Creamy, Spicy Collard Wraps

Most of the time, when I try to remember our honeymoon, everything’s fuzzy. I remember the guacamole Tim made the first night we arrived, after a whirlwind flight-flight-car-pickup-grocery-stop that had included my breaking down crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot. (Turns out 14 hours of travel, the day after a wedding, takes it out of a girl.) I remember the feeling of being away from it all, as if we’d left the world, gone to a secret place where only we knew each other. I remember the cheap avocados. I remember the roosters that woke us up our first day. I remember the euphoria of being alone and in love and, mostly, done with planning a wedding. But other than that, it’s all a blur.

Cream Spicy Collard Wraps

But then other days, other moments, I get quick, unexpected glimpses that put me right back in that place. Tim and I were driving down a country road Sunday, and as we rounded a bend, both sides of the scenery turned thick and green, like the tall walls of jungle we’d driven through in Kauai. “Remember that corner we’d turn, after we left Postcards for dinner?” I said to Tim.

“I loved driving that jeep,” he said to me.

Tim and Shanna and Collards

Read More

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.

Read More

Spicy Roasted Vegetable Bisque

Curried Roast Vegetable Soup | FoodLovesWriting.com

October brought dark and stormy skies today, which is another way of saying it’s a good time for soup. We made this fiery version out of a heap of roasted vegetables recently, and while the corresponding recipe is posted at the bottom of this post, the truth is that making it is much more about a method than it is about a list of ingredients: roast a bunch of chopped vegetables in oil, simmer them in hot water, pureé, add milk, add seasonings, adjust.

The other truth is that, basically, this is how we cook most days.

Vegetables | FoodLovesWriting.com

See, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that there are two main ways to approach recipes. (I have to say “for the sake of argument” in case any of those of you who are reading here today are the pesky, exacting sort [of which both Tim and I tend to be] and so, when you hear the words, “there are two main ways to approach recipes,” you can’t help it but your mind immediately begins making a case for why there are, in fact, actually at least six different ways to approach it, not two, and once you’ve realized that, you find it’s hard to hang in there through the rest of the paragraphs, having already deemed this post you’re reading to be written by an unworthy source. Listen, you just put those thoughts on hold a minute and rest easy because, right now, we are just talking about this for the sake of argument. Forehead unfurrowed, we continue.)

So let’s say one person gets a recipe, maybe like the one written in this post for an it’s-a-kick-in-your-pants soup, and she looks at her fridge and sees how her ingredients don’t match up with what’s needed and so, she either (a) saves the idea for another day when she’s able to buy everything listed or (b) abandons it altogether.

At the same time, another person gets the same recipe, understands the rough outline of what’s going on, and instead of following it to the letter, she instead pulls out all the carrots and onions, mushrooms, potatoes and zucchini lurking in her crisping drawers, and, experimenting, applies the same strategy to them.

One person caters to the recipe; the other, gets the recipe catering to her.

Soup + Fall Days | FoodLovesWriting.com

What’s the difference? Why is one person line-by-lining it and the other, just seeing instructions as a guide? For me, the biggest difference has been time—that incomparably valuable resource that is usually required to learn to do anything, be it speaking a language, riding a bike or handling basic HTML. Do you relate? Has it been that way for you? For me, cooking has been, and continues to be, all about practice, about trying over and over and over again in new ways and the same ways until, one day, you’re making roasted broccoli the way you drive a car, and you’re barely thinking about the way you’re waiting for the smell of crispy florets to tell you when they’re done. The progression from looking at a potato, thinking, how does this become French fries?, to pulling together a meal on the spot is not overnight, at least not for most of us, but usually, it comes.

In our life, Tim and I usually look in the fridge and opt for what’s easy, zucchini to roast and a salad to toss; leftover soup and garlic-rubbed toast; beets (roasted in the CSA apocalypse 2012) to top with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts. There are times, of course, when we set to making something finer, something bigger, especially when we’ll be dining with guests, and some meals require more preparation, like soaking quinoa or slow-cooking pot roast or preparing a quiche.

But most nights, in our life, we’re throwing quick meals together—not from great skill but from practice, which is the kind of thing I wished I’d heard more often when I was just beginning and, to be honest, which I wish heard from food bloggers and home cooks and great chefs more often. Like a runner or a football player or a businessman, when it’s go time, we’re all mostly drawing on the years we’ve been trying—the failed frittatas and the terrible pie crusts and the cakes that turned gray.

When they happened, the failures were tragedies, but years later, they’re gifts.

Read More

Chicken Pot Pie + ‘Dinner: A Love Story’

lynnville

It’s a hot and sunny Saturday and we’re on our way to Lynnville, a sleepy little town that you could live in Tennessee all your life without hearing of, but which today has drawn our attention because of an ad I saw somewhere for a blackberry festival. The whole trip, I’m reading to Tim from my latest library find, and right away, we’re both so into the stories about food and parenting and the world of magazine editing that before we know it, we’ve driven the entire hour, past hilly pasture land and giant barns and no places to use a bathroom, anywhere, and then there’s Lynnville, right before us, rewarding our travel with what turns out to be the very anti-climactic main street that today boasts one carnival booth, four craft tents and, off in the corner, a 85-year-old man selling tomatoes.

No. Blackberries.

None.

tomatoes

So we talk with the tomato man, who tells us he’s lived in Lynnville all his life, and we ask him about blackberries, and he says, no, there aren’t any, but you know, he used to pick them when he was a boy, and we buy a bag of his produce, and he gives us a green pepper for two quarters, and we’re back in the car.

We say to each other, laughing at the wasted hours in the countryside, well, at least there were tomatoes! but then I pull out my book and we remember: actually, at least there’s this.

potpiewmom

It’s a week later that I finish “Dinner: A Love Story,” the Saturday night we’re flying home to Chicago, just a few minutes before we board the plane. About 80% of the book I’ve read aloud to Tim, either that day to and from the no-blackberry blackberry festival or in the five or six nights following, before we fall asleep at night. Part cookbook and part memoir, it comes from Jenny Rosenstrach, the former Real Simple editor who blogs at a site by the same name. I wasn’t a follower before I read the book, but I am now: after reading Rosenstrach’s stories, which are as much about food as they are about parenting, as much about gathering around the table as they are about building relationships, I feel like she’s someone with whom I’d like to be friends.

closeup_potpie
potpie_vertical

While we’re in Illinois, my mom says to us one morning, I have some chicken, what should I make? And I jump from my chair. I know exactly the thing! I tell her. And I run upstairs to my suitcase to pull out this book, to flip to the chicken pot pie recipe, the one Rosenstrach has been making since the early days of marriage and entertaining and which she has been known to monogram for a real wow factor for her kids.

chickenpotpie

My mom makes it and it has the same effect: I eat three pieces. And later that night, my brother wipes the dish clean. So when Tim and I come back to Nashville and we’re making dinner for friends, it’s this recipe that we turn to, making it the night before and just sticking in back in the oven for 15 minutes before serving.

potpie_sliced

The thing about chicken pot pie is it’s comfort food. It’s hot and it’s creamy and eating it feels like you’re nine years old again, cradling a cup of chicken soup—but it’s even better! with a flaky crust!—so while I know it’s July and it’s humid and many of us are heading to the pool or the beach or the lake house, and so salads and grilling and fresh fruit sounds more like the norm, bookmark this one (rainy days or not!) because it’s good.

slicedout_chickenpotpie

Oh, and while you’re at it, bookmark “Dinner: A Love Story” and make it a must-read. I’m so glad we did.

Read More

Carrot Risotto (or, choosing whom you cook with)

top photo of carrot risotto

My brother hasn’t been in the car with us twenty minutes before I hear him say something in passing about a spring pea risotto he’s tried the week before, and before I can stop myself I’m exclaiming, “Risotto! I want to make risotto! How do you do it? Was it hard?”

Then, to Tim, “Remember our carrot risotto in California?”

photo of carrots

That risotto we’d had at La Bicyclette, the highlight of our meal and maybe our entire trip, was the kind of entrée you never forget, so even though I ask him, I know Tim knows it, too: a carrot risotto so creamy and buttery, so cheesy and comforting, so beautifully bright orange the way things hardly ever naturally are, that I heard at least three other bloggers say they would tackle this recipe when they got home.

Of course, I wasn’t one of those bloggers saying I’d make it later, just so we’re clear. I responded by saying how much I liked it, how warm and savory and amazing it was, but I didn’t dream of going home and trying it myself because, between us, risotto scares me. In my mind, risotto is great chefs and top restaurants and five-star reviews. It’s talent and skill and precision. There was a time, once, when I approached it, but the results were hard and bland and crunched when you took a spoonful, so Saturday, when we’re driving down the highway and I say, “I want to make risotto!” to my husband and my brother in the car, I don’t actually mean I want to make risotto. I mean that I want to eat risotto! and if it’s the La Bicyclette kind, preferably by the mixing bowl!

Because here’s the thing: risotto is hard. Risotto is fussy. Risotto isn’t something I can do.

But then my brother comes to town.

chopped onions and shredded carrots

You know, when it comes to the kitchen, the idea of cooking with other people, any people, may seem charming at first, but the truth is that not all cooks make good companions. You don’t have to share your kitchen many times before you see this is true.

There are cooks who will come into your home and take over, for example, leaving you stressed out and insecure even as they rearrange your spice cabinet. There are cooks who will second-guess you, who will comment on the weird way you hold the frosting bag while they take it out of your hands.

But then on the other hand, there are cooks like my brother, the kind who already know you so well that they are easy partners whatever the project. They come to visit and tell you about a risotto they made and make it seem so approachable and possible that before you know it, it’s Monday afternoon and you’re standing with them over arborio rice cooking on your kitchen stove, learning as you watch them, gaining confidence as you work together. These cooks aren’t common, but when you’re blessed to find them, give thanks—these are the people you want to cook with.

adam holding carrot risotto

And so it is that Adam and I are making risotto together, frozen stock thawing on the stove, my hands pressing buttons on the food processor to shred carrots, his hands chopping parsley on the cutting board. It’s not night yet, but the sky is darkening as storm clouds gather overhead, and the kitchen seems smaller and smaller as it grows more dim, so he flips on the overhead light above the stove; I close the blinds in the living room. He stirs the risotto, moving a long wooden spoon steadily through the rice and wine and carrots; I add stock, half cup by half cup, letting it soak in and be absorbed and change the rice to soft and plump and fragrant.

The two of us, who have been cooking together for as long as we’ve been cooking, work side by side in the entire process, like four hands in the same singular machine, a product of lifetimes of shared experience and kitchens and food. Even as it seems strange to be doing it now in Nashville, in my home, the one I share with Tim that’s eight hours away from where Adam and I spent most of our lives, it also seems familiar, just like Sunday afternoons making pizza in his Chicago apartment or weeknights baking cookies at Mom and Dad’s.

carrot risotto

Today, while we scoop ladles of risotto into bowls and sprinkle them with parsley and chopped carrots and Pecorino, I think how this person standing next to me has known me all his life and most of mine and how he’s been the first friend I talk to about decisions and passions and, two years ago, Tim.

I think how nice it is to cook with him because he knows me, so I can say to him, keep your eye on this and know he will; I can trust him to anticipate the next step, to catch something I miss; I can go to turn the pepper grinder just before we finish the risotto and, when it releases half a jar of whole peppercorns instead of a light sprinkling of ground pepper, I can count on him to laugh with me even while we have to laboriously pick peppercorn after peppercorn out of the simmering food.

After the last bit of stock has been worked into the pot, we take our bowls of risotto to the brown leather sofa and plop down, side by side, putting our feet up and flipping through movie trailers on Apple TV, and I feel so thankful for this brother who cooks with me, even as I feel thankful for the thing we’ve cooked, the thing I feared, the thing we eat spoonful after spoonful on the couch: risotto.

Read More

Root Vegetable Chips + Root Vegetable Fries

turnip and cutting board

I should start by saying this: I am grateful to be writing this post today—not just because of the lunch of rainbow root vegetables or afternoon of hours spent photographing them that it represents, but because, about a week or so ago, pacing the floors at 2 AM while alternating between holding my sides and massaging my temples, the idea of writing a food blog post—or really, cooking or caring about cooking—seemed like something I might never be able to do again.

spices for root vegetable chips

I can tell you now that the pain was from a kidney infection, developed from a UTI, and it came complete with stones and intense throbbing and a weakening of my desire to live, to be honest with you. I’ve never experienced anything like this. I joked to some friends in passing this weekend, how can someone have that much pain and not get a baby at the end of it! But really, it was bad. I would look at pictures of me and Tim in the office, on our honeymoon or baking a cake last summer, and I would think, who is that happy girl in those pictures? Was there really a time when I didn’t feel this much pain? and I couldn’t remember what that felt like.

root vegetables and cutting board

What made this particular pain so difficult, I think, was its duration, lasting, at least in some measure, for over ten continuous days. This was no 24-hour bug or weekend flu; it felt unending. Under the weight of it, I grew more and more weary, more and more discouraged, and eventually, more and more aware that this infection was no longer just physical.

root vegetable rounds

In “When the Darkness Will Not Lift,” (which you can download for free online), John Piper writes about C.H. Spurgeon, a well-known preacher from nineteenth-century England who tasted depression caused by physical pain. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says of Spurgeon,

That great man was subject to spiritual depression, and the main explanation in his case was undoubtedly the fact that he suffered from a gouty condition which finally killed him. He had to face this problem of spiritual depression often in a most acute form. A tendency to acute depression is an unfailing accompaniment of the gout which he inherited from his forebears. And there are many, I find, who come to talk to me about these matters, in whose case it seems quite clear to me that the cause of the trouble is mainly physical.

Gout, it so happens, is closely tied with kidney pain (among other things) and so when I read these words, I found great kinship with Spurgeon, particularly in the way in which his experience linked physical pain with spiritual depression—that’s what this was for me.

matchstick root vegetables

It’s not that these days were without comfort: Tim was as supportive and wonderful as you’d expect him to be, my true partner in healing, making me special drinks and running to the store and reading the Bible to me in bed and massaging my back to help me fall asleep at night. Several of my friends were praying for me. My dad was pure compassion on the phone. There was this series of posts that fed me truth when I needed to hear it.

IMG_3265

But we were supposed to go to Baltimore last Wednesday, just for the night, on a trip we’d planned months ago because of $37 Southwest flights and a generous wedding gift from my brother, and then we couldn’t because I was in too much pain.

But we are just newly married, still practically honeymooning, and things this difficult aren’t supposed to happen when you’re tasting so much happiness.

But why are we dealing with this when other people aren’t, people who are able to enjoy life and care about what they’ll wear today and get excited about their baby’s first birthday or a promotion at work or a new recipe they’re trying.

These familiar voices are not a new affliction, but over the last few weeks, they’ve been more persistent. Maybe you know them too? They’ve kept me in bed, they’ve kept me from the blog, they’ve made heavy my heart.

IMG_3278

And while fighting them can be tiring, I am glad to tell you that at times when you least expect it, light breaks.

Because there comes a moment, amidst the small everyday choices of “waiting patiently” that involve getting out of bed to see the sunshine, of asking for help from the One who understands, of doing some dishes, of smelling some fresh air, when you’re surprised to see, not that you’re cured of all discouragement for good but that, at least, you want to spend time in the kitchen again, you’re enjoying chopping carrots and parsnips and turnips and sweet potatoes, you’re ready to write a blog post.

And you do.

Read More