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On the Farm

My dear children,

There is something intensely satisfying about eating a meal that took forethought and planning. I don’t mean making a shopping list and hitting the grocery store. I mean the way your mouth already waters in expectation as you prepare the soil for planting seeds that will someday soon become your salad; or biting into a tomato that tastes like a sunny afternoon; or a slice of bread made light and fluffy by a sourdough culture, with a dab of butter that you yourself churned. They used to say that food is a delight, that meals are an experience to be enjoyed. It’s easy to be reminded of this when we fill our plate with natural ingredients. And you don’t necessarily have to live on a farm to enjoy them.

As a kid, I spent a few summers on a family friend’s farm in Eastern Washington. I was just a clueless teenager from the city who put way too much thought into tan lines. I thought it would be fun. It wasn’t. I thought that goats were cute. They are. But they are also mean, and they seemed to enjoy stomping on my sandal-clad bare toes the entire time I tried to milk them. Farm life was much more grueling than I'd expected. I wasn’t at all accustomed to the kind of teamwork that a place like that requires to stay afloat. The thing that stood out to me the most? Everything we did revolved around food: producing it, preserving it, selling it.

We spent entire mornings climbing fruit trees and filling buckets with sun-ripened fruit. We spent entire days canning our bounty into shiny glass jars, till our fingers hurt, till there was a jewel-toned mosaic of them that flashed colorfully against the cobwebs of the dusty cellar. Every afternoon was spent in the garden: gathering, weeding, selecting for today and leaving for tomorrow. This was where my bizarre fascination with smelling my hands after touching tomato vines was born. This was where I learned that fresh sugar peas actually do taste sweeter than candy. On that sweaty farm with the cow-patties and the hay-dust and the scent of diesel engines, there were evening meals full of pleasant conversation and ingredients that had never seen the inside of a grocery store. I discovered the delicate balance between man and nature, and I didn’t know the word for it yet, but I was becoming a serious foodie.

Sitting on the wooden porch, stringing the green beans we’d just picked, life was quiet. There was nothing but a sky that went on forever over the rolling sage and wheat fields, the relentless drumbeat of the massive irrigation system in the distance, the warm breeze that carried in the smell of wet dirt. I was holding in my hands the simple ingredients that fed our bodies with intense flavor, and intense nutrition. That place woke something up in me that I try to recreate on some scale in my own kitchen: the nostalgia of cooking natural ingredients in old-fashioned, traditional ways. There is something truly magical in knowing that the piece of sourdough bread I’m biting into tastes exactly the same as it did centuries ago. There is something empowering about knowing that no matter what happens or where we are, if you can get cream, you can make butter; if you can get wheat, water and salt, you can make bread.

I hope that if life takes you far from here, if you ever miss me, you might feel a bit closer to home by recreating the flavors of the past.



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