Growing biodynamic veggies on the north shore of Maui and selling them at the farmer’s market, a co-creator of a budding vintage clothing business that’s saving the world one outfit at a time, an up-and-coming band with music that no one on earth can resist dancing to, and an epic wedding that encouraged guests to come dressed as pirates.
I am describing non other than Aaron and Danae, one of the most fun-loving and inspirational couples I’ve met since moving to Maui. The recently married lovebirds pursue what makes them happy by marching to the beat of their own drum—a very fun, foot-stomping drum beat at that. Even the most conventional of people will find themselves tapping their foot in excited agreement with the life they’ve created for themselves, and the places they are going.
For the past four years, Aaron and Danae have been working and living on Patrick's Ha'iku Biodynamic Farm, a few acres of lush land, tucked away on the north shore of Maui. Prior to moving there, neither had any experience working the land or caring for animals, but joyfully absorbed knowledge from Patrick, the proprietor of the whole magnificent operation, and haven't looked back since. Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the farm and the lovely Danae (Aaron was off to practice with his band, Flat Jackson. Which, by the way, you should do yourself a favor and check them out. They’ve been known to describe their genre of music as a “lizard-infused honky tonkin’ slam-grass band”. I know you’re intrigued. Anyways, back to the farm). I helped Danae feed the chickens, collect eggs, take Rosie the baby cow for a walk on a leash (she was the sweetest thing ever!), and pick green beans. Well, actually, Danae did most of the work, while I clicked buttons on my camera so you fine readers can have a glimpse at their picturesque island farm life.
After the farm chores were finished, Danae and I hung out under the eaves, shared a beer, and chatted over their dreams-in-the-making, of owning land and a center to treat those suffering from PTSD with garden therapy.
Garden therapy (or horticulture therapy), if you haven’t heard of it already, is a practice that’s increasing in popularity in all sorts of therapy settings around the world, from youth outreach programs, to substance abuse centers, to hospitals and nursing homes. Besides the obvious, such as sunshine, being outdoors, a sense of community, and exercise, studies have been conducted that reveal getting your hands dirty increases seratonin levels (a “happiness hormone”). No, really. There is a common bacteria that naturally lives in soil—called Mycobacterium vaccae—that actually triggers and spikes seratonin when we come in contact with it, which in turn boosts our mood. Kind of makes you want to go plants something right now, huh? Other studies have shown that harvesting fruits and veggies releases copious amounts of dopamine, a hardwired response that effects the pleasure center of our brains (in the simplest of biological terms, collecting food equals survival), skyrocketing gardeners into a state of euphoria. While scientists don’t yet know all the reasons why garden therapy works, it is very apparent that growing food and getting dirt under our fingernails decreases stress and anxiety, improves memory and concentration, and amplifies overall happiness.
If that’s not a good reason to help a friend pick beans on a Monday afternoon, I don’t know what is. Danae sent me home with a paper bag of happiness-inducing green beans, with which I created this recipe. At first I experimented with adding in a little red tomato, purple onion, and feta, but in the end I decided that simpler was better. The crisp green beans, topped only with the mint pesto, tasted like springtime on a plate. It's an incredibly easy dish that allows the farm-fresh ingredients shine. Even if you don't have a garden where you can pick green beans to trigger a healthy dose of dopamine, your taste buds will be plenty happy with the light, bright flavors of this recipe.
Here’s a few links if you want to learn more about Danae, Aaron, Patrick's Farm, and garden therapy:
Green Beans with Mint Pistachio Pesto
Notes: If you can only find roasted salted pistachios, simply reduce the amount of salt in the recipe accordingly.
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 cup packed mint leaves
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/3 cup loosely packed small-size mint leaves
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook 3-4 minutes, or until just beginning to turn tender (but still bright green and crisp). Drain the green beans and transfer right away to a bowl of ice water (this will stop the cooking process, and help the beans retain their bright green color).
To make the pesto, put the 1 cup packed mint leaves, pistachios, lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With the food processor on, slowly add in the olive oil until combined.
Drain the green beans. In a large bowl, toss the beans with 1 teaspoon olive oil, the remaining mint leaves, and salt to taste. Top green beans with mint pistachio pesto and serve. Alternatively, toss green beans with the pesto before serving.