Roasted Vegetable + Herb Salad, for the People Who Can’t Do Everything (and for the Ones Who Can)

Roasted Vegetable Salad | FoodLovesWriting.com

I had a lightbulb moment last week where I realized I cannot do everything (including, this post seems to indicate, take a non-blurry photo of a roasted vegetable dinner). I was sitting in the dining room when it happened: Like most workdays, I had my laptop open before me, streaming sunlight to my right, and, just then, I saw the neighbor working in her yard and thought how I’d like to go say hi—right as my inbox pulled in two new emails, my phone rang, I noticed dust collecting on the floorboards and my open Word document reminded me of how much left on this project there was yet to do. In that moment—that split-second moment—where so many of my honest desires, from keeping a clean house to being a productive freelancer, collided, this single thought, clear as day, hit my heart: I am just a person and I cannot do everything.

Thing is, saying there are things I cannot do is humbling. In fact, I’m not sure I want to admit it to you. When you ask me to take on a project, I want to say yes—and get it to you faster than you’d expected. When you invite me to a social event, I want to say sure—and then be charming and easy and fun. I want to meet your expectations and I want to meet mine—and the worst part is that I’m just proud enough to think I actually can. I’ll turn myself in pretzels trying to work good, love good, friend good, give good, cook good, look good, decorate good, budget good. But I can’t. Not all of it, not all of the time.

This is the sort of thing lots of people are realizing these days. Two, if not three, of the articles I cited in the last post hit at this same idea, and there are many others, too. For example, I read a fascinating, funny post recently that talked about the guilt parents experience (I can only imagine!) but then, also, it did the thing that 90% of these articles do in response to those feelings, the same thing most of us do in response to people we view as more talented or beautiful or smart or successful or cool: it poked fun/criticized parents who weren’t struggling in the same ways.

In other words, to make ourselves feel better that we aren’t accomplishing X, we dislike or belittle anyone who is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and about how it relates to blogging and all of life.

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A Sunday Salad

A Sunday Salad | FoodLovesWriting

In the time since we last spoke, I did not make black bean soup; Tim and I took a look at our remaining refrigerator loot on Friday and, supplemented by his work lunch and a homemade weekend dinner from friends, spent the next three days eating sumptuously from its contents instead. Sunday, we did not go grocery shopping with the masses; we decided we hate grocery shopping with the masses (so instead we went to Indian food and took advantage of a free museum deal and pushed our weekly shopping routine to Monday afternoons).

But here’s something we did do: Sunday night, lazy and happy and on a mission to clean out our refrigerator shelves before the next day’s shop, we made this large, filling, easy, simple salad—we’re calling it a Sunday salad, because it’s the kind of salad you make at the end of a long week of good eating, merging together all the remnants of the seven days past.

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First Anniversary + Basil Shortbread Cookies (gluten-free, grain-free)

us | FoodLovesWriting.com

When you first get married, it’s wonderful and it’s strange. Part of you has this sense that becoming a new family only makes sense, like it’s the way things were always supposed to be, like, thank God, this person you love so much is now joined to you the way you’ve longed for him to be. Yet right alongside that joy, simultaneously, even as you know those things, another part of you has to constantly catch herself, realizing, oh, there’s another person who needs to be consulted before I make any big decisions or changes or future plans; all of your struggles become our struggles and his pain, our pain; one or both of you faces illness or discouragement or deep hurt and brings it into us; you, together, hit points where you don’t know what to do; sometimes, even, you fight.

dinner | FoodLovesWriting.com

Because, being straight-up honest with you, there are days when marriage is so over-the-moon easy that you find yourself saying things like you think your heart could burst, even when beforehand you would’ve said those expressions were cheesy and ridiculous. But, there are also days of painful conversations or long fights or moments when you look at each other, in tears, arguing about something that feels so important you’re willing to push each other away. Sometimes those days are the same days.

knoxville | foodloveswriting.com
downtown knoxville | foodloveswriting.com
smokies | foodloveswriting.com

Tim and I talked about these things, about marriage, the last two days in Knoxville, celebrating our first full year of being husband and wife, constantly recalling the one-year-ago memories of a rehearsal dinner and wedding speeches and a table of cookies and a too-good-to-be-true honeymoon. Either one of us would tell you that we still look at each other and think, genuinely, that we can’t believe the other one exists, that we fit each other so well it makes us marvel, kind of like looking at the mountains or a star-studded night sky. We feel so overwhelmingly thankful for each other and yet, still, we’re prone to take each other for granted, in the same way that we’re prone to go days without thinking twice about our health or our families or jobs we’ve been given that put money in the bank account and food in the fridge.

fall | foodloveswriitng.com
leaves | foodloveswriting.com
Basil Shortbread | FoodLovesWriting.com

The honest truth is that thinking about this scares me. Intentionality in relationships—marriage, parents, roommates, siblings, friends—doesn’t happen naturally for long. Just one year into marriage, I already see how much easier it is to be lazy with Tim than it is to put thought into knowing him, and that because of this, sometimes, being lazy is exactly what I pick.

Taking Photos in the Smokies

But while we got away this weekend, just him and me, walking through streets of old Knoxville architecture, driving through golden leaves in the Smoky Mountains, sitting next to each other and asking hard questions and doing the work of relationship, of long talks and clarification and trying to explain thoughts and feelings, I tasted that real joy that comes from learning what it means to love, and I thought, again, how relationships are the hardest but best parts of living.

golden leaves | foodloveswriting.com

I taste it in marriage, I taste it in friendship, I taste it in the inward struggle I feel when someone does me evil and I try to return good. It makes me think of what C.S.Lewis wrote when he said:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I think there’s this constant struggle in human nature, although we each face it in different ways, of whether or not to let people in and to work to know them and be known. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” Lewis says, and to be vulnerable is to open yourself up to hurt. But the thing is, even though that’s true, to love is always better, always. Because only in letting yourself be vulnerable do you let yourself experience the best parts of life—in marriage, in friendship, with strangers you’re getting to know.

sitting at the park | foodloveswriting.com

And of all the things marriage is teaching me, this is one of the best.

(More Knoxville photos in our Facebook album here.)

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Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart [+ slave-free tomatoes]

tomatoes on vine

I’m an elementary kid, spending a few summer days at my grandma’s house, and when she says she wants to make sauce for dinner, I know it means stepping from the dining room onto the back porch, down steps to the yard and its back-corner garden, where we’ll pull ripe tomatoes straight from the vine. The first time I ever see tomatoes growing in the ground and not stacked up neat and shiny at the store is in this yard, the same yard where my brother and I fight with water guns and talk to the the neighbor’s dogs through a chain-link fence and step on massive ant hills in the holes of Grandma’s concrete driveway.

__________________

Over 20 years later, I’m an adult, and I’ve grown other plants and I’ve stepped in other yards, but still, when I think of tomatoes, I think of Grandma’s garden, the one bordering her lilac bush and the neighbor’s fence, and of the weeks of harvest it would give each year. And lately in Nashville, as our Tuesday pickups are piled high with tomatoes—orange, red, yellow; big and grape—I hold the box of them, inhaling their scent, which is as much summer as it is that plot of land in Maywood, and I think what a gift this time of year is, what a blessing filled with rich fruit, tomatoes that are not even worth comparing with what you find at the store in January, not even close.

tomatoes

So in the midst of this, when Nicole says to me one Friday afternoon, in a quick email conversation about risotto and cooking and tomato jam that, hey, speaking of tomatoes, you might like to know about this, referring to the upcoming campaign she’ll be launching, through her organization The Giving Table, to have food bloggers come together to encourage some sort of change to end slavery in Florida tomato fields, I’m kind of confused.

All I can say is I didn’t know—because maybe I’m one of the rare Americans who had never read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article last summer; never heard of Barry Estabrook’s book when it came out; never crossed paths with someone talking about International Justice Mission’s summer program, “Recipe for Change,” a campaign to end slavery in Florida’s tomato fields.

chopped tomatoes

But Tim and I get reading articles and seeing statistics and saying to each other, This is insane! We were just in Florida! It’s happening here, not three hours south of where we laid by the beach! And I’m getting that horrible sick feeling in my stomach, the one that comes from seeing you’ve been unaware, from seeing what you have not seen—that it’s not just better-tasting tomatoes I’m getting when I grow them in a garden or pick them up from a local farmer or buy some at Whole Foods; it’s tomatoes that have been fairly harvested, without slavery, abuse, mistreatment and other tragedies that are occurring now, here:

A third of our fresh tomatoes are grown in Florida, and much of that production is concentrated around Immokalee (rhymes with “broccoli”) … The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water … Unlike corn and soy, tomatoes’ harvest cannot be automated; it takes workers to pick that fruit. And not only have workers been enslaved, they have been routinely beaten, subject to sexual harassment, exposed to toxic chemicals (Estabrook mercilessly describes the tragic results of this) and forced to wait for hours to find out whether they have work on a given day. Oh, and they’re underpaid. – from “The True Cost of Tomatoes,” Mark Bittman, The New York Times, 6/14/11

Mariano Lucas Domingo discussed being locked in a tomato box truck for 15 hours one day by his employer, Cesar Navarrete. The Immokalee farmworker had to find his way out, he said, and then help others. – from “Brothers Receive 12-Year Prison Terms in Immokalee Human Slavery Case,” Steven Beardsley, Naples News, 12/19/08

roasted tomatoes

The idea behind today’s campaign is that bloggers are donating their posts to raise awareness for a very real problem of oppression. Some facts:

  • Over the past 15 years, there have been seven cases of forced labor slavery successfully prosecuted, resulting in the release of over 1,000 people being treated unfairly in U.S. tomato fields.
  • IJM’s Coalition of Immokalee Workers has developed, along with the tomato pickers themselves, what’s called The Fair Food program, which works against the slavery, child labor and serious sexual abuse happening in Immokalee, Florida, by setting clear standards against them.
  • Supermarkets and fast-food chains and other retailers who join The Fair Food program pay a little more ($0.015 higher per pound) for their tomatoes, but are guaranteed they’ve been fairly harvested.
  • What The Giving Table, with International Justice Mission, wants to accomplish this summer is for more companies to sign this pledge, so that as purchases shift from fields improperly treating workers to those adhering to fair standards, the issue of slavery can be abolished.

grape tom_roasted tom

Would you consider raising your voice to do something about the issue of abuse happening here in America? McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already endorsed the pledge, but many major retailers have not. Here are a few ways to help:

  • With your pocketbook: Buy tomatoes from local farmers—or from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, both of which are already on board with the Fair Food program.
  • With your computer: Take two minutes and send a message to execs of the major supermarket chains yet to sign the pledge, asking them to change their stance. (It’s as simple as filling out your name/email and hitting send)

tomato tart from above

In light of Recipe for Change and today’s campaign, Food Bloggers for Slave-Free Tomatoes, we’ve created this roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, made with tomatoes grown right here in Tennessee, from the local farm that supplies our CSA.

tomato tart on the table

For more information on slavery happening in American tomato fields, visit the websites of The Giving Table, Recipe for Change and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

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Golden Tomato Sauce

goldensauce

So speaking of CSAs, ours recently gave us a bunch of yellow tomatoes (along with red tomatoes and grape tomatoes), and while my first thought was yellow tomato cake! and then, maybe fried yellow tomatoes! it was Tim who suggested turning these tomatoes into one of those things tomatoes do best: sauce.

Golden tomato sauce.

yellow tomatoes

I don’t know how sauce works in your household, but in ours, it goes something like this:

1. Prep the tomatoes (i.e., boil water, remove the stems of tomatoes and score an x at the bottom, plop them in the pot for eight seconds, remove and cool, peel off skins like they’re a loose jacket; chop)

2. Saute garlic and olive oil in a skillet, sometimes with onion, sometimes without

3. Add chopped tomatoes, maybe with basil or maybe with wine

4. Add salt

5. Cook for a while and watch and season to taste, adding sugar or honey or herbs or spices or whatever you need until it tastes the way you like.

goldentomatoes

It’s not complicated, not even as hard as putting together a blog post if we’re being honest, but it works. Every time. And with golden tomatoes, it works so well that it makes you look like you’re really smooth in the kitchen, like you’re doing more than just that basic, mindless thing you usually do to pull together sauce, the mellow and sweet flavor of the fresh tomatoes doing all the work while you go about your business washing the dishes or talking to your husband about weekend plans.

peeled tomatoes

Golden tomato sauce is the kind of thing I absolutely love. Like a back-pocket secret. Something you can do or make that is low on effort and high on value, so when you’re done, the reward so far exceeds the journey that it’s almost not worth talking about. Like when you turn your shrunken maxi dress into a sundress that gets complimented just because you cut it, with a scissors, in two seconds flat; or being told you have a ‘trendy’ dining room with mismatched chairs when actually you just picked your chairs because they seemed cute and easy to paint and, mostly, were under $10 each; that quick and easy pie crust recipe that always turns out flaky; the morning smoothies that use up leftover lettuce and too-ripe bananas and kale.

And the way I see it, when you do one of these too-easy, still-impressive things and someone comes to you, eyes all wide and admiring, asking how you come up with this stuff, you have two ways you can respond: (1) smile or (2) tell them the truth.

Which do you do?

yellowtomatoesauce

I mean, think about it: When someone’s impressed at your handmade pillows or golden sauce, it feels good. You know something. You did something. Victory! So sometimes it’s kind of nice to just smile and nod and bask in that praise and say, oh, it’s nothing, leaving the other person to wonder at your talent and wish they had it, too. I think there are generations of cooks who did this, who told us younger folks that some people just have it and others don’t and, sorry, kid, maybe you’re one of the don’ts.

But I don’t buy it.

spooning sauce onto toasts

Because sure, it’s fine to keep our back-pocket secrets, fine to make our sauce and watch people eat it and feel good—but that doesn’t change the fact that our wedding ideas came from Pinterest or that the origin of a recipe came from our grandmas. Just like we learned our secrets, other people can learn them, too, which is why I’m a little averse to phrases like “good cooks” or bad ones.

Why is it that we think calling someone a bad cook should make us a better one? Why do we need to put down someone else’s ability in order to feel more confident of our own? Why can’t we instead join together, all of us, bloggers and cookbook authors and home chefs and grandmas, and trade secrets and share stories and grow?

Is that crazy? Maybe.

sauceoncheesetoasts_closer

Or maybe, when one of us shares our secrets, even if it’s a little one, it gives another of us the courage to try. And maybe in the process, the both of us take another step forward towards that kind of sharing-and-growing-together world of cooking and eating and living that we all want to be part of, the kind where we’re all rooting for each other, not competing, the kind where cooking is just mostly fun.

Maybe I’ll start—with golden tomato sauce.

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Sweet Tomato Jam + Grilled Cheese

tomato jam

I am sitting here at my computer screen, imagining you, at the office or on your iPhone or skimming through your Reader, asking myself what I can possibly say to accurately communicate to you the importance of today’s recipe, and I’m thinking about the reality that you are probably doing ten other things right now, that while you are deciding whether or not to keep reading or click away, you’ve also got a Word doc up; your email inbox, open; if your kids aren’t crying, they’re about to. You and I both know that just because it’s Friday, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a to-do list, physical or not, on your mind for today, and you’re trying to remember things and wanting to go get jobs done, so when you click here for a second and I ask for your attention, even with a photo like this top one, I know it’s not an easy sell. I know what I’m up against. But listen, please hear me on this one if you’ve never heard me before and will never hear me again:

You want to hear about this tomato jam.

Once more, in all caps, the way my mom types me emails:

YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THIS TOMATO JAM!

tomatoes and Herbivoracious

Now that we’ve got that settled, let me explain. Because in response to the 30 new Twitter updates you’ve missed just in reading the beginning of this post, in defense of the time you’re spending here that could be spent in any number of other places, I am offering you something totally worth the trade off. This is not like when the cable company said your bill would go down or when the dentist said the filling would be no big deal—this stuff is the genuine article, the real thing, the kind of pearls that will actually feel gritty when you rub them along the edge of your front teeth.

tomatoes in a bag

This tomato jam is July. It’s outdoor picnics while the sun sets. You could think of it like the bottled version of long summer nights and roads lined by cornfields, as spoonfuls of Saturday morning farmer’s markets and months of no school, when the weeks stretch out before you, late morning after late morning, and you go to the pool and the lake and your friends’ houses and everything smells like cut grass and hot asphalt and your neighbor’s rows of flowers.

tomatoes tomatoes

And look, you don’t have to believe me, but to say that this tomato jam will change your life is no exaggeration, not after you watch what happens to a pound and a half of freshly boiled, peeled, sweet tomatoes (tomatoes you picked up from a roadside stand if possible, for $2 a pound) when they’re combined with onions and basil and honey and spices and left to simmer the long, slow simmer that releases their juices and breaks up their shapes and turns them into what is roughly the equivalent of tomato gold.

Pure gold.

tomato jam

This is the tomato jam I’ve dreamed of making ever since I opened Michael Natkin’s new “Herbivoracious” cookbook, which arrived at our doorstep a few months ago. It’s the tomato jam worth spending your fresh garden tomatoes on, the tomato jam to watch transform on your stovetop and find yourself remembering what it is to be amazed.

tomato jam + grilled cheese

You can slather it on roasted portabello mushrooms, fresh off the grill; put it on your morning toast, alongside your eggs; sandwich it with raw mozzarella and fresh basil on buttered sourdough, sauteing them into a grilled cheese that tastes like July evenings outside Spacca Napoli in Chicago.

In other words, like avocados and like summer and like love, this tomato jam is something to celebrate—for its ability to surprise you, for its pure magic, for its rare and uncanny ability to not only make good on its promises but, to be better than you dreamed. Make it; try it ; it will be worth your time.

Some housekeeping: Food Loves Writing underwent a little makeover this week, so if you haven’t clicked through in a while, now would be a great time. We’re still working on some changes, but for now, there’s a revised header, a new sidebar, some new organization —and feedback is welcome, so let us know what you think or if you have any questions!

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Citrus Honey Basil Creamsicles

popsicle mold

Have you ever noticed how everyone wants to speak into your life—give you advice, tell you how to do something, show you what they know? In a perfect world, this would be great but in reality, here’s the thing: advice is often wrong.

grapefruit cutting

The week before Tim and I got married, we were told the honeymoon would be nothing like we expected but probably bad; newlyweds don’t know each other at all; give ourselves some time and we’ll probably hate married life; the first year of marriage is the best; the first year of marriage is the worst; and we have no idea what we’re in for.

In the months since, women have told me marriage can’t stay sweet; we’re only happy now because it’s the beginning; we should have a baby; we should wait two years to have a baby; we should be having sex X number of times a day, a week; all women get sick of their husbands; we won’t like working together at home for long; etc. etc.

grapefruit

It’s not just people, either. There are TV shows and movies, magazines and books, advertisements, websites, Pinterest. The messages they give can be subtle or aggressive, obvious or covert: make more money! your house should be beautiful! this will make you happy! want this! buy this! be this! go!

What’s worse is that I’ve believed them. I’ve believed them and I’ve repeated them—to myself and to other people—growing this cycle of half-truth and lie by perpetuating opinions and ideas rooted in nothing.

orange

orange peels

But I had a lightbulb moment last week, the climax of many months, I think, when it hit me: just like choosing what to eat and drink during the week, in many cases, the one who chooses who’s speaking is ME.

Far from a victim, I am the willing subscriber to that voice of negativity, materialism, jealousy, despair. I seek out that person. I put myself in situations where that will be the norm, the perspective, the tone. I say those things.

But if it’s true that everyone is selling a message, one that I can swallow whole, it’s also true that I don’t have to take it—that in many cases, I can “guard my heart” in the same way I guard my body, being careful what I take in.

and mixing

fresh basil

raw honey

vitamix!

Saturday morning, pulling out a grapefruit for these citrus basil honey popsicles, asking myself whether to juice it or blend it whole, I asked Tim which would nourish my body best. Turns out that while both are good (and juicing might make a more typical popsicle), blending the pith and seeds and all adds the nutritional benefits of what’s essentially the whole-foods version of grapefruit seed extract, a powerful, disease-fighting ingredient shown to have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-parasitic properties; work against yeast; and combat many bacteria and viruses, including E.Coli. Once I saw that, it was an easy choice—I saw how it would help my body by giving it what is good.

drink at the table

You can drink it as a juice/tonic, at once bitter from the grapefruit pith and sweet from the honey, or you can freeze it in popsicle molds (ours were a wedding gift and we love them!).

citrus honey basil tonic

popsicles
citrus honey basil creamsicle

In our little household, while we ate popsicles this weekend, enjoying God’s good gifts of grapefruit, orange, basil and honey, pureed into bittersweet frozen form, I thought how easy it seems now, in our life together, to crave fresh fruit like this, how satisfying and sustaining and, good.

In the same way, I hope that the more I feed on faith-filled voices of truth and love and authenticity, the more and more they become the sources I look to to feed my soul and, more than that, that more and more they become my voice.

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