Melissa Coleman’s Honey Butter Popcorn

Honey Butter Popcorn | FoodLovesWriting.com

Listen, I’m under no delusions that you’re all out there, biting your fingernails, anxiously awaiting our fresh blog post this morning, but I’m still going to tell you about the roadblocks involved in its getting here because apparently, admitting to your blog community that you aim to post every Tuesday and Friday is a little like telling your friends and family you want to lose fifteen pounds in the new year: the experts say this will keep you accountable, but in reality all it assures you is that now there are an even greater number of people you stand to disappoint—not to mention, the self-imposed pressure seems to draw all manner of new and unexpected obstacles into your path. Today’s popcorn recipe, for example, comes to you in spite of dark days, failed brownies and one long and drizzling Sunday afternoon eaten up by hours playing with my new watercolor paint set (although, to be fair, those hours did bring our fresh January blog header).

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Brown Butter Sage Sauce

It should come as no surprise that the day after I finished The Fault in Our Stars, the New York Times bestseller written by John Green and given to us as a gift New Year’s Day by Sonja and Alex, Tim and I were in the kitchen mixing and rolling homemade gnocchi dough, he with the camera, me with flour-covered fingers, watching the sunlight streak across our dining room table and the giant bamboo cutting board I gave Tim as a gift two years ago.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

It should come as no surprise because, at least according to Instagram, most of you already know about this book, one of those classic star-crossed love stories that, at the end, leaves you looking at life in a different way from when you’d started, which in my case meant grabbing Tim and sobbing about how thankful I am to have him and about how I hope he knows, like really knows, that I feel so remarkably blessed and happy to share his life.

There’s this one line in particular, towards the end of the story, that’s stayed with me since I turned the last page Friday night, one that sort of echoes a theme reoccurring in the book:

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Ashley Rodriguez’s Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies | FoodLovesWriting.com

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.

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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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Tennessee Apple Picking + Rustic Apple Tartlets (+ Einkorn Flour!)

Shanna Holding an Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s Saturday. I’m awake too early, still in bed but eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, too excited to go back to sleep. Today we’re going apple-picking, which, for the joy it gives me, may as well be cookie-eating or treasure-finding, and right now, the sound of Tim’s breathing next to me, all I can think about are the bright blue skies, warm golden sunshine and endless apples that await us when we do.

Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com

What can I say about apple-picking that hasn’t already been said? That there’s something wonderful about standing amongst rows of trees, many of them heavy with fruit, the yeasty smell of fallen, fermenting apples in the air? That trekking out with your friends or family to an orchard, a basket slung over your arm, feels like a celebration, just like carving a turkey or chopping down a Christmas tree? Or maybe that picking apples, to me, is one of those activities that’s so quintessentially autumn, so like pumpkin carving or sipping cider, that when you go out and do it, with your roommate or your husband or your friend and her kids, you can count on finding yourself, surrounded by harvest and clutching your cardigan, thinking, this, this!, is why there’s just no time like fall.

Tennessee Orchard | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s easy to sleep in on winter weekends, but on a late-September Saturday with apple-picking ahead, it only makes sense to get up early, pack a few snacks, log a few hours of work nearby and then call a few orchards so you can be on the road. That’s why, a little past noon had us eastbound on the interstate, me in my new Goodwill cardigan, Tim in his thick rugby shirt, and within 30 minutes we were at Breeden’s, 631 Beckwith, Mount Juliet, a modest orchard outside Nashville, past sloping hills and winding roads and thick clusters of trees.

Pick an Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com
Tim and Shanna Apple Picking | FoodLovesWriting.com
basket of apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Yellow apples were the only ones available for picking, and there weren’t a ton left, but at $1/pound, the whole situation was still pretty hard to beat. We strolled up sun-kissed aisles and filled our basket, taking seven or so pounds back home with us, along with fruit-sweetened blueberry jam purchased in the adjacent country store.

Freshly Washed Apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Back in our kitchen, we washed the apples a little more aggressively than normal, in a vinegar solution, since they were grown conventionally, and went ahead and peeled them, too. The first several became the topping for a dozen rustic apple tartlets, inspired by a photo I saw on Pinterest a while ago.

Making Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

The dough we made with einkorn flour, a new pantry staple we’ve introduced into our regular routine recently, and which I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you here. Einkorn is, essentially, one of the most ancient forms of wheat. (One of the biggest issues with today’s traditional wheat flours is that they’ve been so highly hybridized and hence hard on your body, but einkorn takes us back to the original form. It is considered easier to digest even than spelt, and for that reason, it may soon become the flour we use most often in our kitchen. For more information, see these posts from Nourished Kitchen and Healthy Home Economist)

So far what I’ve seen from einkorn—baking cookies, making pizza dough and turning it into the bottom of tartlets—is that it behaves similarly to spelt except that it absorbs a little more liquid, meaning recipe adjustments might require adjusting proportions slightly.

Apple Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

Anyway, whether you use einkorn or not, the idea for these tartlets isn’t hard to mimic: make a pastry dough and roll it out nice and thin; use a biscuit cutter to slice out 12 rounds, then top them with sliced apples in a pinwheel pattern, drizzling honey and fresh thyme and cinnamon atop that. Bake. Drizzle with honey as a sort of glaze and sprinkle toasted hazelnuts.

Apple Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

By Saturday evening, before sharing dinner with friends, Tim and I were popping these pretty tartlets, heating up leftovers, looking at all the apples in our fridge and feeling pretty thankful for this glorious season that is fall. Oh, apple-picking, you know how to do.

Psst — Do you already go apple-picking? What other ways do you embrace fall? And hey, to find an orchard near you, check out PickYourOwn.org and Orange Pippin.

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Butternut Squash Spelt Biscuits

Autumn Squash | FoodLovesWriting.com

I have the worst case of writer’s block. I don’t know what to say. I feel like Tim is going to tell me, any minute, that he’s finished what he’s doing and we need to go, so I can’t focus on what I’m writing because I keep thinking, we’re about to drive to the grocery store and we also need toilet paper and I can’t forget to set my alarm clock for tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m.! It’s Thursday night, the one night this week when we haven’t had something going on, and what was supposed to be a relaxing evening at home has turned into a nonstop day that continued into a nonstop night, and it’s 8:30 p.m., we’re only now about to go to the store, and I still haven’t written a blog post.

Part of the busy schedule this week has been, get this, because of food. In a strange turn of events, we ended up with three CSA boxes in the last two weeks, giving us bushel and bushel and bushel full of fresh food, all of which we needed to do something with so as to avoid the one thing I absolutely do not want to do, as in, waste any. This may have led to tears once or twice. Besides beets (roasted!) and beet greens (pesto!) and yellow squash, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers (ratatouille!) and potatoes (home fries! mashed! fritters!), we’ve had squash. Oh, have we had squash: butternut, acorn, spaghetti. Most of it roasted, so as to make pureé. Also, pumpkin—namely, a 20-pound monstrosity I carried around the house and outside for a photo as if it were a small child. Well, it weighed as much as one.

The Giant Pumpkin | FoodLovesWriting.com

And tonight, while the fridge is stocked with roasted peppers and sautéed beet stems and a tomato-kale-pepper salad, while there are half a dozen butternut squash biscuits left on the counter and some quinoa grains soaking to be cooked tomorrow, I’ll be honest and say I know a week of longer work days and unexpected meetings and two extra bushels of vegetables is not exactly the stuff of nightmares, but, honestly, I’m tired. Tim and I are having friends for dinner tomorrow and then an overnight guest through Monday, and as I sit here, looking at the photographs of squash and biscuit dough, reading through the paragraphs I’ve written, the main thing I keep thinking is, would I want to read this if I were someone coming to the post? And I want to start over. But then, what would I write? See sentence two above.

Flour and Dough | FoodLovesWriting.com

The thing I’ve found in the last year or so, especially back in the midst of planning a wedding, is that when I get too busy, the kind of busy where I’m running from one thing to another, seldom processing anything, I only function at 50, maybe 60%. This is fine when you’re doing the dishes—less fine when you’re trying to put together paragraphs (and, ahem, putting together paragraphs is what some of us do for a living).

Cutting Biscuits | FoodLovesWriting.com

Writing is thinking. If you can’t think, you can’t write, mark it down. And the best writers, the ones who turn words with precision and truth, are the ones who are taking time to think about what they say.

Butternut Squash Biscuits | FoodLovesWriting.com

So tonight when I have nothing to say, I guess I’m really saying, help! I need time to think! And so, while Tim and I run out to buy groceries and Q-tips, cracking open a chocolate tart between the two, I say to him, listen, let’s talk. How are we so rushed lately? What is going on? And we talk and we think together, and we look for ways to pare down and take tasks off our plates.

And by 11 p.m., we’re in bed, me on my laptop, writing these last words (because I love this place! So it stays!), Tim surfing the Internet from his phone, ready to rest.

By the way: If you haven’t seen this on Facebook already, we’re thinking of doing a Q+A post sometime soon, answering any personal, blog or food questions (well, almost any questions) you guys have. Do you have a question? Ask it here: facebook.com/foodloveswriting.

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Sunday Lunch with Louie Abellera + Gluten-Free Almond Cake

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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.)

salads
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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.

pizzasalad
salad
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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.

Sunday lunch
at the table

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.)

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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.

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