Homemade Chicken Tacos

This is going to seem like a really trite way to begin a food blog post, but nonetheless, here it is:

I am so thankful for food.

taco ingredients

I started thinking about it this month, when Tim and I began doing a weekly cleanse/detox day and I saw, again, how food affects my body. I thought about it when I read some recent posts (which you really ought to check out if you haven’t already) over at Roost and Honey & Salt, which tell the stories of people totally changing the way they eat in order to improve their health.

Also, there have been long conversations about nutrition on Friday nights, random chats on the phone and with roommates about digestion, the ever-growing and expanding sea (ocean!) of food blogs out there, which continually blow. me. away. with the diversity and scope and perspectives and recipes.

taco fillings

But mostly, it’s just been the food itself.

I mean, man.

tacos

Sometimes I’ll look at a blueberry or a lemon or an egg and think, you know, God didn’t have to give us so many different colors and tastes and textures to eat. He didn’t have to design food to provide pleasure or to be the tool that offers nourishment to us. He didn’t have to create natural, whole foods that grow on trees and bushes, or the animals that provide dairy and meat. There could have been a different system—maybe a button to press or an IV line to hook up or, I don’t know, computer-like systems that monitor our levels of things and adapt automatically. Seriously, think of it: There could have been no flavor, no concept of sweet or tart or spicy. No variety in colors, just gray or brown mush.

These are really things I think about sometimes.

But we get juicy red strawberries! And fermented dill pickles! We can make homemade stock and grass-fed sloppy Joes!

It’s so good. I’m thankful.

And right now, I am specifically thankful for these homemade chicken tacos we made recently, stuffed with some of my favorite chicken and a hodge-podge of other ingredients we had on hand, packaged in sprouted taco shells.

I am thankful to eat these things and be full, to be satisfied, and, most of all, to be well.

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Chattanooga Getaway

chattanooga getaway
Last week—after more than a month with a Nashville address and over 30 days filled with the pure luxury of seeing the one person I want to see most every single day—I told Tim it was about time I started carrying a little more of the weight in this relationship. He, you have to understand, is the same man who handed me flowers and a homecooked meal when I tried to surprise him last November; who made me chocolate-covered strawberries last month, on a holiday he doesn’t even like; who regularly sits and talks to me because he knows how much I love it; who has given me everything from killer fried eggs and delicious sandwiches to long afternoons working side-by-side at our computers.

chattanooga arts district

So Tuesday morning, I whisked him off to Chattanooga—a city neither of us had ever been to before—for an entire day of midweek vacationing just for us. (As a side benefit, it turns out nothing makes a city feel like home faster than planning a day trip away from it.) He didn’t know where we were going, just that he’d need a change of clothes and the ability to leave all work behind. I didn’t know much about Chattanooga, just that it was conveniently two hours away and filled with natural beauty.

Now, after a practically perfect day there, I know firsthand they don’t call it “scenic city” for nothing. Here is what we did:

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Creamed Collard Greens

Collard greens are one of those foods I kind of pity sometimes.

Like a lot of other green, leafy vegetables (kale! Swiss chard! dandelion greens!), it’s not a staple in American meals. I mean, I can’t speak for you or your household, but we didn’t eat it growing up—ever. When we had vegetables, they were more classic choices like green beans or broccoli or carrots, and while those were all good things, eating only them meant overlooking an entire wall of the grocery’s produce section—one which remained unknown to me for years.

chopped collard greens

Then I grew up. And, in the same way that adulthood exposes us to all kinds of things we missed out on as children, from bills to alcohol to taxes—I went to an office Christmas party or baby shower or some other event where we all made something, and the downstairs receptionist saw my homemade cornbread and asked what she thought was a totally appropriate question: Well, where are the collard greens?

collard greens cooking

This introduced me to two new concepts:

1) Collard greens go with cornbread?
2) People think collard greens can taste good?

Then, just a few months ago, I saw a recipe for creamed collard greens described as comfort food, the kind of thing to “soothe a worn soul.” The post also got my attention with some of the health benefits of these greens: anti-cancer agents, decreased risk of heart disease, high in beta carotene, anti-inflammatory.

creamed collard greens

So right here in my new Nashville, we bought a bunch of collard greens, and after spending about 20 minutes in the kitchen, ate big bowls of this, alongside garlic toast and with gingersnaps in the oven.

Turns out this wasn’t only fitting because it was days after my move and I was in need of some comfort, but also—it was the perfect way to introduce myself to collard greens, and in the perfect place, since it seems here in the South, people don’t find them so strange after all.

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Grass-Fed Sloppy Joes

I like lists. Maybe you can relate?

I make grocery lists and client lists and spreadsheets detailing my purchases for the month. I keep mental lists of reasons I like things, reasons I don’t like things, situations that felt awkward with a particular person. I think these lists (1) help me process things, (2) help them make sense, (3) give me a way to hold onto knowledge better.

I also think, that sometimes, (4) it’s hard not to think in lists.

sloppy joe meat

So when a person like me relocates, she thinks in constant comparisons, weighing City B against City A in ever-expanding lists that consider everything from demographics to the cost of living to the way the grocery store feels at 9 PM (I try to avoid it, in case you’re wondering).

garlic gold

So far, Nashville has better weather (hello, 68 degrees yesterday afternoon!) and worse traffic (especially in the middle of the afternoon anywhere near Whole Foods). Cost-wise, it’s about the same—having roommates helps; being far away from your family doesn’t.

garlic gold on salad

As another item to note about my new hometown, it’s where founder of the Exodus Center, Dr. Josh Axe, is from. If you don’t already know about his site, check it out for great information about whole foods and all-natural nutrition. His cookbook, The Real Food Diet Cookbook, is where the idea for these sloppy joes came from.

sloppy joes

Made with a pound of grass-fed beef (which, incidentally is about $3 more a pound here!?), these sloppy joes were hearty, messy, just slightly tangy—all the things good sloppy joes should be. We ate them alongside a big salad dressed with Garlic Gold’s garlic-infused organic extra-virgin olive oil (which the company was nice enough to send me a sample of, in one of my first packages in Tennessee). And we did it on the same day we made these ice cream sandwiches.

Meals like these can offer real clarity, you know? Because as valuable as lists are, at some point, even the most die-hard among us have to surrender all charts and tables and logic and just look at the plate or place before us and go, man, I like this. This is good.

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[Another] Carrot Cake

If you’re like me, baking inspiration can come from pretty ordinary places. You see a recipe, a friend mentions a craving, or, you know, there’s that half a bag of carrots staring at you every time you open the fridge.

shredded carrots

This particular bag of carrots had gotten quite a lot of use already—six went into the homemade chicken soup I made in my first days here, then another handful were peeled and chopped for snacks for the drive up to Chicago for Mom’s birthday—now, almost a month into my new address in East Nashville, it seemed an obvious choice to put most of the remainder into a cake. Blame my economical nature (or, ahem, what my family terms cheap) if you like, but I’m kind of partial to ingredients like these, the ones that are versatile enough to be part of entrees, easy road snacks, and then still key players in weekday desserts—if only all good foods had so many uses.

toasted pecans

baking a carrot cake

I’ve made (and loved) other tried-and-tested versions of carrot cakes before this one, but just like with cookies, it’s still always fun to try something new. Plus, Kristin’s version has stuck in my mind ever since she posted it last year. It adds pecans and buttermilk, and it looks crazy gorgeous atop a white cake stand (there’s something I forgot to bring!). I would have loved to have also topped it with cream cheese frosting, but, in the name of using up what I already had, even on its own, this cake—dark and moist, fragrant and chocked full of bright orange ribbons—is a beautiful way to eat your vegetables.

carrot cake

So consider this your obvious inspiration: next time you find yourself with some carrots to use up (and honestly, they’re so cheap, why wouldn’t you?), this is what you need to do.

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