Book Club Tuesday: Dishing Up The Dirt

What is more provocative than finding yourself face to face with beautiful, seasonal produce? Beets attached to their greens. Spring’s first blush of strawberries. Bushels of apples when autumn comes. When you open your mind (and kitchen) to these possibilities the most truly appetizing and memorable experiences happen. Maybe it’s the first day of Spring or maybe it’s the purpose set forth in Andrea Bemis’ new cookbook Dishing Up the Dirt that has me so excited to be in my kitchen. If you’re unfamiliar with Bemis or her blog, Dishing Up the Dirt (for which her cookbook is named after)  she is a farmer in Oregon. Her story of how she came to own Tumbleweed Farm in the PNW is really fascinating. Not a profession she was born into, she came to farming with a desire to grow not only fresh, healthy produce but to cultivate a community of people who share her pride in cooking fresh, seasonal dishes or to inspire those unfamiliar with how delicious local, in-season vegetables and fruits can be.

Reading through her book made me feel very wistful. When I was a child I spent countless hours at my grandparent’s farm. After moving from Ukraine in the 1920s, my grandfather and his family bought farmland located just north of Edmonton, Alberta. Though by the time I came around much had changed on the farm since my dad’s time. The cows were a

Me on “the farm”, circa 2006
thing of the past but my grandmother still kept chickens. They grew all types of vegetables along with apples, raspberries, saskatoon berries, currants, strawberries, and rhubarb. Us kids would play while my dad and uncles tended to the wheat, barley, oats, or canola. Even though my dad left farming to follow his calling, his “free time” was spent on the family land. As I got older, I would sometimes help get my grandparents produce ready for the farmer’s market. My grandmother always spoke of her customers — the lady who would buy currants by the pint or the Edmonton restaurants that would happily stock up on her rhubarb. Thinking back now, it’s the community that really gave my grandparents purpose. To enjoy and share their hard work and passion. This is where my experience intersects with the book. As Andrea so aptly puts it: “But despite all of the hard work that goes into making a meal, cooking and eating are really about one thing: love.”

                                                                  Butternut Molasses Muffins

About a week ago I received DUTD in the mail. As I opened the padded envelop I was struck by the cover — Andrea lugging a huge basket of kale. Not posed, the photo seems to have captured her in a moment unawares. Humble. Not flashy or over-produced, the recipes (which I’ll get to in a moment) are simple to prepare, beautiful on the plate, and unbelievably delicious. The book is divided into seasons but that’s as organized as it gets — she wants people to explore the book and not to feel confined by labels or perceptions. Cookies for breakfast is what I had this morning with my coffee and at her urging I didn’t feel bad. Her Chocolate Chip and Real Mint Cookies are quite incredible. The butter (in my case I use coconut oil) is heated and infused with fresh mint thereby imbuing the cookie with the most wonderful mint flavour. The flavour was subtle, yet honest (not to mention the texture was chewy in a fudge-y way). She also encourages home cooks to explore and experiment, which is what I did with the cookies (as well as the scones and muffins). I took these baking recipes and attempted to ‘veganize’ them. I am happy to report that each recipe was easily converted into a delicious vegan version. In all cases I subbed coconut oil for butter and ‘Chia eggs’ (1 tbsp ground chia whisked w/ 3 tbsp water then left a few minutes to thicken and congeal). Even my husband was surprised — everything turned out really well and the cookies are now on his ‘favourites’ list.

But I think the key to success is that all of the recipes are simple enough that any level of cook can use and/or experiment with them and find success. While firmly plant-based (emphasis on what their farm is producing) there are recipes that use meat, dairy, honey, and eggs. But if you’re vegetarian or vegan there are more than enough recipes to appeal to your diet sensibilities. For instance, when I made this Roasted Beet and Carrot Lentil Salad I used a dairy-free coconut based yogurt in the dressing and omitted the cheese when I made it for a vegan friend (in case you’re wondering my beets aren’t anemic, they were the candy cane variety and lost some of their colour during roasting leaving them a light blush colour). The fresh dill in the recipe totally takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen — one of her favourite herbs to use.

One of the standout recipes for me (so far!) is her Roasted Acorn Squash w/ Tahini and Hazelnuts. There is a place in my house where if you really want to smell what’s cooking you stand at the top of the stairs. Strange but true. If you stand there the most concentrated oven smells permeate the air. So the smell of this squash roasting along with the cinnamon and nutmeg was incredible! The house couldn’t have smelled better! At mealtime this dish certainly continued to amaze — the squash and tahini sauce was MFEO and the texture, well the texture was my favourite part. The squash flesh so smooth and creamy along with the crunch of the nuts and the lemony tahini sauce…needless to say I was impressed. It was what I served my husband and daughter for dinner and it was completely satisfying.

I can honestly say her recipes really are this easy to make and enjoy. Notably, there isn’t a pantry section — all of  the ingredients are easy to source. Just go to your market and pick up what is in season. While not a subscriber to a CSA box myself, I can imagine that if you are a subscriber this would be a perfect cookbook for you because the book is so full of recipes and inspiration. At Andrea’s Tumbleweed Farm they have a CSA program — and judging by her Instagram photos they must be incredible boxes to receive. The only ingredient that stood out to me and was in many of the recipes was walnut oil (she also offers alternative oils to use if walnut isn’t in your kitchen). In terms of kitchen equipment the standard applies — blender, food processor, stove/oven.

I’m really enjoying this cookbook — in less than seven days I’ve already tried 10 recipes. Using the hastag #dutdse on Instagram  or adding photos to my DUTD post on Facebook to showcase what I’m trying and enjoying LOVING! Not being one for sweet coffee-based drinks, I did find her Honey Cardamom Latte warming and ever so lightly sweet (I omitted the coffee from my daughter’s latte and for those of you who aren’t coffee drinkers, just drink it this way as the frothy honey cardamom milk tastes pretty delightful on its own). Perfect for our weekend afternoon during the most dreary transition-season weather.

Mostly this book is about the ingredients. How could it not be? When I think back to my grandmother’s cooking she relied on traditional Ukrainian recipes and flavour-profiles. Fresh, cooked, preserved, or frozen — she employed many methods to share what their farm produced. So while farming or eating farm fresh produce (pulling a carrot from the ground and brushing the dirt off on your pants is about as fresh as it gets) is not a new experience for me, eating with a purpose to culinarily elevate and enjoy produce on a different level is still a new(er) experience for me. Dishing Up the Dirt is most certainly a wonderful addition to any kitchen library and will inspire you to find the joys of local, fresh, and in-season produce. To steal a line from her website, just start by “loving life, one bite at a time.”

Strawberry Salsa
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Harper Wave / Harper Collins Publishers for providing me with a free copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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