Moosewood Brownies (+ Etsy Shop Announcement)

Moosewood Brownies | foodloveswriting.com

About a week ago, Tim and I made a quick stop at McKay’s, which, for the record, is the largest, cleanest used bookstore I’ve ever been to in my life. Set high up off Old Hickory Boulevard on Nashville’s west side, McKay’s exterior looks more like a bulk warehouse shopping center than a place that makes it easy for anyone to walk in and buy or sell old books any day of the week. You park your car in an eco-friendly brick parking lot and walk inside to a bright, high-ceilinged space filled with aisles and aisles of books, books on tape, CDs and DVDs. The inventory’s always changing, so even if you’ve just been in a week before, you still never know what you’ll find when you come. In December, I bought a Mexican cookbook that later had me Googling for information about its illustrator, a woman who loved beautiful buildings and architecture as much as I do. Last Monday, we came looking for a children’s book; we left instead with a hardcover Tim had been wanting and a $2 original copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977, for me.

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Coconut Milk Mexican Flan (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

Coconut Milk Mexican Flan | FoodLovesWriting.com

I go to used bookstores for the same reason I look into windows when we’re driving down residential streets at night: I like to imagine the people inside. The same way I fix my gaze on the warm glow of a table illuminated by candlelight or the man who’s sitting in his recliner all alone, I pick up a hardcover, tracing over the handwriting, wondering about the person who underlined that passage or the reader who signed her name in this front flap.

This might be what I love about the first-edition copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking, written by Jan Aaron and Georgine Sachs Salom, that I found at McKay Used Book Store Friday Night. Published in 1965, this beauty has all the earmarks of another era, one in which American women still wore skirts and aprons to make dinner and in which Mexican food (along with other ethnic cuisines) was just beginning to enter the conversation.

Art of Mexican Cooking | FoodLovesWriting.com

There are hand-drawn illustrations at the division pages, created by artist Dierdre Stanforth, the same woman who did illustrations for a Betty Crocker cookbook two years later and for books on New Orleans after that. I’d never thought much about book illustrations until recently, when we went and made an ebook and hired the amazing Rebekka Seale to create the cover—now I notice them everywhere I look: on blogs, on Pinterest, when I’m flipping through the thick pages of my new vintage book.

Over the last few nights, reading The Art of Mexican Cooking before bed, usually out loud to Tim, along with continually remarking that “This entire recipe is a paragraph! One paragraph! These directions kill me!,” I’ve also been thinking about the woman who drew the maps in the front and back pages and who sketched two large pots of soup in front of Mexican tiling.

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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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Citrus Honey Basil Creamsicles

popsicle mold

Have you ever noticed how everyone wants to speak into your life—give you advice, tell you how to do something, show you what they know? In a perfect world, this would be great but in reality, here’s the thing: advice is often wrong.

grapefruit cutting

The week before Tim and I got married, we were told the honeymoon would be nothing like we expected but probably bad; newlyweds don’t know each other at all; give ourselves some time and we’ll probably hate married life; the first year of marriage is the best; the first year of marriage is the worst; and we have no idea what we’re in for.

In the months since, women have told me marriage can’t stay sweet; we’re only happy now because it’s the beginning; we should have a baby; we should wait two years to have a baby; we should be having sex X number of times a day, a week; all women get sick of their husbands; we won’t like working together at home for long; etc. etc.

grapefruit

It’s not just people, either. There are TV shows and movies, magazines and books, advertisements, websites, Pinterest. The messages they give can be subtle or aggressive, obvious or covert: make more money! your house should be beautiful! this will make you happy! want this! buy this! be this! go!

What’s worse is that I’ve believed them. I’ve believed them and I’ve repeated them—to myself and to other people—growing this cycle of half-truth and lie by perpetuating opinions and ideas rooted in nothing.

orange

orange peels

But I had a lightbulb moment last week, the climax of many months, I think, when it hit me: just like choosing what to eat and drink during the week, in many cases, the one who chooses who’s speaking is ME.

Far from a victim, I am the willing subscriber to that voice of negativity, materialism, jealousy, despair. I seek out that person. I put myself in situations where that will be the norm, the perspective, the tone. I say those things.

But if it’s true that everyone is selling a message, one that I can swallow whole, it’s also true that I don’t have to take it—that in many cases, I can “guard my heart” in the same way I guard my body, being careful what I take in.

and mixing

fresh basil

raw honey

vitamix!

Saturday morning, pulling out a grapefruit for these citrus basil honey popsicles, asking myself whether to juice it or blend it whole, I asked Tim which would nourish my body best. Turns out that while both are good (and juicing might make a more typical popsicle), blending the pith and seeds and all adds the nutritional benefits of what’s essentially the whole-foods version of grapefruit seed extract, a powerful, disease-fighting ingredient shown to have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-parasitic properties; work against yeast; and combat many bacteria and viruses, including E.Coli. Once I saw that, it was an easy choice—I saw how it would help my body by giving it what is good.

drink at the table

You can drink it as a juice/tonic, at once bitter from the grapefruit pith and sweet from the honey, or you can freeze it in popsicle molds (ours were a wedding gift and we love them!).

citrus honey basil tonic

popsicles
citrus honey basil creamsicle

In our little household, while we ate popsicles this weekend, enjoying God’s good gifts of grapefruit, orange, basil and honey, pureed into bittersweet frozen form, I thought how easy it seems now, in our life together, to crave fresh fruit like this, how satisfying and sustaining and, good.

In the same way, I hope that the more I feed on faith-filled voices of truth and love and authenticity, the more and more they become the sources I look to to feed my soul and, more than that, that more and more they become my voice.

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Raw Brownies + Chocolate Avocado Frosting

raw brownies

This past week, Tim and I did sort of a cleanse, wherein we ate mostly raw: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, raw dairy, dried fruit. We added homemade chicken soup, nettle and Tulsi teas and, at a maximum of once a day, roasted vegetables, but otherwise it was, for the first time in our lives, an experience in raw eating.

ingredients for brownie base

It was interesting.

ground up brownie layer

First of all, it wasn’t hard, at least not in the way typical cleanses are. I wasn’t starving, I didn’t get major detox reactions, there was no need to summon all my willpower not to eat a cookie. A couple times, one of us would say to the other, doesn’t a taco sound good?, but, for the most part, we felt like there was so much we still could eat: a bowl of juicy grapefruit; fresh pomegranate arils sprinkled with flax seeds and coconut; caprese salad (tomatoes, raw mozzarella, fresh basil), morning smoothies, giant green salads (and you know how I like those), frozen fruit mixed with nuts in raw milk, homemade pecan nut butter on celery sticks—all along with our soup and roasted vegetables, so, as you can imagine, we were quite full and satisfied.

prepared loaf pan

Also, it was really, well, cleansing, just as we hoped it would be. The week made us feel good—really good—from our skin to our digestion to our energy levels. After the holidays, I had been fighting a little bit of a sore throat/cold/infection, the first one since I changed my diet in 2009. This cleanse week killed it, knocked it right out of me.

chocolate avocado frosting

But there’s one more thing, too, a thing that’s been especially fascinating and something I didn’t expect or plan for: this week has started to open my eyes to the world of raw eating. It’s something. You know, there are raw restaurants, raw blogs (like my new favorite g0lubka), raw cookbooks. And it’s not like you just eat an apple and a carrot and call it a day, either: there are crazy inventive raw recipes for things like raw donuts, raw cookies and chocolate avocado pudding, for example.

pan of raw brownies

I mean, have you ever had a raw brownie?

This was an idea that had never before occurred, let alone appealed, to me.

sliced raw brownies

And I know they say, when you take yourself away from something for a little while, say from sugar, for example, you change your tastes. So I know it’s possible that these brownies won’t seem sweet enough to the average palate or chocolatey enough compared to the typical brownie.

raw chocolate brownie

But to me, they were amazing, enough to make me wonder why I’ve trained my brain to think I need things sweeter than they have to be. I loved them. I made them twice. And both times, when I saw the simple combination of dates, walnuts and cocoa powder make a brownie and the ability of half an avocado with honey, cocoa powder, vanilla and cinnamon, along with just a pinch of salt, to create a velvety chocolate frosting, I marveled. It’s the same feeling I’ve had looking at a piece of segmented grapefruit or the inside of a pomegranate: what amazing foods we’ve been given. It’s good to celebrate them.

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Soft & Chewy Salted Caramel

homemade caramel

Two years ago, I made my dad caramels for his birthday. They were hard and crunchy, like gold-wrapped Werther’s, the kind that would crack like glass when you bit them.

While I’d been after something a little more chewy that time, since that’s how Dad likes them most, it turned out candy-making could be something of an art, especially when you were new to it, so all I could muster were those smooth caramel stones, best for placing between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and slowly melting away. I gave them to him, presenting them proudly, and I put my candy thermometer away.

cooking caramel

But then this year, when Tim and I were up visiting a few months ago, talking to my dad in the kitchen about dinner plans or about something we’d baked, Dad, almost out of nowhere, asked if I’d thought about trying caramels again. Maybe soft and chewy this time? he’d asked, hopefully, like it would really mean something to him if I could.

caramels in pan

Now I know a lot of people would say their dad is great, the best, the guy they always looked up to, but my dad, who continually surprises me with his generosity and compassion and ability to think of other people more highly than himself, really is something special. And since he so rarely asks me to make him anything, I didn’t just want to make him these caramels—I had to.

Which meant it was time to revisit the art of candy-making.

caramels to cut

There’s a reason they call things an art, you know? The art of painting, the art of marriage, the art of caramels—you can’t just check some tasks off a list and expect genius. There’s some skill involved. Some creativity and some adjusting and some finding a rhythm. And usually, art isn’t easy.

For me, as if trying to make candy in the first place wasn’t challenge enough, I also wanted to do it with better ingredients: without corn syrup and without white sugar.

But while art isn’t easy, it is worth it.

caramels, wrapped

Because guess what? It worked.

It took three tries and two bonus trips to the grocery store, but last Wednesday night, while Tim and my brother-in-law and I drove up to Chicago for the holiday weekend, it was with more than thoughts of turkey and sweet potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce: It was with these soft and chewy salted caramels, created with sorghum syrup and sucanat, sitting in the back seat, individually wrapped and tucked inside a burlap-covered mason jar.

Happy birthday, Dad.

(He was worth it, too.)

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