Backyard Feast: The Sinful Foodie
By Joshua McNichols, author of the Urban Farm Handbook
We have our priests, too, we foodies. The Greg Atkinsons, the Tamara Murphys. They inspire our pallets with their sermons on a plate. They give the local food movement a moral backbone. We make pilgrimages to their restaurants.
But am I going to invite a priest over to my house? No. Because deep in my heart, I am a sinner. I proudly tell my friends I see no need for salvation. But secretly I fear what Greg would think if he could look in my refrigerator.
He'd see overly-sweetened yogurts, which I use to bulk up my kid's lunches in a pinch. He'd see sweetened peanut butter, because my son rejects all other kinds. And in the freezer, my son's favorite meal. It steams faintly in autumn light like a smoking gun: a frozen pizza. You'd think I'd given up on him already, this finicky seven-year-old teenager of mine.
But not quite yet. A sudden inspiration hits me at a late dinner, which we've had to push until just before the kids' bedtimes due to soccer practice. I offer a twisted display of manliness that awakens his curiosity.
“How much arugula do you think I can pack into one piece of pizza?” I challenge him. My eyes are wild with enthusiasm. I wrap a tight bundle of arugula, almost 2 inches thick, in a broad slice of pizza. It looks like a spliff God and The Devil could share together. This is my gift to him: moral complexity, unexplained.
And then on weekends, we go to church. That is, we grind heirloom grains sourced from a farmer I admire. We ferment pancake batter overnight. We slather the fresh pancakes with cherry jam from neighbor Kate's bug-infested but still-delicious cherries. For lunch, a salad of backyard tomatoes and cucumbers. Drinking water infused with herbs. Snacks harvested from apple and plum trees. The kids wander the yard all day, eating out of hand, making and freezing homemade slushees from what they find.
If local food is a religion, I'm a convert, for sure. But I can't give my kids moral clarity. Sometimes, I'm nothing but a lowly sinner. Still, when I'm given time, when I'm sharing with them what's really important to me, I'm damned holy.
3 T plain (not vanilla) yogurt
2 ¾ cups water (let chlorine evaporate out first if you expect to go for sourdough)
1 pound spelt flour (fresh ground or in bulk from many indie grocery stores)
2 to 4 eggs
3 T oil
1 t vanilla
1 t salt
1 ½ t baking soda
1 ½ t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
Night before, slowly drizzle the water into yogurt, mixing rapidly while pouring. Mix this concoction into flour and let it ferment overnight covered on the counter. If you forget it, over 3 days it will gradually convert to sourdough pancakes.
In the morning, turn oven on “warm-hold” and put in a plate. Stir in brown water atop flour. Observe fantastic gluten development! Beat eggs separately, then stir into batter with oil and vanilla. Thoroughly premix other dry ingredients, then mix them into the batter. Make pancakes! Pile them in the warm oven as you fry them. Serve the steaming pile with butter, syrup and jam. Serves 2 adults + 2 teenagers.