Mustard Green Chips

Mustard Green Chips

Mustard Green Chips / Food Loves Writing

My friend Carla was in town this weekend. I love Carla. Carla is soft and sharp and for some reason has always reminded me of a brunette Meryl Streep. Carla can finish my sentences and make me laugh and when she comes to town and eats lunch at my table, she asks me how she can help clean up, and I show her the sink setup, and there she is, doing my dishes for me as I stand next to her, talking, bent over with my elbows propped up on the counter and my rear end up in the air while I barrage her with questions, her barely missing a beat. As she slips spoons and forks, one by one, into the dishwasher in our galley kitchen, like she is the hostess and I am the guest, I let her because she is Carla and because I know she knows me and because all those weeks (or months? or years?) of walls that typically block we humans from finding intimacy with one another have already been torn down. Carla was the person I went to visit a few nights before my wedding, two years ago this month, so she could make me dinner and we could sit on her new back deck, and she could tell me inner secrets of marriage that can only come from someone who’s already been in it for as long as I’ve been alive.

“Being married is awesome!” I later texted her, from my honeymoon, shocked more than blissful, my cynical heart surprised (still surprised!) that a human relationship could be so sweet.

“Well, of course!” she wrote back to me, with either an SMS smile or a “ha!”

Mustard Green Chips / Food Loves Writing

She was here Sunday because her son got married the day before, almost exactly two years after Tim and I did, almost exactly 31 years after she and her husband, Pete, did. When they came to have lunch this weekend, we talked about the wedding and the decorations and the food. We also talked about what books we’re reading and about Pete’s job and about the tufted chair in our living room and how we bought it off Craigslist.

“Have you ever thought about how, if you died, I mean, like if I died, and Tim and I had had kids, that the only way they’d learn about me would be what other people told them?” I asked Carla across the table, Pete in the bathroom and Tim at my side. “Sometimes I wonder how different people would explain me to be and how different their ideas would be from who I am. Like who really knows me besides Tim?”

These are the kinds of weird, hypothetical questions that plague me, right up there with the “What will I wear tomorrow?” and “I wonder what makes so-and-so tick?” that most people would find annoying. Carla responded with something about how our perceptions become our realities and the way we perceive something is the way we believe it to actually be.

Bowl of Mustard Greens for Chips / Food Loves Writing

It’s answers like those, along with comments in our long conversations about entertaining or family dynamics or pride, that make me feel like when I talk to Carla, I am talking to someone who sees me as I am, someone who understands me. And the older I get, the more I realize how rare such an interaction is and, therefore, how good a gift. When you’re the type of person who gets lost thinking about the way your stories are always autobiographical (because, like Jhumpa Lahiri says, you’re always revealing the things your eyes see—the limitation and grace of your own perceptions of the world), it’s nice to be that sort of person alongside someone else. It’s nice to have someone who thinks your analytical mind is okay.

At our lunch, we fed Carla and Pete a (sadly tough) pot roast, abed Brussels sprouts and potatoes, alongside Tim’s salad and our homemade pretzel rolls. I laughed that we were “treating them like family” by serving new recipes we’d never made before, some of which we’d want to apologize for, but none of which we would brag about, and we ate it all, and they ate it all, and afterwards we went out for ice cream in the Nashville drizzly rain.

Mustard Green Chips / Food Loves Writing

The next day, Tim picked up our CSA share and, in amongst all the tomatoes and herbs and squash was a bunch of mustard greens. Today, I took those greens and turned them into chips, barely dressed, changed chiefly by the oven’s heat. Eating them, I felt like I was eating mustard greens as they are—spicy and sharp, thin and leafy, albeit mellowed and crisped by the roasting time.

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SPONSORED POST: Sweet and Tangy Late Summer Squash Quinoa

SPONSORED POST: Sweet And Tangy Late Summer Squash Quinoa

We just enjoyed a two-week trial of Grammarly for proofreading—because everybody can use an extra pair of eyes. Learn more about this online editing service in the footer!

summer squash quinoa

Two days ago on our morning walk, Tim and I put on sweatshirts. Yesterday, I pulled out my boots for the first time since May. Today, the window’s open in the bathroom, and even from the next room over, I can smell the fresh air and feel a cool breeze coming in (the high today in Nashville was 72 degrees). What’s more, down the hall and in the kitchen, the oven is on, and I have a pot filled with root vegetables boiling on the stove. Fall is here, officially and obviously, and I’ve been dressing, eating and, what I’m trying to say, I guess, is enjoying this new season, even when it means summer’s gone.

summer squash quinoa

But before we get too deep in changing leaves, could I get one last hurrah for summer? I hate to say it as a lifelong October lover, but sometimes I’m nostalgic for the season that ends (besides winter). And while I was all set to pack away this late summer squash recipe for next year, our Monday CSA pickup brought a few more of the yellow squash we’ve been seeing the last few weeks. So I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind if I slipped this late summer squash quinoa dish in? You could, of course, swap out the yellow squash with a nice winter one, cubed and roasted with oil until it’s caramelized. You could, also, decide to go elsewhere for a recipe featuring pumpkin or apples. I’ll understand.

summer squash quinoa

For now, here’s a quinoa dish we enjoyed before the temperatures dropped and the days shortened. It’s a reminder of the beauty that was, even as we walk forward into the beauty that is and the kind that is to come.

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Fresh Corn Pudding

Fresh Corn Pudding

Fresh Corn Pudding

The fact that I live in Nashville still confuses me sometimes, especially when we return from somewhere familiar, like Chicago to see my family or Ohio to see Tim’s. Tuesday night we came home from a few days in Cincinnati, for example, where all the men in Tim’s family went to a Monday night football game and I finally got to hit up IKEA—and coming back had me dreaming about eating breakfast in my own parents’ kitchen or watching Friday night movies at my friend Jackie’s house. Sometimes being around familiar things makes me want to be around more familiar things. And even though, from where I write this post tonight, I know I’ve lived in Tennessee for two and a half years (WHAT!), the fact that I live in the South still seems strange. People in the South are downright charming—but it’s hard to know when they’re being genuine. People in the South like to small-talk—but this level of interaction can go on for years. And here I am, this Midwestern girl who at first seems aloof and then pours her vulnerable heart all over the coffee shop, and it’s not hard to wonder where exactly I fit in.

Fresh Corn PUDDING

I am convinced there’s great value in being a student of things you don’t understand—This includes health and nutrition, family relationships, frizzy hair, and entire regions of the country like the parts south of the Mason-Dixon line. Since I started visiting Nashville in 2010, I’ve been exposed to increasing levels of Southern culture, and along the way I guess I’ve been taking notes. So while it’s true I make generalizations about the South, about Tennessee, it’s also true I know places are made up of people, and no two people are exactly the same. It’s just interesting to look at the trades, foods, and backyard party styles of people in certain geographies. And that’s what I found fascinating about the cookbook, Southern Living No Taste Like Home*.

Corn

Besides having a puffy hardcover exterior and pages and pages of beautiful, colorful photographs, this cookbook is filled with information about this area called the South. It’s broken up into six sections—Heart of Dixie, Cajun Country, Texas, Piedmont and Mountains, Bluegrass/Bourbon/Barbecue Trail (that’s where our city fits in), and Coastal South. Reading the section intros was a little like touring different parts of America, and I found that a pretty enjoyable way to look at recipes and food.

Corn Pudding

The first recipe we adapted from the book was this fresh corn pudding, nestled just under a recipe for Kentucky Burgoo (essentially a meaty stew). Even swapping out the cream for kefir, the sugar for coconut sugar, the flour for einkorn and cutting everything in half, the result was creamy comfort food—something the South has always done best.

corn pudding

The texture and flavor reminded me of cream corn meets soufflé. To my brother-in-law, it was like a corn version of a mac n’ cheese. Either way, it’s one beautiful reason to love this place I’m continually learning to make my home.

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Simple foods are the good foods // Vegan Basil Walnut Pesto

Herbs in the window

One a hot September day when you drive around town in your car with the broken air-conditioning, your shirt sticking to you and the sun beating down beautiful and hard, it’s nice to come back to your kitchen, pull herbs from your windowsill, nuts from the cabinet, and assemble something fresh and simple to eat.

Basil and walnuts
A fistful of fresh tomatoes

That’s what I did today. I returned to the kitchen not just after a morning out working, but also after, for the most part, four days away from it altogether. After four days of no appetite and lots of fruit and lots of juice, I came back to one of the most normal things in my routine, one that always feels so strange to be away from—I came back to make something to eat.Vegan walnut pesto

I’ve noticed in my life, and I wonder if it’s true in yours, that when I’ve been away from food for a little while, whether because of fasting or because of traveling or because of illness or because of something else, the things I want most are simple things. There’s as much joy in an apple, sliced thinly on a plate, as there would be, on other days, in an elaborate four-course meal. I’m as thankful for some small-batch pesto, whipped up during lunch, as I was the week before for a three-layer cake. Going without something makes you see its value. Going without something simplifies what you think you need.

Tomatoes and vegan pesto

So today, I found great joy in two red tomatoes from our farmer, sliced onto two of our vintage wedding plates, topped by a quick pesto, a few breadcrumbs and balsamic. I got to assemble the meal, I got to want to eat it and then I got to take it, bite by bite, and bring it to my lips.

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Braised Roma Beans

When Tim and I visited my family earlier this year, my brother loaned me the book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The story, if you don’t know it, is about a man who accidentally begins a long journey to a friend, and along the way, both he and everyone he knows is affected. I reached the last chapter on a Sunday night at Sevier Park, stretched out next to Tim on blankets beneath the setting sun. When I closed the cover, I turned to Tim and sighed.

“Did you like it?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I said to him, my head propped up in my hand. “This book reminded me that people can change.”

And people, I need to be reminded of that.

Braised Roma Beans

It seems to me that one of the kitchen’s best gifts to us, aside from being a place to connect and find nourishment, is that it is a place that reminds us of truths we forget. Like the book I finished, the kitchen vividly demonstrates that life is dynamic. Things are in flux. Like the green beans we braise on the stovetop, we are, all of us, ever transforming and moving and being made new.

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Herb-Roasted Carrot and Pesto Tartines

Herb-Roasted Carrots and Pesto Tartines

Even growing up in the Depression didn’t make my grandma immune to persuasive tactics at the table. “Carrots are good for your eyes,” she’d tell me as I pushed the boiled orange coins, floating in pools of butter, around my plate. Grandma had worn thick, plastic-framed glasses the whole time I’d known her, and I’d qualified as near-sighted almost as soon as I went to school, so the idea of not wearing glasses was appealing. She knew her audience, you could say. Thanks to her, carrots became one of the first vegetables I wanted to eat, along with green beans and potatoes, if you’re the type that calls potatoes vegetables, but I can’t say it was because I liked them.

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