Picnicking and a Grape Galette

“The proper attitude toward a picnic is somewhat devil-may-care. You do not have to stand in the kitchen cutting perfect sandwiches and making perfect potato salad or frying chicken (although every once in a while an old-fashioned picnic is just the right thing). So what if all you have in the fridge is leftover rice, a couple of scallions, and a jar of almonds? You may have invented a lovely new rice salad, and no one will care if it is not their usual, because you are on a picnic.” — Laurie Colwin, More Home Cooking

picnicking

If there’s anything better than spending a summer night outdoors, it’s spending a summer night outdoors, in a vineyard, with a bag full of picnic food and blankets. Around here, our typical version of Colwin’s “rice salad,” tends to look like bread, fruit, cheese and chocolate, along with whatever leftovers or sauces or sides we can drum up on our way out the door. Let me tell you, nothing tastes better than that humble spread, set out in the fresh air and golden daylight, while you wave off gnats and listen to kids playing tag on the hill below. Picnics like these, to me, are summer—the very essence of longer days and freer schedules and warm air on your cheeks. You could eat grapes and bread in the car or or on the sofa or at the kitchen table, but taking them to grassy fields reminds you of the season you are in, of the time that’s moving ever forward, of the need to stop and savor it and drink it in.

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Strawberry Peach Tart on Maple Shortbread Cookie Crust

strawberry peach tart with shortbread cookie crust

From your comments, I know many of you experience strawberry season a little later than we do here in Tennessee. So if it’s been June instead of May that’s sent you picking strawberries and bringing buckets of them home, listen up. Whether you’ve just made homemade jam or are about to (or if you picked up jam from another source!), have we got a treat for you. You already know about turning strawberry jam into ice cream. You already know how good it is slathered on buttered toast. And maybe you’re like us and have already whipped up this Bon Appétit recipe for baby biscuits baked with circles of jam on top? If so, and you’re looking for yet one more way to put that berry jam to good use: here it is. Just over a week ago, Tim and I discovered yet another beautiful reason to love strawberry preserves—and, boy, let me tell you, it’s show-stopping.

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Chocolate Torte with Chocolate Avocado Mousse (gluten-free, maple-sweetened)

Holding Pumpkin | FoodLovesWriting.com

Fall is to seasons what blogging is to writing: easy to love. While of course I wouldn’t want a world without spring flowers or summer daylight—any more than a world without Jane Austen or Jhumpa Lahiri—I have to say that stepping outside to a golden world of falling leaves and pumpkin patches and cardigans is the kind of thing that puts an easy smile on my face, very much like sharing little windows into our life here on the blog, reading windows into other people‘s lives and, mostly, getting to interact with all of you about it.

Fall in Nashville | FoodLovesWriting.com

I started this blog in 2008, a year out of grad school, working 9-5 in an office job where I wrote descriptions of the houses people were trying to sell. Before that, I’d done some freelance work for newspapers and magazines, just small projects here and there, because I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t know if I could, much less about what. And over the last four years, while I’ve written to you about my grandma and quitting my job and moving and getting engaged and an October wedding and the way I am hungry for truth and beauty, this blog has been the place for finding out.

When we made the announcement about the book last week, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I think about launching it soon, I don’t know quite what to expect about that, either. Part of me wants to apologize—it’s just an ebook—and part of me wants to downplay it—so, in case no one reads our story, it will be less of a blow.

But the truth is, honestly, the ebook is a lot like this blog, and this blog has been such a source of joy and friendship and encouragement over the last four years, I’m ashamed of myself for not celebrating it.

We’re launching an ebook, you guys!

I love the story it contains the way I love fall and roadside stands of mums and huge vintage trucks stuffed with orange pumpkins. I love it the way I love walking outside on an October Saturday, soaking up the beauty around me.

And, while I’ve been writing and rewriting it the last several months, I’ve been really, really hoping you’ll love it, too.

pumpkins | FoodLovesWriting.com

We’ll be sharing more information about the book in the coming post (or posts), and just thinking about some of that sharing gets me so excited, I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve, all fidgety and bursting inside. But for the meantime, here are a few things:

First, it’s an ebook because an ebook is a format that’s fast, convenient, affordable (to make and to buy) and accessible for you. It has allowed us to put together our story in a manner of months, and in the way that feels right to us. Publishing an ebook is a way to share more of our journey with you, and, as I was saying at the beginning of this post, that’s always what this site has been about anyway.

Picnic Torte | FoodLovesWriting.com

Second, the ebook tells about how the blog started, how Tim and I met through it, what struggles and beauties we found along the way; it also tells a story much bigger than that, about hope and fear and learning to let go.

chocolate torte | FoodLovesWriting.com

Last thing, for now, is that when we made the video last week, as you know, it was over a picnic lunch in the park, one in which we hauled dishes and linens and baskets of food to a concrete table surrounded by tall trees and falling leaves, and where we ate, among other things, a chocolate torte made of an avocado mousse so creamy and rich, I almost didn’t want to post the video on Friday, but this torte instead.

chocolate torte and chocolate avocado mousse | foodloveswriting.com

The crust is mostly maple syrup, coconut oil and nuts; the mousse is mostly avocados and maple syrup; and the combination is so easy to love, like blogging and like autumn and like long afternoons in the sun, you won’t believe it—and that’s whether or not you’re eating it beneath a canopy of maple leaves in the mid-afternoon.

Today, I leave you with this torte. More soon.

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Tennessee Apple Picking + Rustic Apple Tartlets (+ Einkorn Flour!)

Shanna Holding an Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s Saturday. I’m awake too early, still in bed but eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, too excited to go back to sleep. Today we’re going apple-picking, which, for the joy it gives me, may as well be cookie-eating or treasure-finding, and right now, the sound of Tim’s breathing next to me, all I can think about are the bright blue skies, warm golden sunshine and endless apples that await us when we do.

Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com

What can I say about apple-picking that hasn’t already been said? That there’s something wonderful about standing amongst rows of trees, many of them heavy with fruit, the yeasty smell of fallen, fermenting apples in the air? That trekking out with your friends or family to an orchard, a basket slung over your arm, feels like a celebration, just like carving a turkey or chopping down a Christmas tree? Or maybe that picking apples, to me, is one of those activities that’s so quintessentially autumn, so like pumpkin carving or sipping cider, that when you go out and do it, with your roommate or your husband or your friend and her kids, you can count on finding yourself, surrounded by harvest and clutching your cardigan, thinking, this, this!, is why there’s just no time like fall.

Tennessee Orchard | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s easy to sleep in on winter weekends, but on a late-September Saturday with apple-picking ahead, it only makes sense to get up early, pack a few snacks, log a few hours of work nearby and then call a few orchards so you can be on the road. That’s why, a little past noon had us eastbound on the interstate, me in my new Goodwill cardigan, Tim in his thick rugby shirt, and within 30 minutes we were at Breeden’s, 631 Beckwith, Mount Juliet, a modest orchard outside Nashville, past sloping hills and winding roads and thick clusters of trees.

Pick an Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com
Tim and Shanna Apple Picking | FoodLovesWriting.com
basket of apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Yellow apples were the only ones available for picking, and there weren’t a ton left, but at $1/pound, the whole situation was still pretty hard to beat. We strolled up sun-kissed aisles and filled our basket, taking seven or so pounds back home with us, along with fruit-sweetened blueberry jam purchased in the adjacent country store.

Freshly Washed Apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Back in our kitchen, we washed the apples a little more aggressively than normal, in a vinegar solution, since they were grown conventionally, and went ahead and peeled them, too. The first several became the topping for a dozen rustic apple tartlets, inspired by a photo I saw on Pinterest a while ago.

Making Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

The dough we made with einkorn flour, a new pantry staple we’ve introduced into our regular routine recently, and which I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you here. Einkorn is, essentially, one of the most ancient forms of wheat. (One of the biggest issues with today’s traditional wheat flours is that they’ve been so highly hybridized and hence hard on your body, but einkorn takes us back to the original form. It is considered easier to digest even than spelt, and for that reason, it may soon become the flour we use most often in our kitchen. For more information, see these posts from Nourished Kitchen and Healthy Home Economist)

So far what I’ve seen from einkorn—baking cookies, making pizza dough and turning it into the bottom of tartlets—is that it behaves similarly to spelt except that it absorbs a little more liquid, meaning recipe adjustments might require adjusting proportions slightly.

Apple Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

Anyway, whether you use einkorn or not, the idea for these tartlets isn’t hard to mimic: make a pastry dough and roll it out nice and thin; use a biscuit cutter to slice out 12 rounds, then top them with sliced apples in a pinwheel pattern, drizzling honey and fresh thyme and cinnamon atop that. Bake. Drizzle with honey as a sort of glaze and sprinkle toasted hazelnuts.

Apple Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

By Saturday evening, before sharing dinner with friends, Tim and I were popping these pretty tartlets, heating up leftovers, looking at all the apples in our fridge and feeling pretty thankful for this glorious season that is fall. Oh, apple-picking, you know how to do.

Psst — Do you already go apple-picking? What other ways do you embrace fall? And hey, to find an orchard near you, check out PickYourOwn.org and Orange Pippin.

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Chicken Pot Pie + ‘Dinner: A Love Story’

lynnville

It’s a hot and sunny Saturday and we’re on our way to Lynnville, a sleepy little town that you could live in Tennessee all your life without hearing of, but which today has drawn our attention because of an ad I saw somewhere for a blackberry festival. The whole trip, I’m reading to Tim from my latest library find, and right away, we’re both so into the stories about food and parenting and the world of magazine editing that before we know it, we’ve driven the entire hour, past hilly pasture land and giant barns and no places to use a bathroom, anywhere, and then there’s Lynnville, right before us, rewarding our travel with what turns out to be the very anti-climactic main street that today boasts one carnival booth, four craft tents and, off in the corner, a 85-year-old man selling tomatoes.

No. Blackberries.

None.

tomatoes

So we talk with the tomato man, who tells us he’s lived in Lynnville all his life, and we ask him about blackberries, and he says, no, there aren’t any, but you know, he used to pick them when he was a boy, and we buy a bag of his produce, and he gives us a green pepper for two quarters, and we’re back in the car.

We say to each other, laughing at the wasted hours in the countryside, well, at least there were tomatoes! but then I pull out my book and we remember: actually, at least there’s this.

potpiewmom

It’s a week later that I finish “Dinner: A Love Story,” the Saturday night we’re flying home to Chicago, just a few minutes before we board the plane. About 80% of the book I’ve read aloud to Tim, either that day to and from the no-blackberry blackberry festival or in the five or six nights following, before we fall asleep at night. Part cookbook and part memoir, it comes from Jenny Rosenstrach, the former Real Simple editor who blogs at a site by the same name. I wasn’t a follower before I read the book, but I am now: after reading Rosenstrach’s stories, which are as much about food as they are about parenting, as much about gathering around the table as they are about building relationships, I feel like she’s someone with whom I’d like to be friends.

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potpie_vertical

While we’re in Illinois, my mom says to us one morning, I have some chicken, what should I make? And I jump from my chair. I know exactly the thing! I tell her. And I run upstairs to my suitcase to pull out this book, to flip to the chicken pot pie recipe, the one Rosenstrach has been making since the early days of marriage and entertaining and which she has been known to monogram for a real wow factor for her kids.

chickenpotpie

My mom makes it and it has the same effect: I eat three pieces. And later that night, my brother wipes the dish clean. So when Tim and I come back to Nashville and we’re making dinner for friends, it’s this recipe that we turn to, making it the night before and just sticking in back in the oven for 15 minutes before serving.

potpie_sliced

The thing about chicken pot pie is it’s comfort food. It’s hot and it’s creamy and eating it feels like you’re nine years old again, cradling a cup of chicken soup—but it’s even better! with a flaky crust!—so while I know it’s July and it’s humid and many of us are heading to the pool or the beach or the lake house, and so salads and grilling and fresh fruit sounds more like the norm, bookmark this one (rainy days or not!) because it’s good.

slicedout_chickenpotpie

Oh, and while you’re at it, bookmark “Dinner: A Love Story” and make it a must-read. I’m so glad we did.

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Raw Berry Cream Pie + Raw Chocolate Crust

raw berry pie + raw chocolate crust

There are days when a story chases you, when you feel like it’s falling out of you or like you have to write it, in that moment, before it’s gone; and then there are days when it doesn’t, when you sit, staring at your keyboard and photographs, searching for words like you’re hunting for lost gold.

All it means is that you’re a writer.

1_berries

Everyone from Anne Lamott to Elizabeth Gilbert will tell you this. For most of us, creativity is less a kitchen faucet, turned on and off like we please, and more a gust of wind, unpredictable and sometimes violent. While there are those of us who tap it well, who know how to do their rain dances of disciplined writing times and creative writing exercises to produce results, for a lot of us, it’s not as simple. We stare at a lot of blank screens, spend a lot of afternoons escaping for want of inspiration, do a lot of wrestling with paragraphs like we’re fighting stubborn pieces of clay. That’s how it goes.

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Because I’ve heard them say it, I know it’s true of authors and journalists as well as it is of, say, self-employed copywriters and Nashville food bloggers. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing someone else’s story or your own: you can still feel that same pull, that same hard-won fight and effort. You listen back to your interview, you look at pages of notes, you stare at your WordPress dashboard and you feel the familiar desire to write, the need to write and yet, all you hit is a wall. Words won’t come.

So here’s what I’d love to know: what do you do about it?

3_foodprocessor

The answers out there, like the writers, vary greatly—I recently wrote about this for my day job—and I think in having the discussion, we have a lot to offer one another. Some writers draft outlines; some riff on previous work; others leave the screen altogether, opting instead for a run in the park or conversation with friends to get their creative juices flowing.

In the more specific realm of food bloggers, sometimes it’s less the writing that’s difficult but more the coming up with topics—those of you who blog, do you feel that way? Dianne Jacob writes that finding inspiration as a food blogger may mean thinking outside a traditional recipe post, opting instead for a round-up of products you like or a new series that will set your topics for you.

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I tend to be of the camp that free-writes, that sits down and starts writing everything in my head without edits or backspaces, whirling along until something valuable appears, and, three or four or five paragraphs in, it usually does.

5_pie

Today, for example, this post originally began with “So I want to write about berry cream pie” and progressed into a few lines about Tim Riggins’s dad showing up at his football game (side question: television on in the background while you work—white noise or distraction?) and eventually became a more sculpted set of paragraphs about our living room and the ottomans we bought at T.J. Maxx.

forks and raw berry pie

It was only several paragraphs later that I hit on another approach, the direct one that this post has become, wherein I felt like I didn’t know what to say and so, said exactly that.

last plate of raw berry pie

What about you? How do you approach the writing process? Whether you write newspaper articles or nonfiction essays or poetry or blog posts or in the journal on your nightstand, what does it look like for you?

It’s true that writing can be a lonely business, but it’s less so when you invite others in.

That’s why I’m doing that here, sharing a little of my writing process, asking you to share yours—because I think, maybe, when we share our stories, we not only gain community but also, we help each other grow.

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Brown Butter Cranberry Hazelnut Tart + Chocolate Tart

bokeh christmas tree

I never thought much about what our first Christmas would be like—which is funny because, for a classic overthinker like me, it’s rare not to think about something. Maybe it was because of how big October seemed and how faraway December felt.

first christmas

The first week, we bought a six-foot Fraser fir, purchased from a giant red-and-white tent outside Home Depot, a tree that smells like the forest and sheds needles every day. We stowed it in the back of Tim’s car, alongside a poinsettia and a fresh wreath from Aldi, and put it in our living room, inside a plastic stand Tim hadn’t used for four years and topped by white bulb lights I’d hung at that blog birthday party I had in 2009.

advent calendar

We hung a homemade advent calendar (inspiration: summer harms) on our dining room window, made of leftover wedding kraft envelopes and filled with holiday activities each of us wrote on slips of paper, mixed together and inserted randomly.

The first day was kisses every hour; the second was a thankful list to hang on the fridge.

We made a bed by the tree and read “The Gift of the Magi.”

christmas craft night

We had some of our favorite kids over to make ornaments, just simple circles cut out and hung with red string, after which we ate popcorn and watched a movie about a valiant mouse.

stockings

We took our burlap wedding runners and made stockings.

burlap Christmas wrapping

Then we took more and wrapped gifts.

pie day saturday

And last Saturday, we had a holiday pie party at our house, where everyone brought a pie to share—lemon meringue, key lime meringue, candied apple, pumpkin.

For our contributions, Tim and I made two tarts: David Lebovitz’s dark chocolate (the perfect dessert for incorporating some coffee Starbucks sent me a few months ago):

chocolate tart

And Meg Gordon’s brown butter cranberry with a hazelnut crust, beautifully Christmassy with its bright red berries and set on a nutty cookie-like crust:

cranberry tart

And so here we are, less than two weeks from Christmas Day, in the throes of new traditions and new memories, and I’m certain of one thing:

I may not have thought much about what our Christmas would be, but I know I will think, often, of what it was.

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