Lena Miller. Growing up in Berkeley, with its edible schoolyards, gourmet ghetto, and meyer lemons hanging heavily from neighborhood trees, Lena may have been destined to care deeply about food. But there must be something inborn, too, because Lena seems instinctively to pause for all things beautiful: the burnished braids of just-baked challah on her family’s table, the early morning dew on those lemon blossoms, or the scent of dried bay laurel leaves cracking underfoot during her Tilden Park trail runs. Whatever its origin, nature or nurture, her aesthetic sensibility ensures that anything that comes out of Lena’s kitchen is as wonderful to behold as it is to eat.
Lena followed her interest in all aspects of food—taste, beauty, provenance—to Johns Hopkins University, where she studied Global Environmental Change and Sustainability. It was there that she joined her first CSA and found her culinary creativity. Faced with week after week of bok choy and determined not to let a single cluster go to waste, Lena came up with a dozen new ways to avoid winter vegetable fatigue.
Lena has an insatiable appetite for new recipes—others’, or those of her own invention. Anyone around her is likely to get caught up in her excitement and in her projects. When Lena reached out to us about working with Meadow Lark, she included a photograph: a kaleidoscope of precisely arranged slivers of strawberries, figs, peaches and apples. These polychrome patterns were, in fact, tarts Lena had made with seasonal fruit from her native Bay Area. When she described the ‘hazelnut earl grey crust with lemon filling’ and the ‘oat crust with Greek yogurt,’ we purchased a set 50 individual tart shells and hired our first-ever vegetarian!
In Boulder, Lena took to the trails and quickly covered a lot more ground than the rest of us. While we waited for the pot of coffee on the morning after a long farm dinner day, Lena would show up in her running shoes and a light sweat—her day had started five miles ago. If you were working alongside Lena, you’d invariably find yourself immersed in deep culinary discussion. The question might be practical: Should that half-case of over-ripe apricots become a cardamom upside-down cake or a chocolate tart with a layer of apricot jam? Or it might be more philosophical: What is the difference between your favorite food and your essential food? These, we learned, are different categories in Lena’s canon, and distinct from yet another category: spirit food.
After our season together, Lena returned to California to work for several independent and sustainability-conscious businesses. And she’s kept busy in her kitchen, devising new ways to incorporate tahini (favorite food) into cookies, and turning out exquisite loaves of naturally-leavened bread (essential food). And soon, she’ll be making her way back to Boulder—sourdough starter in the passenger seat—to co-direct our 2018 season with Jane! What is her spirit food, you ask? I suspect it has something to do with those fruit tarts, which are soon to re-appear on our menus.