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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Everybody’s hands are full, we’re all wondering with what // Einkorn Pizza Pastry Recipe

morning

MY BODY WAKES UP BEFORE MY ALARM CLOCK THIS MORNING, so it’s at 6:42 that I’m turning off the timer before it sounds and stumbling to the bathroom a few feet away. I open the window shutters and brush my teeth, and when Tim doesn’t follow, I step back towards the bed and find myself crawling in.

“What time is it?” he asks me through half-opened eyes. “Are we getting up to walk?”

I pull the covers to my chin in our bedroom with the shades still shut and say, “Maybe we should walk tonight instead,” and Tim comes closer and rubs my side, and I think of my grandma and the way she’d scratch my back until I fell asleep at night and about the love it takes to do that for someone who is not yourself.

marche
Yesterday, my friend Michele was in town. She took us out for brunch to Marché, my birthday breakfast choice from just a a few days before, saying, “I hope you’re not bored with this place,” to which I shook my head and said, “Listen, I could eat here every day!” Atop our white marble table we shared toast with homemade ricotta and sliced plums, and I ate a lamb gyro with the most tender meat and most buttery pita and a mess of bright tzatziki all over everything. Afterwards, I hugged my friend who is all life and travel and laughing, the same friend I feared for the year I met Tim, and I thought how sweet it is to have prayers answered and friends alive and thriving to eat brunch with, on mornings when they pass through Tennessee.

Einkorn pizza pastry

The night before Michele came, Tim’s brother was over for our usual Wednesday dinner, and he brought me birthday presents wrapped in brown paper and string, and we ate a typical Mallon hodge-podge dinner for three: homemade French fries and roasted peppers stuffed with cream cheese and pie pastry baked with tomatoes and basil into a tart.

It hit me this week that these are the things in my hands right now, in my 31st year, in August 2013. When I applied for college, back in 1999 (!), I had to predict where I’d be in five years, ten years, fifteen, and nothing I wrote in those essays figured a life that looks like this. I look around me some days and think, Why should I have a kind husband who loves me and hugs me and laughs with me early in the morning? Why should we be given breakfasts and lunches and a fridge full of food to eat? Man, we’re blessed to have friends who come take us to brunch. Man, we’re blessed to have mornings to linger in sleep longer, to decide to walk later, to be free.

And it also hits me that, from where I write this post right now, still in bed on Friday morning, my hands don’t look like yours. Maybe you have kids. Maybe you have a house. Maybe you wish for quiet mornings or maybe you wish for loud ones. Maybe you wish for hands to rub you to sleep at night; maybe you wish for fewer hands to surround you at all. Maybe you look at my hands and want to say, because they look different from your hands, “Why haven’t you guys done this yet or that?”

But whatever your life looks like, whomever it’s with, whatever work or school or family needs take up most of your days, your empty hands are being filled with it all, like my hands are being filled with it all, and, the truth is, a lot of what fills them is outside our control. It’s human to look at my hands and compare them to your hands. It’s natural to want to tell other people to fill their hands the same ways we’ve filled ours. But I didn’t meet Tim when I was 20 like I would have wanted to when I was 17. I didn’t get to have a baby at 23 and a full brood of little ones by age 30. I haven’t written a cookbook. I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved some great earthly success. Instead, I’ve been given grad school and travel and new friends and the most loving husband I have ever met, and along with them, I’ve been given a broken heart and rejection letters and a little blog that brings me a lot of joy. We all wish and desire and long for things, even as we hold good gifts of breakfasts and jobs and not getting everything we thought we would want. But it’s hitting me this week, this full week, that my hands are always holding something, like your hands are always holding something, and I’m so thankful for my somethings and for your somethings, and that they’re different. And that really our hands are always full.

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Coconut Sugar Lemon Curd on Gluten-Free Basil Shortbread

Coconut Sugar Lemon Curd On Gluten-Free Basil Shortbread

Tim and I woke up screaming in the middle of the night last week. I didn’t check the clock when it happened, but it must have been 2 or 3 AM, the only noise the hum of our air filter, the only light our neighbor’s driveway flood lamp. Even with our blinds closed, the flood light still filters in, our unavoidable night-light while we sleep; we’ve said many times that we should buy drapes to make the room darker, but, two years in, we haven’t. The first thought I had was, I’m screaming! The second was, Tim’s screaming! He’d been having a nightmare, his explanation came out in a slow mumble. In the midst of it, he was about to fall off the bed, bringing our blue quilt with him, but just before he could, his legs kicked and his eyes opened and he screamed, louder than I knew he could scream, and right in that deep-sleeping moment, my body joined in.

The next day, after we’d replayed the entire experience for each other, right down to the way I nervous-laughed for about seven minutes after waking up, imagining our poor upstairs neighbor wondering what was going on, I finished my work hours and Tim said, Go do something that refreshes you—Go bake! And I made lemon curd.

lemon curd on basil shortbread

I got the idea because someone I follow on Instagram made a lemon curd tart recently, saying how it’s the simplest set of ingredients, just egg yolks, sugar, lemon, and butter, and the day after the Screaming Episode, simple seemed like just the thing.

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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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Sweet Potato, Mushroom + Radish Slaw Tacos

sweet potato, mushroom + radish slaw tacos

We’d been home 15 minutes when Tim said he felt like going out. Our plane from Chicago to Nashville had been delayed, then delayed again, so by the time we were standing in our kitchen, suitcases unopened and the source of that very unfortunate musty smell that had greeted us when we’d arrived yet to be discovered, it was already past 8 p.m. Nonetheless, “let’s do it” were the words that came out of my mouth in response to him. I’d been gone almost a week, and we’d been together with family for several days. Spending time alone together, even just going to the grocery store before it closed on Tuesday night, felt like luxury.

“Yeah,” I said to him. “Let’s go someplace else.”

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Strawberry (Basil) Jam + Strawberry Jam Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Field of Strawberries

Last week, my friend Christina and I went strawberry picking. I like Christina. Christina is sharp and funny and unassuming enough to regularly surprise you as you get to know her over time. She’s one of the maybe three friends I’ve ever had who is a twin. I’ve always wished I were a twin. People sometimes mistook my brother and me for twins (do you see it?) but, as his knee-jerk reaction has always been sheer and absolute horror when these assumptions have been made, I think it’s safe to say I’m the only one flattered there. I met Christina’s twin, Nicole, a few months ago over tacos at a table barely as wide as a paperback book; I liked her, too.

Freshly Picked Strawberries

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Bruschetta Sauce with Balsamic & Fresh Fennel

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

Untitled

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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