Harvest and Honey

An open-ended love letter, culinarily inspired.


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the biggest apple

I’ll begin at the very end.

“Where you headed, ma’am?” He asks as he effortlessly weaves the cab up and down the busy streets of Brooklyn. “Indianapolis,” I reply, staring out the window. They call it “the concrete jungle,” and on this particularly gray, windy Wednesday morning in late September, it was living up to its name quite well. I watch the city fade into the background as we work our way toward Jersey.  A perfect view – a favorite view. Although I much preferred the view just two days prior, as I made my way into the city, not out of it  …  the one where the city gets closer with every passing second and you can feel its energy without even trying. I love that about New York. It is one powerful, beautiful, crazy, overwhelming, treasure of a city and it’s always captivated me, ever since my parents first took me to visit when I was 18 years old.

We’re on the bridge now and it’s like watching an old movie reel scrolling by in split-second glimpses, perfectly framed by the bridge’s rails and beams. The ubiquitous sounds of the horns and traffic and roaring world outside the cab’s windows contribute the soundtrack to our ride.

The latest edition of Saveur magazine is peeking out of my carry-on bag and I feel a mixture of both happiness and sadness; happy that I was able to be a part of such a wonderfully memorable two days at the Saveur Blog Awards and sadness that it all came and went too quickly, as all good things tend to do. Now that it’s over, I can see it more clearly – really appreciate the time I spent in the city – the who, what, when, where, and whys of it all …

 

Who. Saveur Magazine, as I’ve waxed pathetically about in previous posts, is an all-time favorite food read for me and has provided me with the ultimate fodder for fueling a lifelong love of all things culinary. What can I say? I’m a true fan. Oh, and it’s pronounced Sah-v-oor if you’re wondering (I was).

What. The annual blog awards. I have to remind myself that this isn’t necessarily a huge to deal to everyone on the planet, but when you’re totally wrapped up in what it is that you do, and you throw so much of yourself at it for so long, it’s a big deal to you. To me. Yes, it was a big deal to me.

When. I think these awards came at a particularly poignant time for me. As a full-time mom with a husband who has an incredibly demanding, time-consuming career, parenthood is so very much at the forefront of my life right now – my every waking moment is calibrated toward it in one way or another. So, a getaway that was truly about me and something that I love was just amazing – surreal almost. I’ve learned that by maintaining this world of food and stories and photos, I am able to be a better mother to my kids because I’ve tended to myself in an important way; a way that I’m not sure I even knew I needed before I set out on this blogging journey of mine, to use a cliched expression. It definitely feels like a journey though, I can tell you that much. Getting to hang out with a bunch of other people who do what I do and like what I like felt really good. The timing was so, so right.

Where. My favorite place. The city that never gets old, never disappoints, never fails to excite and inspire. The city that never sleeps. I still love you, New York.

Why. I was there because I’d worked hard at something that I really loved and some people happened to have liked it. And that felt pretty good.

How. The funny thing was, by the time the awards rolled around on the last night, it seemed like most people had almost forgotten that they were even a thing – that they were even going to take place at all. I found myself standing in awe on the rooftop deck of the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on the night of the awards, staring out at what has to be one of the most incredible views anywhere in New York. I will never forget that. It’s the kind of view that makes you feel simultaneously on top of the world and painfully, insignificantly small all at the same time. They passed tray after tray of delicious small bites and I mingled with the wonderful new friends I’d made over the course of the past two days and tried my best to soak it up and appreciate it, every little bit of it.

 

I’m almost positive my cabbie just caught me smiling. Our eyes meet in the rear-view and he’s caught me red-handed, basking in my reverie. He smiles. I smile. He turns on the radio. We both laugh. It is, and I kid you not, Alicia Keys belting out, ”  … this place will inspire you … make you feel brand new …  there’s nothing you can’t do. Now you’re in New York … New York … New York.” Continue reading


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the gift

Balsamic Caramel Pears with Toasted HazelnutsBalsamic Poached Pears with Honey and ThymeBalsamic Poached Pears with Honey and Thyme

G-67. G-67? Calling ticket number G-67 to window 12 please. That’s “G” as in giraffe. G-67 … 

Sitting in my grey plastic chair, I shuffled my feet restlessly on the cracked linoleum floor and searched through my oversized purse for something to snack on, to help pass the time. I’d been waiting at the DMV for far longer than I cared to and was beginning to wonder if the person sitting next to me could hear my stomach growling. I’ll admit that all of the riffling and digging that I was doing in my purse had also served to mask the rather embarrassing sound that my stomach was making. It would growl and I would dig, it would growl and I would dig. I must’ve looked more like I’d lost my mind than anything else, now that I’m thinking about it.

G-68? G-68. Calling ticket number G-68 … 

I reached down to double-check my ticket number for the dozenth time, hoping that it had magically changed to G-68, but alas, it had not. “H-12” it read and who knows how long I’ll be here at this rate, I groaned to no one in particular. In the midst of my internal temper tantrum, I began to scan the sea-like crowd of people to count how many had been there before me … wait, was she here when I got here? I think this couple walked in after me … I’m surely going soon … My restless feet they shuffled still, and my hands had yet to locate something edible in my bag.

And that was when I saw her. The tiny woman with the biggest hat I’d ever seen on a person that wasn’t a cowboy or at a Kentucky Derby party. It was a fancy sort of hat; formal, frilly, and with a brim that jutted out from her forehead and made an impressive, dramatic sweep around her face, dipping down behind her narrow shoulder and then back up again around her neck. I surveyed this hat the way one might a celebrity who’d just entered the room. It stole my attention, piqued my curiosity, and all but made me forget my starving, growling stomach. It was eggplant. The hat’s color that is – it was decidedly eggplant. The woman in the eggplant hat had a large basket tucked under her own plastic chair, which was only one row in front of mine and three seats to the right. I strained my neck to get a better glimpse of what was inside her basket because at that point, not knowing wasn’t an option. What does a tiny woman with an exceedingly large hat need a big basket for while she waits to renew her license? I wondered this as I sat there.

This is the part of my utterly random story where I fall out of my chair. Not an all-the-way-to-the-ground sort of fall – the kind that can produce injury and bruised egos – but just a slight tumble forward, rather, causing me to lose some of the items in my bag and helping the legs of my chair to screech backward on the floor. It was the screech that caused her to turn around. The woman shifted slightly in her chair and looked down at me then, and smiled. I could clearly see the contents of the brown wicker basket now. It was filled with pears – plump, attractive green pears. Huh. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see in that basket, but it wasn’t pears that’s for certain.

Clearly sensing my instant fascination and curiosity, the woman in the eggplant hat kindly offered me one, with nothing more than an outstretched arm and a nod of her head, as if to say it’s okay … it’s not poisoned.

I’d yet to actually say anything out loud, so she did. “In my culture, pears are a symbol of immortality, longevity … survival,” she informed me with a kind, warm smile and very broken English. She was from China.  Continue reading


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truffled pumpkin pappardelle alfredo with frizzled sage

{Corrected post! Apologies for the re-send guys, WordPress sent out my scheduled post prematurely, before I had all of my editing done … all of my I’s dotted, T’s crossed, etc.}

 

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016   12:35 a.m.

The house is eerily/weirdly/abnormally quiet right now. I suppose the fact that it’s just after midnight and everyone is fast asleep in their beds would suggest that the house is quiet – that it should be quiet. But normally it isn’t. Usually on any given night around this time, at least the ones during which I happen to be awake for whatever reason, the house is still awake too, making its last sounds and heaving its last sighs of the day before settling in to the night. The last clunks of the clothes tumble in the dryer downstairs, the dishwasher setting switches from “wash” to “dry” and begins its low, lulling hum. The clock in the bathroom ticks ticks ticks away while the two cats, nocturnal beings that they are, play-fight in the living room until one cries uncle, waves the white flag, or whatever it is that cats do to signal that they’ve had enough … the day is done … it’s time for bed. 

But I can’t hear any of this right now, these normal midnight sounds, as I stand in the kitchen. Save for the clicking of this keyboard, it is dead quiet. No wind in the leaves outside, no clothes in the dryer, no fighting cats. Just quiet.   Continue reading


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dragon’s tooth

IMG_4256Homemade Flour TortillasHomemade Flour TortillasHomemade Flour Tortillas

You don’t know you have a fear of heights until you do.

I almost didn’t make it to the top that day; almost threw in the proverbial towel right before the peak. Mentally and emotionally hovering somewhere in the gray matter between giving up and tasting sweet success, there I stood. Struggled is more like it, actually. There I struggled. I watched as people flew right by me on the way up: men, women, children, people carrying children, puppies even. It seemed as if I was the only living being there that day who was having any trouble whatsoever with the climb. I could just tell people that I made it to the top, I thought to myself. No one would need to know that I’d chickened out.

I was working my way up to Dragon’s Tooth, a rock monolith that sits between the Roanoke and Craig County lines in Southwestern Virginia, not far from my hometown. With a group of friends, I’d walked for an hour up the side of the mountain and had, until that moment, remained blissfully unaware of just how high we’d gotten. You don’t know you have a fear of heights until you do, and I guess you don’t fully realize how high you’ve climbed until you look down, and that’s when I fell. It was when I looked down.

“Lauren! Are you okay?!” My concerned and caring friends rushed to my side, helped me up and gave me the sweetly obligatory pep-talk that you give to people when they’ve literally and figuratively lost their footing … when they need a swift kick in the pants. I had psyched myself out almost completely by that point. I’d looked down, gotten scared, and convinced myself that I couldn’t do it, that I was going to fall. And then I did.

A self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.

“I’m okay. I’m okay.” I’d muttered, mostly just suffering from a bad case of embarrassment. I wiped off my dusty, slightly bloody self and stared blankly up the side of the ridge. Alright then; I can do this.

Continue reading


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chocolate chai snack cakes with pumpkin & brown sugar buttercream

My brother used to come home from school when we were kids and immediately make his way to the kitchen pantry. There, waiting ever so patiently on the dark, crowded shelves were boxes of his beloved snack cakes. He liked all the shapes and brands I think, but I’m almost positive – if memory serves – that his affection was greatest for the ones shaped like zebras. Why, I’m not sure. But he loved them, those little cellophane-wrapped black and white striped cakes. He’d eat a two-pack every day without fail … you could almost set your watch to it. I loved those after school snack hours because it was a way to decompress from the busyness of the day and we always ended up laughing a lot, my Mom, brother and I.

I’d sample those snack cakes from time to time, but I always found them odd; almost good, but mostly dry and lacking in flavor. They were factory perfect though, and always seasonal in their appearance, shape and color. They were not, however, seasonal when it came to the actual ingredients listed on the back of the box. No, those stayed the same day after day, month after month, decade after decade. The cakes I’ve got for you in this post are nothing like those plasticine, mass-produced things my brother used to inhale all the time. Far from them, actually. Showcasing the season’s iconic and ever worshipped star, these pumpkin-laced cakes are one of my favorite things I’ve made in a while. The chocolate cake itself is fantastic – moist and incredibly flavorful and fuss-free, just like I like it. The frosting is what gets me most excited though, if I’m honest here, because it’s smart … there’s an extra step in the assembly process for the buttercream that requires you to cook the pumpkin puree with the brown sugar and spices which might seem unnecessary but I assure you it’s the key to a great pumpkin frosting. By cooking it, you remove excess moisture from the pumpkin and avoid creating a frosting that will eventually get runny and soggy and well, gross. Continue reading


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true north

They say love works in mysterious ways, and I know this to be true.

The love of my life woke me from my sleep last night. The alarm clock I usually keep next to my bed hasn’t been unpacked from our recent move, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it never will. So, I reached for my phone and squinted a little as its screen came to life. My husband stirred and rolled over in his sleep. The large glowing numbers read 3:25 AM and I sighed, quickly shutting it off. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and fumbled for the little brown notebook that I’ve taken to stashing under the mattress so my children’s little hands can’t find it. They find EVERYTHING. The moon last night was particularly bright, almost as if it was throwing me a bone in that otherwise tired and bumbling moment in which I’d found myself. Rubbing my eyes, I scribbled a few words inside the notebook, working with what little moonlight I could and hoping that I’d be able to make sense of it in the morning.

 

Compass directions. Exploration and discovery.

True north.

 

Satisfied, I got back in bed. I’d been laboring over the most deceptively simple question for the better part of a week and had begun to lose hope that I’d actually be able to find the right answer. A food blogger friend of mine, Valentina Solfrini (by way of equally friendly blogger Renee Byrd), challenged me recently to explain or at the very least, simply think about why I love food. Easy! I thought. This post will practically write itself. Right?

Wrong. In fact I’ll admit to never having had a tougher time composing a post here and I think that alone gives evidence to the significance of the question, at least for me. It’s a murky one, this question; its answer wholly unclear and far deeper than meets the eye. But I will try my best to answer it, as there is one thing I know for certain: I do love food. So far as non-human loves go, food is the greatest of them all – it is the love of my life.

I love it in the pure, unabashed, time-tested, born like this, wake-you-from-your-sleep (apparently) kind of way that definitely comprises a big part of who I am, and it always has … in one way or another. Professing that love is easy. I could do it Julie Andrews style from the top of the highest peak with a chorus of music playing all around me, the hills alive with the sound of it all. But trying to explain it – trying to sort out and define it – that’s another story entirely. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down, after all? So yes, the ways may be many – mysterious, strange, some obvious, some not – but there are plenty of them to go around, the ways in which my love for food works. Let me (see if I can) count them for you … Continue reading


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eye scream, use cream

The large, decades-old van lumbered to a stop in front of our driveway, its engine idling loudly … making it impossible not to hear it even from inside the house. I peered out at the time-worn vehicle from the small slit I’d created in the blinds on our front porch and watched as the man in the driver’s seat slowly turned the key backwards, bringing the noisy van to a lifeless state for a moment. The lettering on the side of the van was faded and peeling slightly; it was all matte gray and pink now but I’d imagined that it had probably been a shining blue and bright red during its hey day. “Good Humor, it read. I stood there trying to decide if the faded, worn-out look of the van was more charming –  in a vintage, peddler’s mall kind of way – or creepy, in the “always make sure to steer clear of big commercial vans, Lauren,” kind of way. I settled on the former.

“Who’s that, Mommy?” Elle asked.

“It’s the ice cream truck,” I replied, and then repeated myself to better emphasize that this was supposed to be a happy, positive thing. “It’s the ice cream truck!!!”

“Wowwww. Amazing! What does it do?” She stared in wide-eyed wonder at the ice cream truck that time had all but forgotten and at that moment, the music started playing and we made our way outside. A wonky, slightly distorted version of “Yankee Doodle” was playing and then it stopped suddenly, flatlining for a few quiet moments. We heard one loud, swift thump come from the inside of the van and then the music started up again. Louder this time; more sure of itself. Elle looked puzzled and delighted and happily anxious and rightfully so. A child’s first encounter with the neighborhood ice cream truck is a magical, memorable thing, even if the truck and its musical offerings aren’t in the most pristine of conditions. Bless its heart. Continue reading