photo of the week 13: a little patch of heaven…
I have some amazing friends.
Three of them share the last name Crum.
Jim and Deb Crum own and work an awesome farm in Kansas, not far from where I live. Although it’s not certified organic, the Crum’s farm is committed to sustainable agricultural practices and employ organic growing methods. They grow heirloom varietals of everything from tomatoes to potatoes. Their produce is pristine and perfect. All of the top restaurants in Kansas City cook with their vegetables.
Their son Dave, the first chef de cuisine at bluestem, is one of the best cooks in town. Though he’s no longer a full-time chef, he’s never far from the stove.
You put excellent produce together with an excellent cook and what do you get? Fantastic dinner parties.
Over the past few years, I’ve been incredibly honored to have been invited to a few dinners at the Crum’s farm. There, where the sky is vast and the trees are big, is a little patch of heaven.
These dinners are always intimate gatherings with friends and family, an evening of great food and great company under the stars.
Deb sets the most wonderful tables for these dinners. She lines hay bails with patchwork quilts, a colorful bench for us to sit on. She makes centerpieces out of fresh flowers from her garden, or mini pumpkins and squashes with colorful leaves in cooler months. And she pulls out her family’s silverware, vintage and lovely, for us to use.
There are always candles, because night inevitably falls over the course of our meal. We huddle by the campfire, wrapped in quilts, and enjoy dessert with hot coffee.
We always arrive in the late afternoon.
After a drink or two, we follow Jim and Deb into their fields to tour their rows-upon-rows of plants. In the springtime, we snap asparagus fresh from the stalk and munch on them as we go. Jim will pull radishes straight from the ground to show us their blushing faces. In the fall, he’ll dig up some potatoes and carry them back to the house. They’ll figure in our dinner, somewhere.
Back at the pit, Dave tends to the fire.
Dave loves meat. He lives and breathes meat. And he knows a lot about meat.
Actually, he knows a lot about food in general. I call him the foodepedia.
Dave also loves vegetables. Actually, he just loves food. And he loves to cook.
A vegetarian could die happy at the Crum’s table. There are peas, fresh from the field and shucked that day, stewed with tomatoes and onions. Chard cooked with raisins comes studded with chopped hazelnuts. Baby carrots, halved, are simply griddled until tender. Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and asparagus – if the Crums grow it, it will show up somewhere on the dinner table, all of it freshly picked earlier that day. Even garlic gets pressed and made into soup with lots of butter. This isn’t just farm to table, this is farm at the table.
Dave gets inspired by all different cuisines, but mostly by Latin flavors. I’m convinced he should have been born a Spaniard.
Once, he was going through an Argentine phase – about the time that Francis Mallman released his Seven Fires cookbook, actually. We had homemade chapas, and milk bread buns the size of my head. He threw two slabs of proveletta cheese in a skillet and dressed them with olive oil and herbs. Setting the skillet directly onto the coals, he let the cheese go until it was bubbly and hot. That was also the meal that ended with rich, luscious slices of Mallman’s recipe for dulce de leche caramel.
That was a bad night for my thighs.
Earlier this year, he made what I dubbed a “cheesy rice bake” – essentially a rice casserole in a skillet. Flecked with scallions and roughly glued together with pockets of melted cheese, it was excellent. There was also a cassoulet-like skillet of Christmas lima beans with bacon, and a colorful bowl of grilled scallions dressed with walnut oil and topped with chopped eggs and chopped walnuts. That dinner ended with a gorgeous ricotta tart served with raspberry-walnut compote.
That was a bad night for my thighs too.
Yes, Dave is also an excellent pastryman. Once, he made a boozy pear trifle with cake soaked in homemade applejack. It was smothered in whipped cream. This posts reminds me that I need to ask him to make that trifle again for me.
For this thirteenth photo of the week, I give you a bowl of roasted beets (from his parents’ farm, of course) that Dave had smashed and scattered over a bed of buttery, local cheese (the “Prairie Bloom” from Goatsbeard Farm). I love the brilliant color of the beets and the rustic elegance of this delicious salad.
Thank you, Crums, for all that you do. You are amazing people and you do amazing work. I’m so very blessed to know you.
When can I come over for dinner next?