Summer Days + Homemade Soft Serve

PercyPriest_skyblurrytree

It’s a bloody hot day in Nashville, a Wednesday, the kind of day where walking the 50 or so feet from your kitchen door to the mailbox means beads of sweat forming fast on your forehead and upper lip. Tim and I are inside, working, I at my laptop on the dining room table, he from his computer on the sofa. When I look up from the article I’m writing, I see him straight ahead; when I turn to the right, it’s all blue skies and beating sunshine above our front yard.

I want to be sitting in the grass, I want to be having a picnic, I want to be sipping lemonade while rocking on a giant front porch.

Then I remember the heat, and I change my mind: I want to go swimming.

PercyPriest_sky

“What time is it?” I say to Tim. He tells me it’s half past noon. “Too bad,” I answer back. “Wish we had time to go to the lake.”

And then we look at each other from across our freelance perches, and he says what we’re both thinking: oh yeah, we do.

PercyPriest_woods

PercyPriest_dreamy

So we finish our work and throw some towels in a bag and drive 20 minutes to Percy Priest, the manmade lake that makes Nashville feel a little less landlocked. We haven’t been there since last summer, when we were still engaged, on a Saturday that was loud and crowded and earned me a sunburn on my back.

PercyPriest_beach

Today it’s quiet, just a few dozen people grilling or swimming or soaking up sun. We stretch our blanket out in the green grass, sandy shores ahead of us, the smell of charcoal in the air. We step into the water and it’s warm, like a bathtub, and I don’t have to shudder when I dip my toes in first.

We’re only there two hours, but it’s two hours that feels a million miles from life—a few hours that feels like a summer vacation in the middle of the day. We walk, hand in hand, to the water; come back to the blanket to dry off; go back to the water; come back to the blanket. It’s so peaceful, so relaxing, so like Wisconsin or Florida.

percypriest_book

I finish the book I’ve been reading, “Writing Down the Bones, in which Natalie Goldberg talks about one of her favorite writing prompts for students: to talk about a time when you were happy. She says this is worth doing because,

“Stories stay with us … Our stories are important … To begin with, write like you talk, nothing fancy. This will help you get started.”

I look up from where I’m laying on my stomach, elbows propping me up, and a little girl runs past us in her bathing suit. I hear voices laughing in the water. I see Tim laying next to me, a smile on his face. We go back into the lake, and the way I talk to him, while we’re standing together, water coming just above our shoulders, minnows swimming past our feet, is with a breathless, “This is so fun!”

PercyPriest_sandytoes

We come home, taking showers and sweeping up sand and unpacking our towels, and we make frozen yogurt. It tastes like soft serve—the kind I used to get at places like TCBY, perfect for piling high with toppings like fruit and coconut and nuts, perfect for eating on the couch with your husband after an afternoon at the lake.

softserve_twinbowls

And I want to tell you here, the way I’d tell you if we were talking, how much I like this day, how much I love laying by the water on a weekday, surrounded by forests and swimmers and picnic tables.

homemadesoftserve_strawberries

softserve_wstrawberriescoconut

But then I think about Natalie Goldberg and about writing how we talk, and all that comes out is “It was wonderful!” and “I love this” and “This is so fun!” So then I think, you know, sometimes, maybe that’s exactly right.

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Cherry Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream (+ homemade chocolate)

coconut milk and cherries

It’s been two years—two solid years since I came over here to this little space, logged into my WordPress dashboard and made the Big Announcement, alongside a recipe for cherry chocolate ice cream; two years since I’ve clocked into an office; two years since I’ve had coworkers nearby; two years without steady paychecks; two years with a much lower income (and two years with a much simpler life); two solid years since I did the thing I most wanted to do, which was also the thing about which I was most afraid; two years since I took one of the biggest leaps of my life: become a full-time freelancer.

cherries cherries

What I remember most about that hot and hopeful June of two summers ago, along with feeling free and like the future was wide-open before me, was feeling curious. From the moment I approached my old boss about becoming a contractor to the day I got into my car and drove away, for good, I remember wondering what would happen, where I would find work, if freelancing could possibly sustain me and for how long. I wondered if I’d end up moving or if I’d switch careers. I wondered if I would like it, this new lifestyle of casual workdays and variable pay. I didn’t know what to expect, and, in the same way that now Tim and I look at our future together, wondering about our lease ending in August and if we’ll have children and when, in the same way we hope for things, like a house and a garden and fruit trees, there’s something about knowing you don’t know that is both humbling and exciting and terrifying and good.

making homemade chocolate

I mean, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t the same thing as saying I like uncertainty. Most days, I just want a blueprint, a ready-made map that directs me from point A to point B and says why. I like direction. It’d be great if life were like that: Take three steps forward into a new job opportunity. Be at that coffee shop at 10 AM and you’ll meet a lifelong friend. Jump into the unknown, just you and your laptop and a lot of hopes and dreams, and you’ll make it, don’t worry, and two years from now you’ll be writing another blog post, thankful and happy and surprised.

cherry chocolate coconut ice cream

But the thing I realize most when I look back, knowing that it’s so much easier to see the truth when you’re two years removed from it, is that even when I felt unsure, even when everything seemed unknown, I was never abandoned or alone and so I never really needed to fear. These whole two years, with their ups and downs and maybes, I’ve always been OK, always provided for, and so I have every reason to trust.

Maybe that’s the whole point of the not knowing—because if you could see everything that’s coming in front of you, even all the good things, you’d never get the gift of learning faith.

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Grapefruit Honey Sorbet + the Ripe Cookbook

Grapefruit sorbet from Ripe

It’s a quiet weeknight at home, and Tim and I are sitting Indian-style on the leather sofa, facing each other, our knees barely touching. I flip to a new page of the glossy hardcover on my lap, reading its words aloud.

three grapefruits

“People avoid chard,” I say to him, lifting the text from a dark green page opposite two criss-crossed leafy stems. “They see it at the market, with its big, imposing leaves, and think: If I bring that home, it’ll overrun the crisper and suffocate the carrots in their sleep.” The image makes us laugh, mostly because we know our own fridge is currently packed to the full with kale and lettuce and, indeed, enormous chard from our first week’s CSA. “Actually, you want these larger leaves for making stuffed chard,” it continues, “which is my favorite way to eat this pretty green vegetable.”

We sit like this for a while, the two of us, reading page after page as if it were a novel and not a cookbook perched across my lap. That’s because this book, written by Cheryl Sternman Rule, a sharp and clever lady I met in Oregon last fall, and photographed by Paulette Phlipot, a talented artist who knows how to showcase produce like it’s up for an Emmy, is no ordinary cookbook.

RIPE cookbook

Ripe is part coffee table accessory (so stunning you’ll see it for sale at Anthropologie), part encyclopedia (but organized by color, not alphabet), part story (short, tight stories that fit into one to three paragraphs at most). It’s about the glory of grown food—not the health of it or the sustainability of it, but the glory, the heart-and-soul glory of loving fruits and vegetables because they taste so good you can’t help yourself.

Grapefruit Sorbet

It’s one of the first cookbooks I’ve looked at, ever, and thought, I wouldn’t change a thing about this. At once attractive and informative and filled with ways to prepare whole foods that celebrate their flavor for what it is, Ripe is a book to have out on display and a book to have near your kitchen. It provides exactly one recipe (and three quick ideas for using) for each food featured, and not one of them feels pretentious or overcomplicated.

grapefruit sorbet with blackberries and a spoon

This is a book that makes you want to cook, that makes you want to eat, and, in my personal opinion, that feels a lot like Cheryl: insightful and savvy and, definitely going places.

Actually, make that already gone.

For more info on the book: RipeCookbook.com
To view Cheryl’s blog: 5 Second Rule

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Tim’s Mostly Raw Chocolate Ice Cream

mostly raw chocolate ice cream

When we started registering for wedding gifts last summer, there was one thing Tim really wanted to add: an ice cream maker.

And where I (the impatient, get-it-done type) probably would have just clicked the first version I saw at Target or Williams and Sonoma and rejoiced to have checked something off my list, this man I married is different. He does research.

delonghi ice cream maker

So it was in those final few months before our wedding that we had at least three different conversations about ice cream maker options: the kind where you have to freeze the bowl ahead of time, the kind with the freezing mechanism already inside; small ones, large ones; ice cream makers from Cuisinart, ice cream makers from Italy. Because this was around the time when I was off for a weekend to Oregon, I even remember talking to Kim and Tyler Malek from Salt and Straw about the ice cream maker(s) they use and recommend and why, jotting notes in my notebook to share with Tim.

scooping out ice cream

My Tim loves ice cream. I mean, he loves it. He’s been dreaming of making his own (with raw milk because that’s what we drink) since long before he knew me (there are handwritten notes that prove this fact).

spoonful of ice cream

So having told you all that, I probably don’t have to tell you what happened when, after our honeymoon, opening the handful of gifts at my parents’ house in Chicago that our friends hadn’t already transported down to Tennessee for us, we found one very heavy, very large box sitting amongst them, holding that dream ice cream maker (a Delonghi GM6000, if you’re curious):

those first few weeks back in Nashville, he must have made ice cream eight or nine times.

Literally.

bowl of ice cream

And while I’ve been telling Tim all along, amongst our ice cream night with friends and homemade ice cream at the pie party and quiet nights at home filled with scoops of chocolate chocolate chip or bourbon vanilla or cinnamon or hazelnut coconut chocolate chip, that one of these days, I’ll really have to blog these ice creams, it wasn’t until recently, amidst our raw experiment week, when Tim made a raw ice cream sweetened only with dried fruit (!!), that I got too excited to contain myself.

raw brownie  and raw chocolate ice cream

So, without further ado, I bring you the most interesting ice cream I’ve ever had: Tim calls it raw chocolate. With an ingredients list including raw milk, dried fruit, raw organic egg yolks (does that scare you? read this), cocoa powder, vanilla, gelatin and cream (if we’d had raw cream, this could have been a totally raw version), it’s free of refined sugar and, I can almost promise, unlike anything you’ve ever had: icy and sweet, flecked with hints of raisin (although next time, we might just do dates), refreshing and unique and delicious.

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how we spend our days (+ announcement!)

June 26

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” (Annie Dillard)

I read the above quote a few years ago, back when I was compiling a 25th anniversary scrapbook for my parents in which people wrote and told of gifts and memories and experiences they’d had with my mom and my dad, and I was reflecting then the way I’ve been reflecting lately, about what are the most meaningful things we do, about what we really want. I’ve been asking myself: How am I spending my days, since that’s how I’m spending my life? And then, is the way I am spending them good?

cherry chocolate ice cream

Of course the easy way to define our days is by our full-time gigs, be it school or work or motherhood or something else that requires most of our time, and I’ve done that before: I’ve sat down to dinner with friends and explained my class load. I’ve called myself a copywriter. I’ve mentally calculated some kind of personal net worth. But the older I get, the more I see those things—while important—are not the only things.

Now when I look at my days, I look instead at harder questions: how am I pursuing things that matter? what am I accomplishing? where’s my passion? whom do I love? how is my life improving someone else’s?

homemade cherry chocolate ice cream

I am convinced and convicted that these are questions we can ask from a cubicle or a kitchen, in our teens or in old age, no matter where we’re working or whom we’re working with. And in my particular case, these are questions that have prompted some pretty major changes.

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for expectations and hope (POM Orange ice cream)

ice cream by window

Well, in case you haven’t already heard, it snowed here in Chicagoland last weekend. The snow itself wasn’t a big deal, just a light dusting on all the trees and cars and buildings, but the fact that it came, right after a week of warmth and sunshine and 60-degree evenings where I rode my bike like I was 12 years old again, was a grim reminder that no matter how late the sun stays out, no matter how many times I don’t need a jacket, no matter what the calendar says, it’s still not exactly spring yet. It still can snow.

ice cream in a bowl

Now, fellow Chicagoans, I know, I know what you’re going to say: Hello? This happens every year! It’s only March! Last year, it snowed in April! I know.

But listen, it’s still kind of a bummer. It’s like when you apply for that job you really want, the one close to home and with great benefits, and just when you’ve had your third interview and thought you’d gone and aced it, you get a rejection letter. Or when you’re ten years old, watching the snow outside, thinking for sure you’ll get a snow day, and you don’t. Or when you bake bread for the eighth or ninth time, all hopeful and expectant, and you end up with weird ribbons inside the loaves that you’d thought were perfection. Dashed dreams make the heart sick.

dixie cup

Of course some people would say there’s an easy solution to this problem, one that’s pretty simple: lower your expectations. Wish for less, and you won’t be hurt as often. There’s truth in that. And I guess it makes sense.

But me?

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