Traveling for work doesn't always afford leisure time, but I managed to find a few hours to spare in between meetings and event preparations, so I did what I always do when I arrive in a new city: I walked. (Translation: When your room isn't ready yet and it's already past lunch time, you need both wifi and a meal.)
My hotel in St. Paul was across from the river, alongside a long park where free picnic blankets were given out at lunch, and yoga classes were taught in the afternoons. I'd been there approximately 40 minutes, but already St. Paul was proving itself to be a contender for cutest town in the midwest.
I'd done some research, and my heart was set on The Buttered Tin, a local breakfast/brunch/lunch spot that spoke to my seasonal sensibility and need for healthy comfort food. (It didn't disappoint. In fact, I went there approximately four times during my three days in the city, and it was enough for them to recognize me.)
On the way back I walked by Heartland, and dinner was decided after one glance at the menu. That evening, the pea salad really stole my heart, somewhat unexpectedly. It was a plate composed of entirely green things: sweet peas, peppery arugula, herbs, a light dressing that didn't weigh down the tender lettuce, and fresh mozzarella cut in a thick slab on the bottom. Spring on a plate. I discreetly opened a new note on my phone and typed the ingredients, hoping to find a recreate it when I returned home. Thankfully, I found a poem to pair with it, and the timing couldn't have been better planned.
by Terry Covington
I could have closed my eyes
and run my fingers up the vines
to find the pods, so bursting obvious.
Leave trees to other children; I
took my books outside to read
in Grandma's pea patch, crawled
between the rows, and sat
in lagoon green shade
where I could see the house
but not be seen, and watch
the tractors hauling bins
into the orchard, and ate
green peas, popped them
out of their air-filled pods, rare pearls
rolling roundly down my tongue.
Printed with permission from the author.
Here we have a perfect little memory poem. Brief and spare, yet expansive, especially when seen from the eyes of a young speaker small enough to hide in her grandmother's pea patch. The location seems unassuming enough, but the poem really asks a difficult question: Where can I feel safe?
We find the answer in the middle of the poem, where the young girl hides in "lagoon green shade" of a garden where she could "see the house but not be seen." It was a strategic decision, the pea patch, providing privacy and seclusion, yet comfort in knowing the house is still in view.
It's a universal feeling, perhaps most profound in childhood and early adulthood when we're testing the waters of our independence, longing for freedom yet not ready to leave the nest and navigate the world on our own. But once we're set loose, it's food that can provide comfort when we need it most. Peas or otherwise, there's nothing that can bring us back home quicker than a good meal.
ARUGULA AND PEA SALAD
You can toss the peas in raw or lightly steamed, but I liked the added char of grilling them for a few minutes on a searing hot pan.
Inspired by Heartland, St. Paul, Minnesota
For the dressing
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough arugula to fill your largest salad bowl
1 to 1 1/2 cups snap peas
A few leaves of basil, julienned
2 slices of bread
Optional additions: avocado, sunflower seeds
To make the dressing, pour the vinegar into a mixing bowl and add the shallots. Let sit for 30 minutes. Add the mustard and gently whisk it in, before slowly whisking in the oil. Taste the dressing, and add a small dollop of honey if you'd like a little sweetness, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To make the salad, add the arugula to your largest salad bowl, then heat a grill pan over high heat. Scatter the snap peas in an even layer and grill until charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the snap peas into the salad bowl, then add the basil, along with avocado and sunflower seeds (if using) and toss with the dressing.
If you'd like, grill thick slices of bread then smear them with a generous helping of goat cheese to go alongside.
If you're interested, here are a few pictures from my trip to St. Paul.