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

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Not Your Momma’s Chocolate Pudding (Three Ways)

Chocolate pudding has always been my comfort food—and, contrary to what the title of this post might suggest, my momma makes a great one. That hot, creamy Cook N’Serve of my childhood was pure heaven to the both of us more nights than I can count. We’d pull out the tiny cardboard box, rip open a paper envelope, combine the contents with milk on the stove and whisk and heat that mixture until it grew into a thick, creamy, throat-coating dessert. I liked it best when it was hot, almost steaming. But we’d both also eat it cold, having been covered with wrap in the fridge. It was milky. It was rich. It was the first thing I’d reach for when I’d had a rough day. But lately, I’ve been learning there’s more than one kind of creamy, chocolate comfort.

Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding

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Raw Berry Cream Pie + Raw Chocolate Crust

raw berry pie + raw chocolate crust

There are days when a story chases you, when you feel like it’s falling out of you or like you have to write it, in that moment, before it’s gone; and then there are days when it doesn’t, when you sit, staring at your keyboard and photographs, searching for words like you’re hunting for lost gold.

All it means is that you’re a writer.

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Everyone from Anne Lamott to Elizabeth Gilbert will tell you this. For most of us, creativity is less a kitchen faucet, turned on and off like we please, and more a gust of wind, unpredictable and sometimes violent. While there are those of us who tap it well, who know how to do their rain dances of disciplined writing times and creative writing exercises to produce results, for a lot of us, it’s not as simple. We stare at a lot of blank screens, spend a lot of afternoons escaping for want of inspiration, do a lot of wrestling with paragraphs like we’re fighting stubborn pieces of clay. That’s how it goes.

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Because I’ve heard them say it, I know it’s true of authors and journalists as well as it is of, say, self-employed copywriters and Nashville food bloggers. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing someone else’s story or your own: you can still feel that same pull, that same hard-won fight and effort. You listen back to your interview, you look at pages of notes, you stare at your WordPress dashboard and you feel the familiar desire to write, the need to write and yet, all you hit is a wall. Words won’t come.

So here’s what I’d love to know: what do you do about it?

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The answers out there, like the writers, vary greatly—I recently wrote about this for my day job—and I think in having the discussion, we have a lot to offer one another. Some writers draft outlines; some riff on previous work; others leave the screen altogether, opting instead for a run in the park or conversation with friends to get their creative juices flowing.

In the more specific realm of food bloggers, sometimes it’s less the writing that’s difficult but more the coming up with topics—those of you who blog, do you feel that way? Dianne Jacob writes that finding inspiration as a food blogger may mean thinking outside a traditional recipe post, opting instead for a round-up of products you like or a new series that will set your topics for you.

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I tend to be of the camp that free-writes, that sits down and starts writing everything in my head without edits or backspaces, whirling along until something valuable appears, and, three or four or five paragraphs in, it usually does.

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Today, for example, this post originally began with “So I want to write about berry cream pie” and progressed into a few lines about Tim Riggins’s dad showing up at his football game (side question: television on in the background while you work—white noise or distraction?) and eventually became a more sculpted set of paragraphs about our living room and the ottomans we bought at T.J. Maxx.

forks and raw berry pie

It was only several paragraphs later that I hit on another approach, the direct one that this post has become, wherein I felt like I didn’t know what to say and so, said exactly that.

last plate of raw berry pie

What about you? How do you approach the writing process? Whether you write newspaper articles or nonfiction essays or poetry or blog posts or in the journal on your nightstand, what does it look like for you?

It’s true that writing can be a lonely business, but it’s less so when you invite others in.

That’s why I’m doing that here, sharing a little of my writing process, asking you to share yours—because I think, maybe, when we share our stories, we not only gain community but also, we help each other grow.

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Cauliflower Fried Rice

cauliflower fried rice

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you sow.” Robert Louis Stevenson

pureeing cauliflower

I hate to admit this but: I think the flowers on our front porch are dying. I know. I bought them back in March, for $7, on a hot and windy day where I had to hold my skirt down just to keep it from blowing, and I repotted them next to our welcome mat, in a place where you could see them from the road, hoping their bright pink buds would add just a tiny bit of color to the green landscape that surrounds our little house.

Since then, there’s been watering, sometimes, like when I’ve looked at them out our dining room window and realized it’s been at least a few days of forgetting. But there’s also been heat, lots of it, enough to make the edges of the flowers brown—just at the tips—prompting me to water them again, until I’d forget again; now, they’re dry and crisp-looking.

I’m a terrible gardener. And not just of flowers.

cauliflower rice and cashews

In an email the other day, my friend Kendra used the phrase “filling my soul” to describe something she was doing, and it struck me: it doesn’t matter if it’s a pet or a person or a $7 flower pot, life needs nurturing. It’s through the feeding and the watering and the loving and the connecting that living things grow. And, while I love seeing pretty flowers or rich harvests, the ugly truth is that I don’t always love the day-to-day work of planting seeds and watering them and, waiting.

Ashley of Not Without Salt posted some beautiful thoughts about vulnerability yesterday, describing how hard it can feel to expose yourself, without pretense and without walls, especially when you don’t know how someone will take it. I read it and liked her more than ever—that’s what vulnerability can do, right? build intimacy. I thought how necessary authenticity is to any kind of meaningful connection. And I thought about how I’ve been blessed to see this here, many times, as you’ve welcomed me in with open arms as I’ve poured out my heart about missing what’s familiar or a period of depression or how much I love my husband, and you’ve told me your stories, and I’ve tasted something nourishing, something real.

But what about when that nourishing response isn’t immediate? What about when you have to take the risk yourself, over and over, and then, wait?

cauliflower rice on stove

I hate waiting. If the minute I planted a seed—or took a friend to lunch, or told you the truth about my insecurities, or admitted the thing about which I’m most afraid—I saw results, some connection, well, then that would be different. That would be easy. That’s what I like about cooking: when I go to the kitchen, throwing oil and spices in the skillet, adding ground cauliflower like it’s rice, I’m almost guaranteed that, win or lose, there’s going to be something to show for it: dinner. Even if it’s a terrible dinner, at least it’s something I can see, something I can look at as proof of my effort.

But when I make the little investments of trying to build new relationships, of putting myself out there to be vulnerable, on the other hand, something I’ve been going at since I moved last year, sometimes all it feels like is slow. Slow and pointless. Slow like it’s never going to bear fruit. Slow like why-can’t-I-go-back-to-the-already-tended-and-thriving-gardens-I-left-in-Chicago?

cauliflowerrice_inbowl

I’ve wanted to stop trying. Just talk on a surface level or, better yet, retreat to my introversion and stay tucked in at home with Tim—and sometimes I do.

As I was thinking about these things this past Sunday, I flipped through a free magazine and, providentially, saw the Robert Louis Stevenson quote posted above, reminding me to measure the seeds, not the harvest, of my days.

The seeds, not the harvest.

Those words brought real relief. All creation cries it out! This is His promise! Be not weary in well-doing, because, you can believe it, seeds will bring harvest, nurturing will bring life, you will reap if you faint not. Waiting may be the hardest part, but you won’t wait forever; just as there are seasons of planting, there are seasons when you watch things grow.

I’m hanging on to that promise today, as I keep on watering and waiting, watering and waiting, and I don’t just mean the plants.

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