I’m in need of an escape to foreign lands but right now the best I can do is a good book. I just finished a book that I borrowed from my veggie cuzzie, who shares my penchant for a simpler life if not my habitual craving for lamb. Her verve for eating organic and local is intoxicating, which is how I came to read The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball.
Kimball recounts how she turned in her Manhattan hipster attire for a couple of draft horses, weed-pulling, and a man with unwavering faith in himself and in farming. In my opinion, Mark (her husband-to-be in the book) is a show stealer. Christian Grey has nothing on this guy; Mark is a MAN. In a comical way, I picture him as a real-life Westley, a rustic Adonis, who seems to be able to make decisions confidently off-the-cuff, wake up at ungodly hours, and did I mention this man can cook?
But Kimball is a force of her own, openly sharing her identity crisis between city girl and farmer. Meeting Mark at a time when she couldn’t have been much older than I am, she surprises herself with how unnaturally natural farming feels. As they embark on building a full-diet CSA farm together, Kimball gracefully invites the reader into the new world she finds herself in. Hard work is an understatement but Kimball doesn’t whine about it or overly romanticize what it is to be a farmer. She fully recognizes that her participation in that lifestyle is her choice and I certainly admire her for it.
On top of the snuck-in lessons in life and agrarian vocabulary, Kimball made me exceptionally hungry. As morbid as it sounds, even the butchering scenes prompted me to wonder where I can find organic, grass-fed beef liver. Last night, after finishing the book, I found myself falling asleep thinking about how I could go about making that vibrant yellow organic butter she kept mentioning. Lard even sounds like a good idea.
Very early on in the book, Kimball prepares her first meal for all the farmers and Mark in order to give her body a break from hard labor:
I heated the skillet on two burners and sautéed onion in butter,
adding some diced carrots and the tomatoes and a bit of water to
steam the kale. I covered the skillet with something that looked
like a manhole cover, and when the kale was soft I dug shallow
divots in it and cracked a dozen eggs into the holes to poach.
Then I minced some garlic and basil together and mashed it into a
knob of butter and spread that on sliced of bread I’d found in the
cupboard. I put the garlicky bread under the broiler, and just as
the crew walked in from the field I pulled the tray of fragrant toasts
out of the oven with a flourish, dealt pieces onto plates, topped them
with the kale and poached eggs, and crowned each with a spoonful
of cottage cheese and a grind of black pepper. (Kimball 15)
I had to stop reading and eat.
This is my recipe version of Kristin Kimball’s first meal as a farmer. Multiply by the number of people you are feeding.
The First Wealth
~ a slice of good bread (either fresh from a real bakery or something you baked yourself but please do me a favor and don’t use anything bought in a store)
~ roasted garlic clove (I’m in the habit of having a whole head roasted and ready in my fridge)
~ couple leaves of basil chopped or sliced into ribbons
~ 2 tablespoons of your best butter
~ two big handfuls of kale, chopped and large ribs removed
~ about half a large tomato or one small one (I like to remove the seeds)
~ 4 baby carrots chopped
~ a couple slices of red onion
~ one egg
~ full fat ricotta cheese
~ sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat adding onion (creating one of the best smells on the planet) then carrots kale and lastly the tomato. Season to taste and add a little water to ensure there’s enough moisture in the pan. Make a divot in the veggies and add the egg to poach. While the egg is cooking, mash the basil, garlic clove and the other tablespoon of butter together. Spread on your slice of bread and broil or toast in the oven. Top your bread with veggies and egg once everything is ready to go. Serve with a scoop of ricotta cheese with cracked pepper.
It’s ridiculously satisfying and worth savoring just like Kimball’s book. Unlike the food documentaries that attempt to scare the public into making healthier, environmentally-safer, and conscious decisions about what to fuel your body with, The Dirty Life is a love letter to the public, a seductive invitation to choose wiser in life as well as the kitchen table.