With colds circulating and holiday stresses escalating, a little tea time is just what the doctor prescribed. Steal away from wrapping, from planning, from baking, from whatever chaos or sneezing…
He pushed his hands against the table, and his chair slid backward, as if the growing space between him and the table would somehow create more room in his stomach. “I guess it didn’t help that we started the day with champagne,” he said, explaining the slowed pace of his Thanksgiving consumption.
“Why did you have champagne?” his older brother asked.
“Because we don’t have kids.”
“We should drink champagne more,” he said to me, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
Yeah, we are that Uncle and Aunt- the childless kind who can still relish simple luxuries like sleeping in and toasting champagne for breakfast… if you call “noon” breakfast, and on Thanksgiving, we do! (The Urban Farmer is also the kind of uncle who believes someone has to torture the youngins, a role he fills diligently.)
Our Thanksgiving morning was a very intentionally slow morning that eased into a brunch just for us… with champagne. Being that 2016 has kept me on my toes, when a sanctioned day-off hits me, I am all too happy to kick up my feet.
As the sort of basket case that leans toward the side of “do, do, do, make, make, make, go, go, go… stress, stress, stress,” doing nothing is not my best skill. The Urban Farmer, however, has a very healthy attitude toward “couch days.” During the season of gratitude, I found myself truly relishing those times when man, pup and I can nestle into nothing.
I try to push the bounds of my gratitude, to see beyond the obvious. Yes, I am grateful for the roof over my head, for creative work, for a family who loves me and an admirable partner, but I’m also grateful for hot showers at my fancy, for growing up routinely celebrating my birthday with parties, for having real options for my education even if money was tight. But sometimes, it’s really soul-warming just to sit on a couch, sip champagne, watch a creepy show and relish that guy who thinks I’m special, all while snuggling the furry bundle of love who holds no grudges and wants to please us all the time. Those little nothing moments are in fact everything moments.
So we relished the morning and its lack of responsibilities. I played with flowers to gift his grandmother, and we brunched in our pajamas. Then I gladly sat at a table for which I had to do zero work. I ate way too much, then refilled my plate because gravy overrides reason.
Then there was round two- another side of the family, more plates, more refills, still no responsibilities and in the end, a game of name-that-hummed-tune and charades that made my face hurt from laughing so hard. Have a grown man do a t-Rex impression and then hum “Ring My Bell” while you try to guess what on earth he could possibly be channeling. It makes for a night to remember!
Thanksgiving put me into such a mellow state. Between that lingering food coma and the subsequent gray rainy days, I’m having a hard time bouncing back in full force. These crepes are not only a good way to use leftover stores from Thanksgiving (extra cans of pumpkin and cranberries?), but they offer a way to indulge in a weekend morning and extend that Thanksgiving laziness feeling. Eat brunch in your pajamas. Watch a creepy show. Cuddle your significant other and/or furry companion(s), and be grateful for the nothingness of it all.
Pumpkin Crepes with Cranberry Sauce, Walnuts & Pumpkin Whipped Cream
Adapted from Carlsbad Cravings
About this Recipe: Holiday shopping surely left an extra scoop of pumpkin puree or a stockpile of cans of cranberries, so use them up in one seasonal inspired brunch. Add a dollop of the whipped cream to your coffee, and serve the whole brunch with a bottle of bubbly! It’s not pictured, but I also recommend a healthy slathering of Nocciolata on these crepes. Chocolate-hazelnut, pumpkin and cranberries are a seasonal match made in heaven.
I closed Instagram. Instagram with its beauty and inspiration and mindless scrolling. Instead, I finally braced myself for the news- those stories I had been keeping safely at my periphery, understanding the gist but not digesting the magnitude. Oh the painful symbolism of oppressed natives while the rest of us feasted on plump turkeys and ate gluttonously on potatoes and cranberries and buttered rolls and enough pies to populate a corner bakery. I was complicit. I wanted to be cocooned in the warmth and comfort of my holiday, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling.
Then I shared a meal with one of my friends who feels closer to me than most blood relatives, a friend who has more fight in her than many brave lifetimes combined. There was a tinge of cynicism to her, the final burn at the end of a long, oiled rope. She’d been fighting and fighting against so many of the same issues facing the “water protectors” at Standing Rock, except her fight was in our backyard, and no one listened.
On the surface, this corner of the web seems like just a space for food, for recipes, for entertaining, but my interest in food has always been more than the way ingredients come together. Food is a basic right. It’s a unifier, a language, a way to commune, to learn, to share, but water, water is even more. It’s fundamental, a life source. But they are all in jeopardy, suffering attacks from every angle, usually from those who will be the last to suffer the losses.
This plate is about leftovers. I wish the narrative it inspired was cheerier, was about continuing the warm, cozy cocoon of Thanksgiving, but the thing is, the threads of that cocoon are tenuous. This story is one of picking up the pieces, of salvaging the more admirable bits and not wasting them. We, who have so much, need not waste. We need not waste our food, our riches, our power, all for the ability to oppress. We must pick up smaller pieces and build more, create sustainability.
If I were the biblical sort, I’d reread of the symbols promised to signal the end times. If I were in a poetic mood, I might turn to Victorian fears of good versus evil because these days can feel so blindingly hopeless, and yet, I have to believe in some lingering optimism, that the remnants will create something completely new and promising. When we face restraints and limits, our true creativity and possibilities must rise.
Make stuffing into latkes. Then take a stand on not just the news-glorified protests, but take a stand on those issues that creep to the edges of your backyard. Admittedly, I’m still figuring out where to direct my attentions, but in the meantime, I’ll be donating to those who are braver than me, to those who stand up for me even without knowing my name.
Here’s to remnants becoming inspiration.
Stuffing Latkes with Salmon, Crème Fraîche & Capers
About this Recipe: Perfect for serving brunch after a big holiday gathering. Mix in leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes for variations on the leftovers theme, using 1 egg for every 2 cups leftovers.
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.
Ah brunch, society’s way of justifying lazing about, eating too much, doing too little and marrying salty, sweet and saucy (mimosas anyone?).
Brunch is my favorite meal of the day, but as farm duties kick into full swing, it’s a meal that no longer fits the schedule (not that the Urban Farmer is the 6 am sort by any means). To indulge in brunch while we still could, I whipped up a little celebration of spring to be enjoyed in the mid-morning hours.
I first shared this brunch with the fine, fashionable folks at ModCloth, who asked me for some tips on supporting local agriculture, a topic I love to bring to the table! Since not everyone has the luxury of a fine fella who digs in the dirt all day and then comes home with fresh, flavorful greens, I’ll share some of those same tips here too. (This is also a good time to tell you I’m a ginger now!)
What’s your favorite part about farmers markets and other local food spaces?
Conversation + flavor. When people plant, grow, and harvest a vegetable, or milk a cow or goat to make cheese, they tend to be very enthusiastic about that product! Whether it be the quirky name of the heirloom seed or the temperament of the baby goats, this dialogue is such a far cry from asking the produce clerk at the grocery store for more details on the fennel. Plus, local purveyors can pick when the produce is ripe, since they aren’t shipping their product across the globe.
Do you have any tips on how to get the most out of a farmers market experience?
Shop with your taste buds and an open mind! Many farmers will give out samples, or offer up herbs and fruits to smell. Think of the farmers market like a cooking show challenge. Here’s what is available and flavorful at the moment, now be creative and turn it into tonight’s dinner! Also, don’t be afraid to stick to your food values! Ask the farmers if they grow organically or pesticide-free (even if they aren’t certified, which is often too expensive for small-scale producers). They risk more for their sustainable approach and should be rewarded accordingly.
Okay, so you’ve scored big at the farmers market…now what? Any tips for using your finds in a way that minimizes potential food waste?
Wasting less is a huge priority of mine, so much so that I added a “Waste Not, Want Not” category to my blog to share my experiments and pursuits. One of the biggest ways to mitigate food waste is to compost, so at least waste and scraps won’t be taking up space in a landfill, where they present a slew of problems. Some cities pick up compost with trash and recycling, but unfortunately, Pittsburgh is not yet one of those cities.
If you don’t have your own yard, talk to a neighbor about sharing a bin or contact the managers of a local community garden to see if you can drop off a bin of approved compostables. Or, talk to my farmer and me!
As far as consuming food to waste less, it comes down to kitchen creativity and experimentation! Try a version of my Turnip Chips & Turnip Greens Dip as a way to use the entire vegetable. Use the end cuts of vegetables like carrots and celery to make a Homemade Stock. The homemade version is usually more flavorful, cheaper and healthier than even the organic store-bought varieties. Juicing is a great way to clean out the refrigerator, and there are quick pickling methods that are not intimidating at all.
In the spirit of “Waste Not, Want Not,” I shared a recipe for a Rhubarb Simple Syrup with ModCloth readers. Rhubarb is so nostalgic, since my mom was one of the few neighbors who knew what to do with the stalky vegetable when most people thought it was a weed. This Simple Syrup is perfect for easy brunch cocktails or an afternoon homemade soda (just add sparkling water).
Rather than strain and pitch the fruit from the simple syrup infusion, use it to make a sweet and tart topping for waffles, which I made with local cornmeal and fresh, homegrown basil. I topped it off with Rose Water Whipped Cream for a truly fresh, spring flavor.
And if you truly want to eat brunch like this part-time farmer, you DRENCH everything in PURE maple syrup!
p.s: Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the #BTS with my trusty sidekick.
p.p.s: This post was presented in collaboration with ModCloth, but all opinions are my own.
Whole-Grain, Cornmeal, Basil Belgian Waffles with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote & Rose Water Whipped Cream
Yield: about 5 8-inch Belgian style waffles.
“Why don’t you order me a decaf, and I’ll get us a table?” Her question was more of a directive, as she scanned the room of laptops to find the ideal spot. The sun was still shining, but it was clear they had already dined and were on their post-dinner treat. Date night!
His large frame sauntered to the counter, with as much side-to-side motion as forward progress, and he followed her instructions. One decaf cappuccino coming right up- a modest indulgence for a weeknight romance. As the steamers steamed, they sat together and did that act we so rarely do these days- they conversed, he in his blazer, and she in her formal turtleneck. The coffee order arrived on the counter, and the woman, whose jawline had long since eroded, emerged creakily from her place on the equally stiff, wooden church pew.
She retrieved the mug and saucer with great care, the viscosity threatening to rupture with every small jostling. The distance between her and her love seemed to lengthen with every minuscule movement. She held the saucer with one hand, and the other palm outstretched, hovering over the cappuccino design as if her fingers held magical powers. Her eyebrows raised, as if to say “ta da,” and she began a little balancing waltz.
She matched each shimmy forward with a little short-and-stout-teapot motion. Her eyes glanced at her husband, whose large frame commanded the trendy black metal chair on which he sat. The entire world had changed around them- wifi, latte art, email, twitter, OkCupid, GMOs, wars, president after president- and through it all, they still managed to look to each other, as if they were as young and in love as the day they first sipped after-dinner coffees together.
“You know you are a ballerina,” he said in response to her waltz. In a room full of laptops, he only saw her. As she arrived at the table without spillage, she was exactly that- a young, lovely, graceful ballerina. From my corner of email and wifi and Instagram hearts and general nonsense, I melted, I completely MELTED! It was a fleeting, precious little glimpse, a cinematic romance masked by wrinkles. The truest sweetness is often buried beneath the overlooked, the outliers.
Rhubarb may be the stalky mystery the neighbors mistake for a weed growing at the edge of their garage, but it’s the stalky growth my mom taught me to appreciate and savor for its surprise sweetness. With this recipe, it’s even easier to take advantage of rhubarb’s spring emergence.
Here’s to the romantics and hidden sweetness!
Strawberry Rhubarb Simple Syrup & Compote
yield: Makes about 16 ounces
About This Recipe: The simmered fruit leftover from infusing the simple syrup makes a sweet, tart compote, perfect for waffles or mixing into a parfait. You’ll waste less and enjoy more!
David lifted Didi into the air, and her satiny blue skirt’s ruffles erupted like a firework beneath his grip. They were now husband and wife, and this dance floor embrace was the moment I wanted to preserve in my memory- nothing but satin, lace and love! In the same weekend, a mere bridge away, I watched Chris and Dana embrace their 10-lb bundle of puppy joy, feeling the slipper like warmth of her fur brush against their ridiculously happy, tired faces.
These satin, lace, and puppy joys emerged from times of illnesses, deaths and heartaches, which only heightened these highs. In its ebbs and flows, this life can feel like one big sine curve- an alternating act of “all” or “nothing.” My kitchen corroborates these intense swings- the oven will warm, churning out fancy cake after fancy cake, for back-to-back birthdays, dinner parties and holiday gatherings, followed by the cold oven periods and slim pickings.
During the “all” times, we swim in desserts. The refrigerator bursts with an odd assortment of frostings, fillings and cake scraps, and even my intense sweet tooth feels overwhelmed. I give desserts away right and left, but shamefully, I’ve yet to hit the sweet spot of zero waste, and of all the morsels to hit the compost bin, dark chocolate pains my sensibilities the most.
In fear of a half-frosted cake, I always seem to make too much chocolate ganache- a good problem in the chocolate sense, a bad problem when it ends up as compost. As I whipped up a mid-week dessert-craving cure- my trusty nut butter blondies– I eyed the leftover ganache in the refrigerator. Sure, it could be frozen and maybe be enough for the next cake, but in the end, I’d probably end up stuck in a leftover cycle. Wanting an immediate solution, I broke off chunks of the pliable chocolate and stirred it directly into the batter. Out came an even better blondie- a brownie.
I’m still figuring out how to extend the grin-until-your-jaw-hurts moments through the sadder/stressful swings, but in the meantime, at least I am finding more ways to stretch dessert abundances more and waste less. What are your tricks?
Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (Gluten Free)
yield: 9×13 pan
About this Recipe: If you have leftover ganache after baking a cake, save it for these brownies. If you don’t have ganache to add, simply omit it and follow the rest of this recipe to make my go-to blondies. I used approximately 1 cup of soft ganache (not liquid), but as a chocolate lover, I imagine the more, the better, so experiment! (more…)