Butternut Squash Spelt Biscuits

Autumn Squash | FoodLovesWriting.com

I have the worst case of writer’s block. I don’t know what to say. I feel like Tim is going to tell me, any minute, that he’s finished what he’s doing and we need to go, so I can’t focus on what I’m writing because I keep thinking, we’re about to drive to the grocery store and we also need toilet paper and I can’t forget to set my alarm clock for tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m.! It’s Thursday night, the one night this week when we haven’t had something going on, and what was supposed to be a relaxing evening at home has turned into a nonstop day that continued into a nonstop night, and it’s 8:30 p.m., we’re only now about to go to the store, and I still haven’t written a blog post.

Part of the busy schedule this week has been, get this, because of food. In a strange turn of events, we ended up with three CSA boxes in the last two weeks, giving us bushel and bushel and bushel full of fresh food, all of which we needed to do something with so as to avoid the one thing I absolutely do not want to do, as in, waste any. This may have led to tears once or twice. Besides beets (roasted!) and beet greens (pesto!) and yellow squash, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers (ratatouille!) and potatoes (home fries! mashed! fritters!), we’ve had squash. Oh, have we had squash: butternut, acorn, spaghetti. Most of it roasted, so as to make pureé. Also, pumpkin—namely, a 20-pound monstrosity I carried around the house and outside for a photo as if it were a small child. Well, it weighed as much as one.

The Giant Pumpkin | FoodLovesWriting.com

And tonight, while the fridge is stocked with roasted peppers and sautéed beet stems and a tomato-kale-pepper salad, while there are half a dozen butternut squash biscuits left on the counter and some quinoa grains soaking to be cooked tomorrow, I’ll be honest and say I know a week of longer work days and unexpected meetings and two extra bushels of vegetables is not exactly the stuff of nightmares, but, honestly, I’m tired. Tim and I are having friends for dinner tomorrow and then an overnight guest through Monday, and as I sit here, looking at the photographs of squash and biscuit dough, reading through the paragraphs I’ve written, the main thing I keep thinking is, would I want to read this if I were someone coming to the post? And I want to start over. But then, what would I write? See sentence two above.

Flour and Dough | FoodLovesWriting.com

The thing I’ve found in the last year or so, especially back in the midst of planning a wedding, is that when I get too busy, the kind of busy where I’m running from one thing to another, seldom processing anything, I only function at 50, maybe 60%. This is fine when you’re doing the dishes—less fine when you’re trying to put together paragraphs (and, ahem, putting together paragraphs is what some of us do for a living).

Cutting Biscuits | FoodLovesWriting.com

Writing is thinking. If you can’t think, you can’t write, mark it down. And the best writers, the ones who turn words with precision and truth, are the ones who are taking time to think about what they say.

Butternut Squash Biscuits | FoodLovesWriting.com

So tonight when I have nothing to say, I guess I’m really saying, help! I need time to think! And so, while Tim and I run out to buy groceries and Q-tips, cracking open a chocolate tart between the two, I say to him, listen, let’s talk. How are we so rushed lately? What is going on? And we talk and we think together, and we look for ways to pare down and take tasks off our plates.

And by 11 p.m., we’re in bed, me on my laptop, writing these last words (because I love this place! So it stays!), Tim surfing the Internet from his phone, ready to rest.

By the way: If you haven’t seen this on Facebook already, we’re thinking of doing a Q+A post sometime soon, answering any personal, blog or food questions (well, almost any questions) you guys have. Do you have a question? Ask it here: facebook.com/foodloveswriting.

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Kale Mashed Potatoes + September in Nashville

tim's plate

Tim went away for a work trip last week, just for two days really, but all the way to New York, putting him not only out of state but also in a different time zone, for the first night (and nights) we have ever been apart since we got married. It wasn’t something we looked forward to, upcoming nights apart like these, and, leading up to the trip, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel dread (or that I didn’t say to him, when I dropped him off at the airport, “Do you think it’s too late to cancel?,” both of us laughing).

It wasn’t that I thought I’d be afraid at night or have nothing to do with myself or break down on the side of the road and not have him to call (OK, a little bit the last one, but only in the same way that I tend to imagine a plane going down once I get on it)—it was mostly that when you love someone, you want to be with them, and I love Tim.

reunited at the table

I feel really grateful to have him, and I know I’ve said that before, but I say it again because gratitude isn’t the kind of thing that you can leave on auto-pilot, and whether it’s a good husband or a beautiful September or a dinner that we share with someone we love, it’s more natural to take it for granted than to mark it down.

When Tim came home Saturday afternoon, I think we both let out a collective exhale, grateful to remember we are not each other’s best gifts (and that the One who gave us each other never leaves), yet grateful to be together again. And then, the next day, we killed the fatted calf, so to speak, with home-cooked filet mignons and big salads and mashed potatoes stuffed full of greens.

celebration lunch

Then, afterward, in that golden hour when the sun makes everything glisten, we grabbed blankets and sweaters and escaped to the park, soaking up the crisp September air, bright white skies and, mostly, the gifts we’re being given, today.

golden hour in tennessee
trees
fields of tennessee
tim and shanna at the park

We brought the camera, and the thing that’s so great about bringing your camera for a few hours at the park is that you get the chance to look through its viewfinder, capture moments through its lens, and mark them down, the way you do when you’re listing things you’re thankful for.

us on a blanket

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pull so many of us have towards beautiful things, such as the ideas we mark on Pinterest or the stories we scroll through on blog posts or the pleasure I receive from seeing pretty pictures and photography. When I was really sick earlier this year, I would say to Tim, let’s go walk through Anthropologie!, just to soak up the atmosphere and remember there is beauty in the world. You could, I think, look at all this pull and say there’s something wrong with it, that we want to create imaginary lives that are perfect and flawless and fun to look at, all the time, and that doing so ignores the realities of pain and suffering and poverty and despair.

But personally, I think it points to something bigger.

TimandShannaFoodLovesWriting

There is something in us, in all of us, I believe, that craves beauty—whether that shows itself in Pinterest folders or fantasy football scores or keeping the kitchen clean. My blog friend Sarah says we crave beauty because we were made for the Beautiful One. It’s not that we don’t see hard things, or experience them; all human beings do, even if in different degrees. We have loved ones die. We fight with our spouses. We experience serious physical pain that shows us how small we are. But it’s just that, in the midst of all of this, we’re also drawn to what’s beautiful and right and good and true. We look for it, go out to find it, hope for it and want it to exist.

daisies and us

I think about that all the time lately, when I’m snapping photos of wild daisies growing in the grass, sidled along a busy road; when I’m setting a plate before me, as colorful as a garden or an elaborate painting; when I’m listening to someone tell me how she wants to make her living room look a certain way. There can be unhealthy motives in these things, sure, as in any things, but a lot of times, truly, I just sit back and think, how good of God to give us pleasures such as these to enjoy.

us

Pleasures like sunlight in the evening and foothills in the distance. Pleasures like a bed to sleep in and food in the fridge. Family who loves us when we hurt them. Books that make us think.

Gifts around us, all the time.

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Homemade Mayonnaise and Garlic Aioli

“Mayonnaise is a food best made at home and almost never made at home. This has robbed us of something that is both healthy and an absolute joy to eat with gusto.” Tamar Adler

PeteNGerrys Eggs

My favorite chapter in Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal,” was, hands down, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly,” and before you click away because, this girl! she’s always talking about Tamar Adler!, please bear with me because, I promise, I’m going somewhere good. So this chapter two of Tamar’s book, the egg chapter, is 15 pages long and divided into six parts, each one dealing with a specific method in which to use an egg. She talks about boiled eggs, poached eggs, fried or scrambled, omelets, frittatas and, just when your mind is appropriately reeling, thinking of all the different things eggs can do, mayonnaise.

Here is the part that hooked me:

I keep my mayonnaise and aioli for two or three days in the refrigerator even though they contain raw eggs. I trust the freshness of my eggs, and the cleanliness of the lives of the hens that lay them. If your eggs don’t come from a source you know or if you are worried, make less and keep it for a shorter time.

egg yolks

Two things about those sentences: (1) She’s not afraid of raw eggs and (2) That’s because she’s so confident of the quality of her eggs.

Tim and I were talking the other day about how a lot of things on this site are subtle, not overt, like the fact that we drink raw milk from a farmer who lives about two hours away from us, whose farm we’ve visited and whose cows we’ve touched. Some of you have been following along here long enough to know the whys and hows of this decision, as well as the fact that we get our eggs from the same farmer and, the majority of our produce from a different organic farm down the road, but many of you probably don’t. That’s because, when push comes to shove, this site isn’t about where you buy your groceries or whether or not you support the consumption of raw milk (which, because we’re asked about this often, is not illegal, just not available in the store [at least in most states], and you can find a local provider in your area through realmilk.com) (also, while we’re on the subject, you can find more thorough info about raw milk here or here or here).

The point is, in our home, we sort of take it for granted that when we’re using milk, it’s the kind we pick up in a local parking lot on Monday afternoons; or that, when we’re whisking eggs, they’re the kind produced by happy, sun-seeing chickens raised on small farms. Whether or not you source your food from similar places is up to you; we’re just saying that this is what works for us.

So along those lines, that’s why, when the people at Pete & Gerry’s eggs* contacted us recently, suggesting we check out their heirloom eggs, we researched the way they treat their hens (keeping them in spacious, cage-free barns; feeding them grain free of antibiotics or hormones) and where (on small, low-overhead farms in New England) and felt comfortable with the process. Buying from a local farmer you trust is best, but when that’s not possible, companies like this one offer a strong alternative.

Whisking egg yolks

When you’ve got good eggs, you want to find a way to make them shine, so, for us, Tamar’s book still fresh in our minds, that meant making mayonnaise—and then turning the mayonnaise into garlic aioli. Do you like mayonnaise? Or, are you like me, and the mention of mayonnaise calls to mind gloppy, white, gelatinous mixtures well-meaning folks tried slopping on your sandwiches when you were a kid?

Either way, homemade mayonnaise is an entirely different experience.

Making aioli

First off, homemade mayonnaise tastes like the ingredients you’re using: eggs, olive oil, lemon, seasonings—not like an unidentifiable spread in an entirely different food group. Second, homemade mayonnaise is thick and beautifully yellow, in part from the tumeric we used but also from the brilliantly vibrant yolks from our heirloom eggs.

After it’s made, adding some smashed garlic paste and chopped parsley turns it into a rich and creamy aioli that’s perfect for dunking fries or, appropriately this time, spreading on a sandwich.

chopped parsley
aioli bowls

Making it is not for the faint of heart—there’s a lot, and I mean, a lot, of whisking involved (just ask Tim, bless him)—but the rewards are pretty fantastic: mayonnaise that tastes like mayonnaise should; garlic aioli that’s bright and fresh and luxurious.

roasted potatoes and aioli

And while next time we make it, I might go with coconut oil so I can speed things along in the food processor (see note in recipe below), I have to admit that watching a sauce like this come together, right before your eyes, is pretty empowering, as is learning where your food comes from or, doing a little research on something before you buy. Making your own mayonnaise, like meeting your own farmer, might not be necessary and might not be for everyone, but it’s working for us—adding pleasure and rich joy to the way we cook and, mostly, the way we eat.

*Oh, and also, while we’re talking about eggs, here’s an interesting article from “The Atlantic” worth checking out: “Sunny-Side Up: In Defense of Eggs”

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Outdoor Dinner at Home + Baby Kale Chips

Every time we visit Chicago, I wonder how long before it stops feeling like home.

tim and adam in the car
Chicago_driving
Chicago_timshanna

And while missing your family at 30 is not as popular as missing them your freshman year (anyone else cry with “Parenthood” last week?), the truth is that I still miss mine. I miss my dad’s tender heart and my mom’s loud giggle and my brother’s ability to find the coolest new places and products everywhere he goes. My dad picks us up from the airport last Wednesday and we don’t stop talking until we’re in his garage, despite a 20-minute detour when we’re so caught up in conversation that we miss our exit; my mom fills the fridge with food she knows we’ll like; my brother sidekicks with us through dinner in Bucktown, shopping in the suburbs, late-night movies and TV. Sometimes the pain of missing them is so strong that the joy of these visits almost gets overshadowed, like I can’t soak it up while awaiting another goodbye—but, for the first time, instead of feeling embarrassed about this attachment, I am realizing: that’s because my family’s pretty great.

table_topandaway

The last night we’re in town, we decide to do an outdoor dinner—take a table and chairs to the backyard, cut flowers from the bushes, carry pots and dishes from the kitchen to the basement and through walk-out doors.

table_andadam

My mom slow-cooks some taco meat; Tim and Adam and I bake sprouted tortilla chips and kale chips and pull together a big salad from leftovers in the fridge. There’s sangria filled with peaches and strawberries; we pour water into tall carafes and add slices of lime. And then, just before twilight, we all come around the table and, together, we eat.

kale chips
the table
dad and adam
tim
salad
a's plate
passing strawberries

Friday night, falling into bed, Tim and I talk about how much we’ve enjoyed the meal—and the people we shared it with.

“It’s so nice to have people who love you,” I say to him.

People in Nashville and people in Chicago, even when they’re spread out.

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Sunday Lunch with Louie Abellera + Gluten-Free Almond Cake

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I have this photographer friend Louie. I met him through Becky, the friend who was with me the first time I met Tim, and I’ve been following his Tweets and Instagrams and blog ever since that one random afternoon sitting across from him at Burger King or McDonald’s, watching him eat chicken nuggets, before the three of us went someplace else. Louie’s a cool kid—I say kid because, people, Louie is all of 22, as in the age I was when I started grad school, the age at which the only things I’d ever published were local newspaper articles about book clubs and town meetings, the age when I didn’t know much about cooking, much less about cooking and writing about it on a food blog. But Louie’s 22 looks a lot different than mine did, and he’s a crazy-good photographer shooting, get this, upwards of 20 weddings a year. So when he came into town last week from Chicago, asking for some help expanding his food portfolio, we were only too happy to have him over for our regular Sunday lunch with friends.

(All shots in this post courtesy of Louie Abellera Photography.)

salads
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So let’s talk about Sunday lunches. Tim’s been keeping this tradition with the same group of friends since before I knew him. When we were long-distance dating, and I’d come into town for the weekend, Sunday afternoons would have us all gathered together, grilling and assembling a meal to share at a dining room table. When my family came to town in February, when friends have come to visit this year, if they’re here on a Sunday, they come to our shared Sunday meal. It’s a nice constant, one thing that is consistently the same, no matter who else joins or leaves or what the time of year. And while usually we do it at our friends’ home, this week, we moved things to our table, where the sunlight was especially nice around 3 PM and where the four kids gathered around a blanket in our spare bedroom to “picnic” while the adults shared salads and pizza on our flea market chairs and vintage wedding plates.

pizzasalad
salad
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Tim and I were talking recently about how every time we have people over for a meal, there’s a salad. He brought two giant salad bowls into our marriage and they get regular rotation in our eating and entertaining plans. A meal just doesn’t feel complete without a giant pile of leafy greens involved. This week, the salad couldn’t have been simpler: an arugula mix topped with sliced pluots, sliced red onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and seasonings, nothing else. We tossed it using my newest kitchen treasure, new Anthropologie servers, thanks to birthday gift cards from our family.

Sunday lunch
at the table

The pizza was just two batches of this thin and crunchy soaked crust recipe, decorated with four different choices of toppings. We baked them two by two before everyone arrived, trying to keep things as warm as we could, then placed them all on the table on cutting boards so people could serve themselves.

Then there was a quick zucchini-tomato salad, and water with lemon, and wine, gifted from Becky when she was in town a few weeks ago.

Last, for dessert, there was almond cake, a gluten-free, incredibly simply recipe my sister-in-law made for us while we were in Ohio and that wowed us so much, it was the first thing we thought of for Sunday’s meal. Light and sweet and with a nice crumb, the kind you expect cake flour, or at the very least all-purpose flour, to be necessary to achieve, this cake is made from a combination of almond flour and coconut flour, four eggs, butter, honey and a few other little things. It’s wonderful, especially topped by homemade whipped cream. (The cake and the whipped cream were made the day beforehand, and I put them together just before we ate.)

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After dinner, the kids joined us around the table for card games, and Tim and I cleaned up the kitchen, and my brother-in-law had the football game on TV. Once all the guests had left, Tim and I agreed about the rich pleasure of hosting, of getting to have people into your home, give them your food and watch them eat. It is the single best part of cooking, this sharing around the table, if you ask me.

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Panna Cotta with Figs and Honey

pannacotta

“You take two cups of milk and two cups of cream and warm it on the stove,” Tim’s saying to me from the dining room. I place our medium Le Creuset saucepan, the cream one with the handle, on the back burner.

“OK, then what?” I call back to him.

“Add ½ cup of Sucanat and stir until it dissolves.”

While the sugar combines with the milk and cream, I set out a bowl and fill it with six tablespoons of water, then toss five teaspoons of gelatin over the top.

I return to the stove. A couple minutes and a few stirs later, the sugar’s totally dissolved, and I remove the saucepan from the heat. I add vanilla extract and almond extract, stir, and pour the saucepan’s contents into the gelatin-water bowl. Stir. Let it all dissolve.

“Then I just pour it into the cups?” I say to Tim, thinking aloud that this has been too simple, wondering if we’ve somehow skipped a step. He’s in the kitchen next to me now, right beside me while I divvy up the mixture, pour it into oiled ramekins and set them in the fridge.

“I told you it was easy,” he responds, his back to me now while he begins washing dishes and setting them to dry. This is not the first time I’ve made panna cotta, nor Tim’s, but it is the first time we’ve made it together. Also, more notably, it’s the first time the process has been so easy that as soon as we’re done, I’ve got it memorized, repeating the whole process back to Tim minutes later when we settle in on the sofa, and I take out a piece of paper and write it down.

panna cotta

Tim made this exact same panna cotta recipe for me, minus the almond extract, I think, a few weeks ago, when one or the other of us heard someone say “panna cotta,” developed a craving and quickly passed the obsession along to the other so that pretty soon, both of us, regularly, were saying out loud, “Doesn’t panna cotta sound so good?” “I wish we had some panna cotta right now!” and “Let’s get some cream at the store so we can make panna cotta.” But it wasn’t until late one night, when the sky had already grown dark, that we finally made good on the daydreams—and side by side with a Netflix movie, ate rich, luxurious, creamy bowl after bowl of it, alongside raspberries, licking our lips as we went. This panna cotta isn’t the kind of craving that abates when you feed it, the kind where you, one night, make yourselves panna cotta, and then for months thereafter give it nary a thought: no, sir. This panna cotta is the chocolate chip cookie of the magical custardy world: with every bite you take, you just want more.

fresh figs and panna cotta

So that’s how we’ve found ourselves in the kitchen tonight, panna cotta chilling in the fridge while we clean the kitchen and return to our laptops, long work projects calling our names. It’ll be past 10 p.m. when the desserts are finally set enough to warrant sharing one, and the next morning when we finally get to turn two out onto plates and top them with sliced figs and honey.

panna cotta on flower plate

But even after we do, after, between the two of us, we’ve consumed dish after dish after dish after giant wine glass filled with panna cotta, the rich cream cut by the sweet and caramel-like milk layer, and it’s all gone, every last bit, less than one day after it’s made, we look at each other and still think the same thing:

Let’s make more panna cotta!

Soon.

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Poulet Sauté à la Paysanne Provençale + “My Berlin Kitchen”

If you’d been a fly on our kitchen walls this past week, you would have seen a lot of easy weeknight dinners going on. After we followed Tamar Adler’s advice and, in one big batch of cooking, filled our fridge with jars and Pyrex packed with roasted eggplant, boiled potatoes, roasted yellow squash and so on, we then began the daily task of putting her strategy to the test. There were vegetables tossed with quinoa, vegetables inside morning omelettes, leftover vegetable hash pureed with milk and water until it became a hot and creamy bisque so comforting, I almost cried. Roasted eggplant became baba ganoush. Boiled potatoes turned into mashed, soft and creamy and studded with garlic. Preroasting all your produce is not for everyone (and not for every week), but this last week, as we’ve tried it, Tim and I have seen firsthand how simplifying the strategy can be in helping to make dinner every night.

There are other things you’d see from your kitchen perch, too, though, like the failed cookie recipe I attempted, a sort of cookie rollup is what they turned out to be; or the truly amazing cookies I baked a few days after that. We’ve had our morning smoothies and thrown together a quick chicken salad, and listen, if you have two oranges, some Pellegrino and a bit of honey, go pureé it all in the Vitamix and remember what is good about life. Also, there’s been comfort cooking, like yesterday, when I made a new chicken recipe, taken from Luisa Weiss’s soon-to-be-released book, “My Berlin Kitchen.”*

myberlinkitchen

Luisa Weiss is the blogger behind The Wednesday Chef, which, along with Orangette and Smitten Kitchen, is one of the first three food blogs I started reading back when I discovered food blogs five years ago. When I found her, she was a cookbook editor in New York, though today she lives in Berlin; I was reading the day she posted about getting engaged to the man she dated before her now-husband; the day she wrote about quitting her job, “leaping” as she called it, less than a year before I would end up doing the same thing; I remember reading about her sweet and beautiful wedding; I remember the first photo of her brand-new baby boy. Following along with her life the last few years, the way I do with so many blogs, the way I’m amazed some of you do with mine, I felt on some level like I knew her, and I liked that.

whole raw chicken

My friend Jacqui and I always say that the thing we most love about blogs is reading people’s stories. Sure, there are recipes and photos and nutrition info and giveaways—but what keeps me reading, what makes me care about any of it at all, is hearing someone else share their story, like she’s a friend. I started Luisa’s book two days after finishing “An Everlasting Meal,” and it only took me another three to get to the final page. She pours her heart out in the pages, detailing her cross-continental childhood, her search for identity, her eventual settling and family-making in Berlin, the city where she first belonged—and as an added bonus, there are recipes along the way.

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