The Pendulum

When I was pregnant with Life - named after a string of ancestors on my father's side & bearing initials in honor of his paternal grandpapa - I told myself I wouldn't make any fast decisions about Girl Meets Dirt.  I had finally succeeded in bearing a child - the motivation to do so was what spurred me to launch this business, and keep growing it.  I wondered if what I really wanted in the end, was to focus fully on mothering (it is not lost on me that having this choice to make was a gift alone).  This is a complicated affair, this talk of balance (work, life, otherwise), that permeates the media and social awareness of so many women.  Six months in, I have decided, not inconsequentially, to forge ahead with Girl Meets Dirt - to be a "working mother".  We're taking the plunge and investing in our very own headquarters, complete with kitchen space, storage, office, and a small hub for retail, in order to grow the business.  Life is already, and will continue to be, a very important part of this growth.  We're put up shop right beside the headquarters of my husband's business.  We're 'all-in', so to speak.  Invested in ourselves, our family & this fine community we have been lucky to call home. 

But balance?  I am reminded of a conversation I had with a boss of mine many years ago.  At the time it infuriated me, and buoyed me in my decision to leave the rat-race business I was steeped in.  She was insistent that there was to be no concept of 'balance', as a working mother (having just had her first child around the age of 40).  There was simply a pendulum, swinging from side to side - sometimes adding extra love and impetus to family, and other times, to that other mother, work.  This conversation has stuck with me.  I've mulled over it again and again, particularly as I face on my own, the challenges of being a working mother.  And as it turns out, she was right.  Right as day.  

Though there has been many a day my son has watched me work at the computer from his laundry basket perch (playing with this toy, or that piece of paper, or his little hand), I haven't been fully with him during these times.  That might be called balance.  But for me, it's impossible.  He is in everything that I do, everything that I make, everything that I write and say, and sell.  But when work needs to be done, I need to focus.  He needs someone else to care for him, to give him their full, undivided attention, to help him grow.  And I need space.  To let him sink in, to influence whatever it is I need to do that day.  And I am most happy when the pendulum swings to him -- and I.  The two of us, nursing, playing a game of patty-cake, practicing our crawl, babbling or singing 'Wild Thing' together.  Does it make sense to say that I need that ever swinging pendulum to be able to fully appreciate these tender moments? 

And yet there never seem to be enough of them.  I am overwhelmed by how I can't stop and grasp them.  I snap pictures, so many pictures, capture sounds, stop and relish.  But being?  Being.  Here.  Now.  This is hard.  Maybe it's a relic of my Wall Street days, but more likely it's a relic of my upbringing, of today.  I don't want to miss a thing.  

And the pendulum swings on.

An Ode to Apples

"An apple a day"
-Everyone

It's been 3 weeks since our feature on the TODAY Show aired. If you missed it- here is the link. It feels like so much longer, and in some ways we're still processing the attention it drummed up. We were flooded with well wishes, stories, and orders from across the country. Centenarians living in California who grew up on orchards on Orcas - young women hoping to turn their own lives upside down and follow their bliss - jam makers from all around sharing their favorite varietals and recipes - community members who were hearing about us for the first time - well wishers buying our jam just to say good luck. It's left us grateful indeed- but more than anything, humbled. Humbled by the threads that connect so many of us, and floored by how a simple story can illuminate them.

On Orcas the leaves have mostly fallen- some still clinging waiting for the next windstorm. The vast majority of apples have been picked or are being nibbled by deer lucky enough to catch the windfall. The days are brief now and there is ample time for warm mugs of cider, evening shrub hot toddies, and dark mornings with toast, thick butter, and apple jam. They'll be pies soon if they aren't abundant already. And I'm transported.

 ...Through Jam, Shrubs & Bitters

I didn't grow up on a farm. We had a backyard garden and I vividly remember snipping chives for baked potatoes and snapping off fresh green beans for quick snacks. I only learned to preserve after moving to Orcas, in admiration of the folk who had been doing it here already for so long. But I've been baking apples pies since I can remember, or watching my mom, crumble the butter and massage it with flour into pea sized bits, quickly splash with ice cold water and adeptly form into a crumbly heap, to sit and rest while the apples were prepped. "Don't overwork the dough" - repeated ad infinitum.

Heirloom Orcas Island apples

Heirloom Orcas Island apples

Apple bath before cider pressing

Apple bath before cider pressing

Apple pie is where it started for me. It provided my very first sense of place - or rather, a sense that a place could have a taste. Washington State is known for its apples - producing the vast majority of the world's demand. But to me, apples preempt gathering- they mark a coming together. So many dinners and gatherings and moments have been accented, or made, with heavy slices with apple filled flakey pastry weighed down with dripping vanilla ice cream-- the sweet and tart playing perfectly off the salty, buttery base.

A pie from my early Girl Meets Dirt days

A pie from my early Girl Meets Dirt days

Apple pie followed me out to New York, another state that takes its apples very seriously. My first NYC Thanksgiving I pumped out 4 pies in my tiny Manhattan apartment. Apple pie to me, was home. And now, here I am, really, and finally, home, thinking of the varieties I'll take with me down to my mother's house in a few weeks, where I'll be making the pies - while my two kids look on eager for a fingerful- and grandma plays assistant.

Winter Banana apples in an old Orcas orchard

Winter Banana apples in an old Orcas orchard

My miracle baby, Life, with apple

My miracle baby, Life, with apple

An early days press feature in Pure Green Magazine. Audra pregnant with Life, picking apples in an Orcas orchard.

An early days press feature in Pure Green Magazine. Audra pregnant with Life, picking apples in an Orcas orchard.

I have always hoped our preserves could in some tiny way transport the person eating them - to Orcas perhaps, or to some place in their memories where things were sweet. That the clink from a toast of a shrub soda or a sip from a warm spiked mug, would invite pause...and appreciation. We don't all have time to make preserves or bake pies, but taking a moment, or a few moments, to sip and taste and enjoy - that's what fueled me through many years in an accidental career - and that's what finally got me out of it. Those moments, the moments “in between”, the small but powerful moments with tastebuds fully alive, got me through loss, over and over again. I’ll never underestimate the impact of one well rounded bite.

Here's to apples, and here's to pies. May you enjoy your fill of both.

Cheers!

XOXO, Audra

Girl Meets Dirt on The Today Show

Photo by  Amber Fouts

Photo by Amber Fouts

After a special feature in Saveur Magazine in the Growers Issue this summer, we didn't expect this year could get much better. And then we got a call from the Today Show. Within days, I was greeting their talented, whip-smart producer Samantha Wender and renowned journalist Harry Smith at our tiny landing strip in Eastsound, fresh off a quick flight in a puddle jumper from Seattle. Harry had just been in Vancouver BC meeting with Elton John (as one does).

We gave him a slightly different experience. We spent a whirlwind 24 hours touring orchards, sampling apples, cooking jam and enjoying the fruits of our labors (with cheese!). And then they were gone- and I wondered: did that actually happen? Until today, when I got the call the piece was slated to air tomorrow morning.

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I didn't sleep a wink the evening they arrived and awoke the next morning for a full day of filming completely beside myself. The power of this past year in all its highs (and lows) totally overwhelmed me. I looked in the mirror and felt a wave of emotion unlike anything before in my entire life. I fought back tears. Hard tears. I swallowed them. This. Was. Not. The. Time. For. Tears. And then I dabbed my puffy eyes with the best concealer I had on hand, straightened my shoulders, and told myself "you got this."

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I haven't seen the finished piece; I have no idea what made the cut. But I know they left bellies and hearts full with a taste of the magic of our island, this fruit, our jam, and our team. I sure hope they come back for a longer trip where we can gather again - perhaps midsummer for a picnic table feast on the farmette. Harry talked about a trip he intended to take to the islands with his wife decades ago- that got sidelined by family, work and life. I assured him now was the perfect time.

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After one last stop at our favorite orchard at the base of Turtleback Mountain Samantha turned and said: "There's so much beauty in the world that most people will never have the opportunity to see."

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to share a spoonful of it.

Tune in at 8am.

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When Life Gives you Lemons

Lemon Lavender Shrub on a  snow day

Lemon Lavender Shrub on a  snow day

We're pretty partial to San Juan Islands fruit - and love to labor with the good ol' stuff from island trees that have been producing fruit and sharing their bounty for over a century. But in the dark of winter, when the light tips beyond the solstice, we keep our hands busy with the citrus that accents all of our jams, organically sourced from California.

People often lament that we don't make a marmalade (we do, but not in the traditional sense -see Quince Marmalade.) It may sound silly to say it feels inauthentic to do so, in an era where local has multiple meanings (is the maker local? are the beans local?) but we count our blessings. We're blessed with legacy orchards, filled with luscious pears, apples, plums & quince. Not lemons. And yet what we do bring in to press for their perfect acidic antidote to sweet pomes, we want to make the most of. Enter our Lemon Lavender Shrub, hot off the copper pots. Island lavender meets bitter lemon oils from said lemon rinds & juice, organically sourced white wine vinegar, and fair trade organic cane sugar. The bitter/sweet/sourness is perfection for cocktails (French 75?) and refreshing spritzers. It captures winter in the south (lemons) & summer in the north (lavender), and reminds us that while we make throwback preserves and bow to the old dames, modern can be fun (and delicious) too! 

Just watching the late February snow melt away - I'm certain of it: cheers to spring! She's coming!

A Thanksgiving Story

Genevieve "Neve" Sophia Lawlor, born October 25th, 2016 to her adoring Mum, Dad, and big brother Life

Genevieve "Neve" Sophia Lawlor, born October 25th, 2016 to her adoring Mum, Dad, and big brother Life

So much can happen in just 3 years. 3 years ago, I summoned my extended family to our Thanksgiving table, filled not with a brined and roasted turkey, homemade cranberry sauce, buttery mashed potatoes and bacon glazed brussel sprouts...but with cases upon cases of the inaugural Girl Meets Dirt jams - handmade by me, with local fruit handpicked by me, in a borrowed kitchen, with all the love I could muster - with all the love I couldn't expend on a little baby, which I so desperately wanted. This little company that could, was launched in the midst of loss- in between miscarriages number 4 and 5 - in between bouts of grief and intense moments of longing - but after a bountiful fruit season that taught me to have faith in renewal, and rebirth - and to await the blossoms of spring.

Around my Thanksgiving table that year, piled with rolls of our original labels (they seem vintage now!), we made something real together, and gave each other hope (husband, mom, dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law, friends). Jar by jar, each by hand, picking up one single jar, affixing a crooked label, removing a crooked label, trying again with steadier hands, passing them to my mother who ended up being quite adept at affixing a straight label in just the right position, we launched Girl Meets Dirt into the world. It was a small gesture, a small launch, but it meant something big.

Sitting here today, 3 years later, with a toddler sleeping in his big boy bed, a 4-week old napping in my arms, and my mother baking Thanksgiving pies and wondering what cheese to serve with the Fig with Bay preserves I've brought her - this business is life as usual around here, in the best of ways.  Things change. Sometimes in very big ways. We often don't know why, or how. And yet we can and do adapt. We make do. We love even more deeply. We squeeze harder, lean longer. We give thanks for the things going right. We give thanks to those who've stood by us in the worst of days (label by label), and in the best.

And around here, we eat jam, together. My son, who I doubted would ever come, had it in his yogurt this morning- a recipe I'd made yearning badly for him, spilling love into hot sugar, a copper pot, and hand chopped pears. And now, he has a sister, and I feel like I have no words anymore. And that's a very, very beautiful thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.     

xo Audra

Genevieve & big brother Life

Genevieve & big brother Life

Nanny's Stole & The Good Food Awards

As I was packing late the night prior to our flight to San Francisco for the Good Food Awards, in with the forgiving black cocktail dress and 'heritage' (harkening back to my Wall Street days) Louboutin heels that I no longer could walk in, extra concealer from my 'mama's getting the baby to sleep in the crib and doesn't sleep anymore eyes', it donned on me I didn't have a shawl to keep my shoulders warm or a jacket that didn't scream "I live on a farm now".  Rifling through my NYC wardrobe tucked away in the nursery (yes, I should pick up some Marie Kondo woo-woo and neatly fold those babies and tell 'em to take a hike but...), deep in the back was my grandmother's (affectionately known as "Nanny") real fur stole, complete with her initials 'SJM' on the inner flap.  In it went into my already too full bag.  

It crossed my mind that perhaps it wasn't fashionable, and perhaps it might even offend someone.  But the thought of wearing that piece of my own history, in a moment so important, felt just right.  And that's why, as I sat on the the stage that night at the 2016 Good Food Awards, I wore it proudly, thinking of my early days in her Albany, NY kitchen, refining my sweet tooth with homemade carrot cake, circus peanuts and Poppy's orange sticks.  

Audra wearing her grandmother's stole at the Good Food Awards

Audra wearing her grandmother's stole at the Good Food Awards

I think a lot about the many lives of things - a fur stole, a family recipe, a century old King Apple tree - my own many lives.  This is why I do what I do.  Because through food, we tell stories, of our past, our now, and even dreams of our future.  We plant a seed and watch it grow / hope for it to grow/ dream of its fruit nourishing us/our children/our friends.  That is why GOOD FOOD, is its many, many interpretations, is so very important.  Good food makers, as Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, so eloquently stated that evening, were "intermediaries between Earth and humans, Earth and the sky."  Food is one of the many languages we use to communicate with one another.

Our winning preserve, the Shiro Plum with Mint, is a fine manifestation of this.  One of the first preserves I ever made (after foraging local Salmonberries), it was the product of necessity and faith.  Our first summer on the farmette, I took one look at an overgrown Shiro Plum tree, flocked by a patch of spearmint gone wild, and starting picking and cutting.  Into the pot they went.  What grows together goes together, indeed.

I am so grateful to the Good Food Awards & its outstanding team of employees, leaders, and volunteers.  I was honored to give the acceptance speech on behalf of the Preserves category - nervous indeed - but eager to share my story in food, inspired by heritage, and rooted in a craving for family.  I was stunned to learn just how many people this message resonated with.  I've noted before how challenging it can be to be vulnerable - and I mostly restrict these moments to the written word - not quite sure how speaking them might change their impact.  Speaking at the awards ceremony made my vulnerability real in an altogether new, and affirming way.   

Here's an excerpt (click here for the clip from Heritage Radio Network, or here to view the video):

Just shy of 10 years in Manhattan, I walked away from a Wall Street career and city life with a new husband and two dogs to head West. Life in a farmhouse down a one-lane road hasn’t been all primroses. I’ve watched a lot of things grow – and subsequently die back. It’s made the pain of growing and the challenges of starting a family, of which we’ve had many, more palatable. But the fruit keeps coming back, year after year. In a bad season, the trees dig deeper into the earth – they adapt – to bring us their bounty. The sweetness has brought untold joy—carried me through 3 seasons, 5 miscarriages, and launched a business.

I am deeply grateful to work in this field, with such talented, creative individuals who respect terroir and the lessons of the garden, farm, and orchard. I stood in my kitchen the other day, spoon deep in a jar of jam in the middle of winter, giving tastes to my now 1-year old son. We cheers’d with our spoons —to the seasons changing, to barren branches, to buds, to blossoms, to fruit - to the harvest I thought would never come.

Thank you to all who came up to me afterwards and greeted me with an embrace, a warm, knowing smile, or a simple 'thank you' and nod.  It meant the world to me.  And the support from afar - from our island community, in hugs, and smiles, and kind words - has been overwhelming.  I talk a lot about gratitude - perhaps because talking about it helps me to practice it better in my everyday life, which can often feel like a jumble and rush towards an unidentified end (young parents, you hear me ??!!)  But in the end, I make jam for a living.  I make it with people who are glad to make it alongside me - who also want to share their story in food, and dive deeper into it, crumbs on their fingers.  I talk story about ancient trees and heirloom fruit and the alchemy of fruit & sugar, copper pot & wooden spoon.  And then I share the fruits of our labor with hungry friends eager to break bread, spread butter, and dollop on jam, and carry on into the day about topics unbounded.  I can't imagine it any other way.  How could I not be grateful?

And Alice Waters, wise teacher who graces the prime spots in my cookbook collection and memories of simple, inspired meals (your fava bean puree, early in spring with the very first fruits of my first island garden, was the first homegrown dish I ever made!); if you're out there, thank you for buying a jar of my jam: you made my year!

Girl Meets Dirt Founder Audra Query Lawlor (far left) and the speakers and presenters of the evening - notably Alice Waters (second from right) and Carlo Petrini (not pictured)

Girl Meets Dirt Founder Audra Query Lawlor (far left) and the speakers and presenters of the evening - notably Alice Waters (second from right) and Carlo Petrini (not pictured)