I can't remember the last time I was as excited about a cookbook as I have been about The Homemade Flour Cookbook, written by Erin Alderson of Naturally Ella, just published a few weeks ago. (And you know I get…
Earlier this week, I read an Anne Lamott article in which she says a few things so well, I don’t think anybody again will ever say them better. (“There were entire books written on the subject of the overly sensitive child. What the term meant was that you noticed how unhappy or crazy your parents were.” // “Any healthy half-awake person is occasionally going to be pierced with a sense of the unfairness and the catastrophe of life for ninety-five percent of the people on this earth.” // “One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that I was going to need a lot of help, and for a long time.”) As a writer, there are two ways you can respond when you read an article like that. You can be happy such good writing exists, resonating in different sentences with what you’ve seen to be true, written in a way that cuts to the point—or you can be bummed out, because, hello, you weren’t the one creating it. This, of course, goes for more than writing.
Like cookies and reading and the beginning of spring, banana bread is something I would tell you I’ve loved a long, long time. In this blog’s infant years, I baked Joy of Cooking banana bread, Boston bakery banana bread and a banana bread with streusel topping that stole my heart. I baked Mrs. Newman’s banana cake and, a month into marriage, banana muffins. I’ve baked banana bread waffles and, more recently, sourdough banana bread French toast. I love banana bread; I get banana bread; when it comes to banana bread, what is there that’s left to know?
But then a few weeks ago, some friends had us over for dinner and served homemade banana bread for dessert, saying quickly that it was “half almond flour and half quinoa flour” and made with “almond milk instead of regular milk,” and, a few bites in, I was looking at banana bread in a whole new way. Afterward, I, of course, went home and, two days later, pulled out (yet another) a beloved banana recipe, revising ingredients as I stirred and poured, and whipping up the version pictured in this post.
The whole experience reminded me of one of the kitchen’s best gifts to us, not unlike a gift I’m regularly given here, at this site: the ability to see in new ways. I never knew adapting a banana bread recipe would be as simple as a one-to-one flour switch with half almond flour and half quinoa or that doing so would create such you’d-never-know-it-was-gluten-free results. Likewise, I’ve learned so many things here about areas of life I thought I knew, like friendship and creativity and writing, all from sticking around and chatting with you all.
With that in mind, and to thank you again for your support, encouragement and feedback on the last two posts, I’m giving you not only a revised version of my friend Kelley’s banana bread, which was previously posted here, but also a list of links to recent findings that have helped open my eyes in some way. Hope you enjoy these pieces as much as I have; happy weekending, friends!
Edit: I wrote this post before the Newtown tragedy Friday afternoon, but, reading back over it now, I’m struck by how much I need the reminder all over again—to look for the good in people helping, praying, loving; to recognize the darkness that brings murder and heartbreak and how it is so not at all the voice of Light. It feels wrong not to acknowledge the pain that the affected families of children and teachers are facing today. We wish we could do more. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Newtown.
Some days, I’m overwhelmed by the lack of love in the world: the snubbing, the name-calling, the pushing, the overlooking, the thoughtlessness human beings show to one another.
For as many of you as relate to a genuine curiosity and interest in other people like I mentioned in the last post, there are others who don’t, who never turn their eyes outward, who come to the party and talk but never listen, who sit near you at a table and stare sullenly ahead, who learn your name and job title and put you into a box marked Understood.
I’d like to throw all such offenders into a Them box, one decidedly Not-Me, but then the thought flashes through my mind, while I sit across from strangers at a car dealership this past week, that I should try to talk to them, show some kindness, and I don’t; I share dinner with a friend and know I could encourage him, and, instead, I’m quiet; we run into friends, and, instead of entering into their lives, I’m anxious to get back to work; I go through entire days of regular life with my husband without once stopping to consider and tell him how good I know he is to me.
And other days, I’m overwhelmed by the love there is in the world.
If you didn’t catch Ashley Rodriguez’s October Not Without Salt post featuring cherry chocolate chip cookies, you really missed out—and I say that not just because of the killer cookie recipe, but also because of the thoughtful writing on perfectionism and art and creative work that surrounded it. A riff on Ashley’s previously posted THE chocolate chip cookie, these cherry chocolate beauties are part toasted almond flour, part wheat (or, in our case, einkorn); made with ground flax and water instead of an egg; and studded with cherries and chopped chocolate throughout.
I have this photographer friend Louie. I met him through Becky, the friend who was with me the first time I met Tim, and I’ve been following his Tweets and Instagrams and blog ever since that one random afternoon sitting across from him at Burger King or McDonald’s, watching him eat chicken nuggets, before the three of us went someplace else. Louie’s a cool kid—I say kid because, people, Louie is all of 22, as in the age I was when I started grad school, the age at which the only things I’d ever published were local newspaper articles about book clubs and town meetings, the age when I didn’t know much about cooking, much less about cooking and writing about it on a food blog. But Louie’s 22 looks a lot different than mine did, and he’s a crazy-good photographer shooting, get this, upwards of 20 weddings a year. So when he came into town last week from Chicago, asking for some help expanding his food portfolio, we were only too happy to have him over for our regular Sunday lunch with friends.
(All shots in this post courtesy of Louie Abellera Photography.)
So let’s talk about Sunday lunches. Tim’s been keeping this tradition with the same group of friends since before I knew him. When we were long-distance dating, and I’d come into town for the weekend, Sunday afternoons would have us all gathered together, grilling and assembling a meal to share at a dining room table. When my family came to town in February, when friends have come to visit this year, if they’re here on a Sunday, they come to our shared Sunday meal. It’s a nice constant, one thing that is consistently the same, no matter who else joins or leaves or what the time of year. And while usually we do it at our friends’ home, this week, we moved things to our table, where the sunlight was especially nice around 3 PM and where the four kids gathered around a blanket in our spare bedroom to “picnic” while the adults shared salads and pizza on our flea market chairs and vintage wedding plates.
Tim and I were talking recently about how every time we have people over for a meal, there’s a salad. He brought two giant salad bowls into our marriage and they get regular rotation in our eating and entertaining plans. A meal just doesn’t feel complete without a giant pile of leafy greens involved. This week, the salad couldn’t have been simpler: an arugula mix topped with sliced pluots, sliced red onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and seasonings, nothing else. We tossed it using my newest kitchen treasure, new Anthropologie servers, thanks to birthday gift cards from our family.
The pizza was just two batches of this thin and crunchy soaked crust recipe, decorated with four different choices of toppings. We baked them two by two before everyone arrived, trying to keep things as warm as we could, then placed them all on the table on cutting boards so people could serve themselves.
Then there was a quick zucchini-tomato salad, and water with lemon, and wine, gifted from Becky when she was in town a few weeks ago.
Last, for dessert, there was almond cake, a gluten-free, incredibly simply recipe my sister-in-law made for us while we were in Ohio and that wowed us so much, it was the first thing we thought of for Sunday’s meal. Light and sweet and with a nice crumb, the kind you expect cake flour, or at the very least all-purpose flour, to be necessary to achieve, this cake is made from a combination of almond flour and coconut flour, four eggs, butter, honey and a few other little things. It’s wonderful, especially topped by homemade whipped cream. (The cake and the whipped cream were made the day beforehand, and I put them together just before we ate.)
After dinner, the kids joined us around the table for card games, and Tim and I cleaned up the kitchen, and my brother-in-law had the football game on TV. Once all the guests had left, Tim and I agreed about the rich pleasure of hosting, of getting to have people into your home, give them your food and watch them eat. It is the single best part of cooking, this sharing around the table, if you ask me.
(We’re still away visiting family, but we couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you. With any luck, we’ll be making it again in Chicago!)
We’re walking through the grocery store, and Tim’s telling me about this idea he has for using up the case of blueberries in our cart (because apparently it’s an annual tradition).
“It’d be like a cookie,” he’s saying, “but you wouldn’t bake it, and there’d be blueberries mixed inside. Then, we’ll dip them in chocolate!”
I hear my mouth say something like OK even as I’m rounding another aisle on the hunt for flour, but honestly, all I’m thinking about is cracking open a pint as soon as we can get in the car. In the checkout line, when our cashier inquires about our blueberry plans, Tim’s ready. “Well, we’ll bake some, we’ll eat some and then we’ll freeze some!” he tells her, as excited as it were a conveyor belt of diamonds and rubies, not berries, that we are sending down the line.
And minutes later, as we’re feasting on fistfuls of blueberries while exiting the parking lot, talking excitedly about scones and pancakes and smoothies, I think to myself, man, there’s just nobody like Tim.
We’ve only been married eight-and-a-half months, a time span not quite long enough to complete a school year, qualify for employee vacation time or in most cases grow a child, and yet there are so many things I already find myself taking for granted about our life—like the way we read to each other, in bed at night, on car trips to nearby towns or at the table when one or the other of us finds an article that’s interesting in the middle of our workdays; or the random way we’ll enter deep discussions, like when I ask him “Why do you think people are so drawn to laughter?” one afternoon, driving in the car.
In many ways, Tim is just like me: enjoys reading, a homebody, gets frustrated when something is imprecise. In other ways, he’s not: doesn’t fear what people think, for one; is full of faith, for another. I told our friend Jared a few weeks ago that I think marriage is sometimes like a mirror and what I meant was this: there’s something about the very close, very personal day-to-day interaction with another human being that makes you better able to see yourself. Through eight-and-a-half months of living with Tim, sharing our meals and our work and our weekends, I’ve seen things about myself I don’t like, areas were I lack—mostly because they are areas where he doesn’t.
I, it’s becoming clearer and clearer, am what you might call a cynic, a person prone to suspicion and doubt. I like proof and want evidence and probably won’t believe something until I can see, for sure, that it’s true. You could blame this on authority figures I had who lied to me or to the social environment I grew up in that deceived and hid grace, but the larger issue is me—me and my fear and my doubt. A few years ago, in a Bible study I was in, we were reading about the apostle Thomas, the one who had to see Jesus’ hands, and I starting sobbing when I read Christ’s response: no censure, no condemnation, just “Put your finger here. See my hands.” I think about that sometimes when Tim and I talk about the future and wanting to give more, and I have to rehearse in my mind promises, promises that I’ve seen to be true, like evidence, right before my eyes.
And I think about that when he talks animatedly about blueberries, to a stranger at the grocery store, without inhibition or caution or a guard up, and I think about it when he tells me his hopes for the future, hopes I’d throw away as impossible or too big. What a gift to live life with a man like this, what a gift to rub up against him and feel my faith sharpened, see my hope grow. And what a gift to eat blueberry-filled, cookie-dough truffles covered in chocolate, the ones he envisioned and I couldn’t see, the ones that are crazy, almost unbelievably, good.