Zucchini Ribbons in Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce

Zucchini Ribbons in Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce

There is such satisfaction in bringing together a meal, especially on a dreary day. Where most people crave blankets and movie screens on cloudy weekends, I am the type to crave the kitchen. The kitchen is a place of birth and discovery–a space for testing ideas and seeing what works, for creating combinations that nourish and delight–and when the dreary day you’re facing stems from more than the weather, discovering new things is like medicine for the soul.

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Sauteéd, Garlicky Beet Greens

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“Will you do me a favor?” Tim says to me, the two of us side by side in the car. He’s driving. He’s usually driving when we’re in the car together. It’s our habit. He knows I’d rather sit—sit and look at Instagram, sit and watch people out my passenger window, sit and zone out to ponder some new topic he will no doubt hear about from me in due time—so the fact that he usually drives is one way he serves me. It’s right up there with killing bugs, cleaning out gutters and replacing the battery in our car—all tasks I guess I could do, if pressed, but which are becoming, to me, as good as poetry and candlelit dinners because I know, to him, they’re love. While it’s words that flow out of me when I feel great affection, for Tim, it’s more practical things, like going with me to Goodwill, which is the store we’re leaving now, as he pulls the car around a corner.

“Will you make beet greens for dinner?”

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Garlic Scape Pesto (+ Photos from the Woods)

the woods

Thursday through Sunday, I was away in the northwoods with no Internet, little phone signal, creatures crawling in the walls in the middle of the night (!!) and daily dinners at supper clubs where the only vegetables were potatoes. It’s a funny world to escape to for a greens-loving girl, but, every year when I go to Minocqua, I think again how nice it is to detox a little from a connected life.

the trees
out in the water
downtown minocqua

In order to take the trip, I was away from Tim for the longest time since we got married, and, kind of like Mary in Downton Abbey, I have to say that it’s amazing how another person can become so a part of you that you almost can’t remember what it was like to be without him. If I wrote every post on this site from here on out just telling you about what a kind husband I have, I still wouldn’t do him justice.

Anyway, we’re here with my family today, soaking up some time together and with them, so I’m going to keep this post short. I just want to tell you, first of all, that I am so thankful to the God who heard my prayers and gave me a husband who talks, fights, plans, travels and suffers with me in a grace-filled way; who isn’t insecure; who doesn’t say one thing when he means another. After a few days away from him, I’m freshly surprised about how sweet it is to have him. Also, I want to tell you about the garlic scape pesto he and I made the night before I left.

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Butter Lettuce Salad with Mango and Avocado

Today is Tim’s birthday, which makes it the perfect time to tell you how another year of living life with him—cooking together, working side by side, analyzing the nuanced details of relationships with each other, budgeting, traveling, laughing, yelling, learning about each other and from each other—has been such a gift. What is also a gift is that today’s post is not from me, but from him. He had something he wanted to say, and I cried when I read it. Hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

Butter Lettuce Salad with Avocado and Mango

Today is my birthday. Ordinarily you would be reading a post from Shanna, and so I apologize today, because I know it sucks when you don’t hear from her—I know because I enjoy reading her writing more than you do. But for some reason, every now and again on my birthday I get strange feelings to do something out of the ordinary. I think it stems back in part to the kind of birthdays I had with my mom. My mom always let me skip school on my birthday, and it always felt like such a great gift, since I disliked school so much.

Butter Lettuce

There is something about the security of the ordinary days that gives you the strength to have the extraordinary ones. There is something freeing about structure and rules. My mom was the type of mom that made you feel like you could ask her anything and she would have a helpful response. Even if she didn’t know the answer and said so, it was the manner of her presence that made you feel like she could be trusted with your questions. She cared and, because she cared, the everyday routines and happenings provided a place of safety and growth, with protection for that growth. Self-control is a wonderful gift and parenting in such a way that helps to instill self-control, while also allowing expression, is a balance that comes out of a heart that is balanced–something my mom had.

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Bruschetta Sauce with Balsamic & Fresh Fennel

The other day, I bought fresh fennel at the grocery store.

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Fresh fennel, if you’re not familiar with it, is awkward and big, not unlike many of us were when we were back in junior high. Undeterred by the way my two bulbs wouldn’t fit inside a standard produce bag, their dill-like fronds poking out on top, I carried those towering bodies proudly to the checkout line, along with the other items in my cart. Then, I took them home to Tim, laying their bodies across our cutting board, where, together, we deconstructed them, like vegetable surgeons working as a team: The tops, we chopped for garnishes. The stems, we boiled into broth. The bulbs, we cut to wedges and sidled along onions to cook slowly on the stove. An hour or so later, in return for all these efforts, we ate the braised bulbs for dinner, and, as we did, I made a discovery. This past week, or specifically, this particular moment sitting across from Tim at the table with plates of fennel as our meal, I learned I hate, and I mean, hate, cooked fennel (or, at least, cooked fennel that tastes anything remotely like the version we made). Since there are weeks, nay, entire months, of my life where I can’t remember learning anything notable, particularly between the high school years of 1996 and 2000, I guess you could say this was not a complete waste of time.

Besides the cooked fennel, our kitchen has seen a revolving door of new recipes this last week: sesame tahini cookies, chocolate banana smoothies as thick as ice cream, homemade honey mustard with roasted sweet potatoes and a seriously unusual raw lemon tahini pie. Nothing was as shockingly memorable as that batch of fennel. Nothing was as good as this bruschetta.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

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Cajun Salmon & Garlic Parsley Mashed Potatoes

cajun salmon & parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

If you had stepped into our kitchen at around 4 p.m. a few Wednesday afternoons ago, you would have seen our side door, the one that exits to the driveway and our upstairs neighbor’s black iron stairs, flung wide open. You would have seen smoke wafting from the stove through that door, intermingling with the 50-some-degree weather and bright blue skies of Nashville February. And you would have smelled the sea, not the dreamy, refreshing scent of ocean tides, but the pungent, unfortunate odor of smelly, gamey raw fish. Tim and I were testing a recipe.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

The idea of fish for dinner is nothing new in my family. My parents eat it once a week, at least. When we take my dad to restaurants, he looks for fish on the menu and asks the waiter, looking the guy in the eye and flashing a smile, if the chef might be able to blacken the salmon? And if you really could do that, boy, that would be great. While it’s true I didn’t grow up sharing my parents’ love of fish—nor their ability to treat perfect strangers as confidantes—thanks to their influence, blackened fish entered my palate early in adolescent life. Turns out, I learned as a teenager, cover something with enough powerful spice and cook it until it forms a crust, and even the fishiest fish tastes halfway okay. Now, as an adult, I freely admit I delight in a blackened, crusted tilapia and the way it sits light in my gut (not to mention, now also, the way that my dad values every waitress, businessperson or child he meets). And as far as how I feel now about fish, I think I like it best of all the meats—and yet, strangely, it is the kind I buy and cook least.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

Standing over our smoky, steaming skillet, Tim and I wondered where we’d gone wrong. We’d followed a recipe I’d found on Pinterest, brushing Dover sole filets in lemon juice and coating them in a paprika-heavy spice mixture before sautéing them in oil. The resulting filets were fine, edible even. They were spicy, for sure, practically Cajun and the kind of food to leave you reaching for a water glass. But they weren’t fun to eat. I disliked them as much as I disliked the way our kitchen smelled for hours afterwards.

So that night, discouraged, I emailed my mom.

“Could you send me your recipe for blackened fish?” I typed and clicked send. That was all I said. Our correspondence, which, since I’ve lived in Nashville, relies more on emails than phone calls, typically plays out this way.

“Use whatever spices you like,” she responded. “Cayenne, Old Bay… there’s no real formula.”

“But what about technique?” I shot back. “Any tips?”

Her eventual response wasn’t lengthy—four sentences of instruction at most—but it gave me hope:

Put EVOO and butter in a pan and let it get hot, but not smoking. Place fish in pan and sprinkle on your seasonings. Let the fish get good and cooked, and flip it to the other side. It only taks a short time. Enjoy!

Directions like that imply that even a child could cook salmon well, so two weeks later, Mom’s email open on my laptop, her instructions are exactly what Tim and I followed, and here is the result:

cajun salmon and parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

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