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

tim and adam in the car

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.


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.


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
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.

Family Outdoor Dinner Menu
Friday, September 14

Tacos, with Mom’s taco meat, shredded raw cheddar cheese, a hodgepodge of raw vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, red onion) and baked sprouted corn tortillas brushed with coconut oil

Salad of Romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced peaches, sliced red onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and lime juice

A bowl of fresh strawberries

Sangria of one bottle white wine (Pinot grigio), 8 to 12 ounces sparkling water, 1/2 cup honey (shaken with the water to dissolve before adding), one sliced peach, 1 1/2 to 2 cups of quartered strawberries, juice of half a lime

Baby Kale Chips (the star of the meal and the first to be gone)
All measurements are approximations

Organic baby kale, as much as can fit in a large bowl
A few teaspoons of coconut oil, warmed to liquid
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, massage the kale with the coconut oil until it’s all well covered. Add a couple shakes of salt and pepper, then a few teaspoons of crushed red pepper. Toss. Spread kale on baking sheets and place in oven until crispy, 15 to 30 minutes (but keep your eye on them!).

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 43 Comments

  1. Carrie | acookgrowsinbrooklyn

    What a beautiful evening – food, people, decor – all of it!
    And – I am rather ashamed to admit – Parenthood squeezes a tear out of me almost every time!

    1. Shannalee

      It’s so true.

  2. Kathryn

    Oh I love this (I feel like I say that every time you post!). I feel exactly the same way about my family. I kept thinking that I would grow out of the desire/need to spend time with them but if anything, it grows stronger every year and it’s something that I’ve learnt to embrace. A wonderful meal.

    1. Shannalee

      Oh, I hear you. Learning to embrace it over here!

  3. Jacqui

    Shanna! Your recent stories of gathering and family and friends have been warming my heart. Please move back to Chicago. And yes, totally cried during “Parenthood.” Like, tears streaming down my face.

    1. Shannalee

      You are the one I should be watching Parenthood with! (I watched it with Tim and Adam and tried to hide my tears, ha!)

  4. Katie

    Just wanna say I super loved this post. Pictures were magazine quality. It looks surreal and yet so true for a beautiful family.

    1. Shannalee

      Aw, thanks, Katie! And PS I hear you met Wesley!

  5. Lan | angry asian

    beautiful pictures, you captured a gathering so gorgeously.
    i have not seen the latest Parenthood episode, i feel like such a bad fan but Lost has been keeping my attn lately…

    1. Shannalee

      LOST is not a bad thing to keep your attention. : )

  6. Nicole

    Gorgeous! I haven’t tried kale chips with coconut oil or crushed red pepper. Can’t wait to try. Lovely words and photos.

    1. Shannalee

      Do it, Nicole! Would love to hear what you think!

  7. Erin

    Love these gorgeous photos! This post (and your last) makes me want to invite people over and have a wonderful meal!

    1. Shannalee

      That is the best response ever. The world needs more friends gathered around the table. : )

  8. Rhu and Sam (Montse)

    Such a lovely family dinner! The images are really beautiful, looking at them make me wanna be there, seated in this gorgeous table.

    1. Shannalee

      Thanks so much!

  9. Nicole

    I definitely cried at last week’s Parenthood. My husband even got choked up, too. Such a great show! And your picnic looks lovely — wonderful light, food, and family.

    1. Shannalee

      My kind of people. You and your husband can watch Parenthood with me anytime. : )

  10. Michelle

    You have a beautiful family that loves creating special moments with food. You’ll remember these kinds of moments forever. So happy you had a wonderful time.

    1. Shannalee

      Thanks, Michelle!

  11. Gina

    Absolutely perfect and beautiful! Glad you guys could go and make beautiful memories! That could have been in kinfolk for sure!;)

    1. Shannalee

      Aw, too nice, Gina. Thanks!

  12. Joanna

    Stunning photos! This is hurts-my-heart good!

    1. Shannalee

      I see an outdoor dinner party in our future, friend.

  13. la domestique

    The table and setting look so beautiful. I miss my family too- more and more every year. :)

    1. Shannalee

      It’s so comforting to hear someone else say that!

  14. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    This post is lovely Shanna, you speak straight from the heart and it shows. I guess I say that in most of my comments but it´s true and it´s one of the things I enjoy the most about your style. You obviously can be aware of the love that surrounds you and not take it for granted but are especially thankful for it. That sounds easy but it´s not.
    The sangria with honey is a wonderful twist. And the whole table setting and pics are beautiful. You make it all look so effortless.

    1. Shannalee

      Thank you for those sweet words, Paula. I fear I take my gifts for granted all the time—and one of the things I love most about this blog is it reminds me to notice them.

  15. Kelley

    Oh, so on the same page with you, my friend … about food, family, and even TV that is excruciatingly real sometimes! :)

    1. Shannalee

      Wish I could see you in person to give you a big hug for that comment, Kelley!

      1. Kelley

        Me too!! :)

  16. Erin

    Oh yes. I always miss my family, too. I mean, I live near them now and I am so grateful for that, but before, when I lived 12 hours away, I missed them constantly. And yes, it means you come from a good family. :)

    1. Shannalee

      Why can’t everyone we love be in one place! : )

  17. wesley @ the way home

    I couldn’t agree more! It’s hard living away from home, particularly when the rest of your family is all there. You never know whether life will take you back there someday though! I’m sure it will if you miss them so much. I’m hoping I’ll find my way back to Nashville someday too.

    1. Shannalee

      I have always told God that I would go wherever He wanted… I didn’t think 8 hours away would be that big of a deal, but He knows how to reveal our hearts! Thankful to be here (really!) but thankful to have family, too. Oh, and PS I just have this sense you guys will wind up back here. : )

  18. Nicole @ Paper and Salt

    What a beautiful post – it completely captures what family and food is all about. And your pictures are just gorgeous! I dream of having an outdoor space so I can try to emulate simple, perfect dinners like this.

    1. Shannalee

      Me too!

  19. julie

    Oh my word – this was so sweet for so many reasons. 1. I know and love your family and yes, they are pretty great 😉 2. Parenthood always reminds me of my family and how much I miss them! And I cry every stinkin’ episode! 3. Having now lived in VA, PA, WI, IL, and now Scotland – and I’m so thankful to have loved ones in each place! 4. The meal outdoors looked and sounded gorgeous and yummy 😉

    1. Shannalee

      Julie, You are honestly one of the first people I think of as someone I look up to in the world of relocation and being far from family. You do it so beautifully and gracefully, I only wish I could be more like you in it! Love and miss you guys!

  20. Alisha

    I am with you so very much on missing family – I thought that was just my own freshmen year-college-problem! :) (However, things are looking up – my parents actually got Internet this week for the first time. Unbelievable, I know.) Hopefully, my mom and I can Skype on a regular basis!

    Actually, this post made me miss YOU!

    The pics make you feel like you are seated at the table – beautiful! Sometimes the beauty of simple things is breath-taking…and this post captured that emotion and the thankfulness that should go with it very well. Keep writing!

    1. Shannalee

      I miss you, too, sweet girl. Thank you for those kind and thoughtful words (and PS – my parents have had Internet forever but Skype is a totally foreign concept, ha!) — wish we could gather around a table together sometime soon. : )

  21. Vicki

    What a beautiful family memory you have shared. There’s nothing wrong with having “two homes” and I think it’s great that you and Tim are able to visit Chicago as often as you do.

  22. Kim

    Kale chips were delicious!

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