
This salsa is a perfect marriage of raw and roasted, where nutrients and flavors mix in each symbiotic scoop of the tortilla chip. The skillet of farm-fresh vegetables intensifies in flavor after roasting, then adds thick, flavorful chunks to a raw tomato puree. If only the American political system could find the unity this salsa achieves!
Like my mind while watering, this recipe is fluid, and it’s easily changed based on the seasonal offerings. If your garden or farmer’s market is brimming with scallions and red peppers, throw those in the skillet. Peppers are the next flavorful flood, with the Urban Farmer’s rainbow growing richer by the day, so perhaps your version will feature even more chunks of blistered peppers.
Much like trying to soak up a reserve of sunshine, I thought this salsa might bring us bites of summer when the skies turn gray and cold, but both acts of preservation are proving to be impossible. The combination of corn chips and salsa creates a disappearing act like no other, but perhaps the vines will bestow enough bounty for a second batch.
Roasted & Raw Garden Fresh Summer Salsa
About this Recipe: Use the images above as a guide for quantities, but feel free to make substitutions for the roasted ingredient choices. Use whatever summer vegetables are in season and abundant. Try green onions instead of yellow, or different hot peppers instead of jalapeño.
Much like a baby toddling on two legs for the very first time, the first steps toward a goal are often the heaviest, scariest, most daunting steps of all. However, once that toddler leaves the safety of leaning on the couch or clinging to grown-ups’ legs, that little one erupts with an unstoppable energy.
My inner perfectionist is like the hesitant toddler, leaning on ideas rather than taking that first scary step towards forward movement. I’m trying to change this, to really try for what I want and risk failing instead of risking regret. I just have to decide to do something, and so many times, I pass that first hurdle only to realize it was never a hurdle at all.
For so long, I lumped ceviche into the “that seems complicated” category, or the “leave it to the restaurants” category, but as my South American Inspired Picnic approached, I just decided to make ceviche. It turns out, it’s stupidly simple. The recipe practically prepares itself. Though my other ideas and dreams are not as hands-off, there is something to be said for just deciding to make something and taking that first step.
So here’s to plantain scoops of citrusy fish, with bursts of fresh, summer peaches and dreams of owning a venue, of farm events, of pickling classes, of healing gardens, chef dinners and floral crowns…. or whatever dream is keeping you clinging to a couch. Let’s all just go for it (and then remember to nudge each other along the way)!
Few ingredients inspire a love-hate relationship in me the way corn does. As a Nebraska-born girl, I feel a certain ingrained allegiance to corn- its sweetness, its bright, golden hue, its utilitarian cob, the accoutrements (corn-contoured butter dispensers, prongs, etc) and the way biting into an ear of corn makes summer just feel like summer. As a sustainability advocate, I resent the way corn came to dominate the landscape, reduce crop varieties, deplete soil minerals and become a secret, sugary ingredient in just about everything! In the spirit of summer and positive reinforcement though, this is an ode to my love of corn.
Roasting intensifies the corn’s innate sweetness. Paired with juicy grape tomatoes, spicy radishes, creamy avocados, hot peppers fresh from my honey’s fields, tangy feta and more, this salad captures the bold colors and fresh flavors of summer. It’s an easy salad to contribute to a summer bbq or cookout. In my case, it was part of my South American Inspired Picnic to celebrate my one year anniversary with the Urban Farmer. As a picnic food, pair this salad with plantain or corn chips for utensil-free eating.
This salad isn’t meant to be dogmatic. Start with the roasted corn, trust your palate and follow your cravings. You can easily make it vegan, and if you have leftovers, add them to an omelette at breakfast to enjoy corn at every meal possible. It is summer after all, and this is when corn deserves a chance to shine!