I think of myself as an urbanite. My earliest memories include frying an egg on the miraged surface of a Phoenix sidewalk, needing a new Care Bear from the neighborhood Rite Aid, and tapping a soccer ball between orange cones at Kiwanis park. That was the first six years of my life. Then came the family move to rural Pennsylvania. The next twelve years of my life were spent on 40 acres of field and forest. I treated those twelve years of country living like an extended vacation from my real home of urban jungle. This past Christmas, over a dinner conversation with my Los Angelite cousin and his wife, Jarrod let drop that he enjoyed his childhood visits to “The Farm.” I choked on a swallow of wine. “The Farm?” I croaked, worried about where this could be going. “Sure,” he admitted, a bit concerned over my reaction. “We called your house The Farm.”
“Say it ain’t so,” my carefully cultivated cultural side begged. In my heart of hearts, however, I knew he was right. I had kind of grown up on a farm. Most kids can talk about having a dog or a cat as a pet. As in a singular four-legged member of the family. At one point, my family had two dogs, two cats, one bird, three fish, one horse, and seven sheep. Farm? Gulp. I fear so. At the time, I had convinced myself we were playing farm, just like we played Barbies or played house with our imaginary husbands and pregnant pillow-bellies. My family wasn’t truly like our rural neighbors, those uncouth farmers. I mean, once upon a time we had owned a house penned in by actual sidewalks instead of electric fences. My delusion that I was a city girl stuck in a country life clearly lasted until my cousin burst my bubble just this year.
Now I find myself wondering if I’m not a country girl after all. A country girl who has chosen a city life for herself. My house is once again bounded by a cement sidewalk belt, but some of my best memories are of my childhood summers: the scrape of bark against the soles of my feet as I scaled trees, the prick of pinecones on my palms as I gathered “grenade” ammunition for “war”, the tang of sheep straw in my nostrils as a velvety nose nuzzled grain in my hand, the sharp snap of sheets drying on the laundry line. I remember falling asleep to those last golden summer rays of 8:30 pm and in the quiet twilight listening to my dad weed one more row of potatoes in his acre-patch garden, the clang of his hoe bouncing against barn and house as he struck a rock. (Not really a barn per se. More of a large detached garage. It wasn’t really a farm. Was it? Really?)
In my current life, I’m surrounded by city. A mere seven mile drive will take me from my front porch to the front stoop of downtown Pittsburgh. I can walk to my dentist, coffee shop, and play ground. I could fry an egg on my sidewalk. Well, a mushy, mostly-cooked egg at least. If I wanted to explore my city girl side, I guess I would spend my time shopping at malls (I’m convinced there’s a pair of Jimmy Choos somewhere in my future), getting pedicures (which I don’t do often enough), and sipping Mimosas at Sunday brunch (definitely don’t do that often enough). As it is, I am most happy these days in the company of farmers. I love our local farmer’s markets. I attend one religiously and am planning on expanding my horizons to include at least two more. I get thrilled on CSA drop-off day when a basket overflowing with fresh, local produce arrives at my door step. I eschew my local grocery store’s Californian produce in favor of asparagus that popped its scaly head through dirt located within a half-hour’s drive of my house. Just this morning, I happily traded $12 for three varieties of kale. I’m a country girl, after all.
And I love my city life. I love that my urban surroundings make me appreciate with new eyes the ancient rhubarb plant flourishing beside my parent’s barn (garage?). I love that I know potatoes grow in the ground and that asparagus gone to seed looks like a hazy cloud of weeds. Watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution this winter, I was horrified, while sadly not surprised, to find generations of kids growing up not recognizing vegetables, let alone knowing where they came from. I want to embrace the city life, but not lose track of my country roots. When a carrot arrives at my four-star restaurant table, I want to know that sucker thrived in dirt.
Springtime brings out my country side. I wait patiently through months of winter dormancy until those early spring veggies start to appear at my weekend farmer’s market. The baby lettuces, asparagus bunches, rhubarb stalks. Savory promise of the bounty to follow shortly. I stalk flower and vegetable markets for signs proclaiming “Heirloom” like I was searching for rare family jewels instead of a rare striped tomato. I line my deck with hopeful shoots of green in terra-cotta planters, imagining sweaty afternoons of August tomato harvest, canning, and drying. I re-read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and ponder again the validity of raising my own heritage turkeys in my urban backyard. (Not valid, I’m pretty sure.) Then I run out to get my first pedicure of the season. (Can’t quell the city girl for long, I’m afraid.)
To be inspired to live and eat locally, follow Barbara Kingsolver’s year-long experiment in her memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Learn about seasonal produce via an excellent, interactive site called the Vegetannual. Plant your own garden with seedlings grown according to organic principles from the Frick Greenhouse Project, located in a gorgeous Victorian greenhouse. Plunder your local farmers’ markets and farm stands for asparagus, rhubarb, and early greens, all in high season right now. For my favorite recipes involving asparagus and rhubarb, keep reading…
Lydia’s Rhubarb Pie
My three-year-old niece Lydia helped me pick, clean, and prepare the rhubarb for this delicious pie. Her resulting handiwork was as lovely as it was tasty.
– 4 cups rhubarb chopped into 1-inch pieces
– ¾ cup all-purpose flour
– 1 ¼ cups white sugar (or ¼ less, if you prefer tart to sweet)
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts
– 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine flour and sugar in a large bowl. Mix in rhubarb and stir well to completely coat rhubarb pieces. Let stand 10 minutes.
- Pour rhubarb mixture into prepared pie crust. Cover with top crust. Cut 4 or 5 slots into the top to release steam. (Lydia prefers 4 slots).
- Brush top pie crust with beaten egg.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.
- Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.
Cogan Station Asparagus
– 1 large bunch freshly cut asparagus. Larger pieces tend to be sweeter and more tender.
– 3-4 tablespoons olive oil. If you’re blessed to live near a Wegman’s grocery store, I much prefer using Wegman’s Basting Oil.
– 2 teaspoons spice flavoring of your choice (sea salt, Mrs. Dash, and Krazy Jane’s Mixed-Up Salt are all good options). I am currently enjoying Penzey’s Northwood spice mix, which has a luscious bite of chipolte to it.
* Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.
1. In a large bowl or freezer bag, mix oil and spices.
2. Wash and trim asparagus.
3. Add asparagus to oil mixture and toss to coat.
4. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan.
5. Bake at 500 degrees for 10-12 minutes until tender.