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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Strawberry Walnut Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

bowloficecream

Last summer, summer 2011, was the summer of wedding planning (also known as The Pit). I spent all my free time hunkered down in there, absorbed in the constant tasks of ceremony details, caterers, jazz bands, invitations, favors, showers, guest lists, seating charts, expectations, and I’ll be honest with you: sometimes it got a little dark. Thankfully, Tim was with me. Having the two of us together made The Pit more cozy.

The only problem with hunkering down for a summer, however, is that you miss a lot of things. It has to happen, but you do. While we were making regular trips back and forth from Chicago, the rest of the world continued on, the way it always does. While our weekends were spreadsheets of to-do lists and hours picking towels and bed sheets at Target, I tuned out of blogs and stopped reading or writing or paying attention to, well, anything that couldn’t get into The Pit with us. Sometimes my family got in there. Sometimes, our friends. But everything else didn’t fit, and so I let it go.

For the most part, that was OK. Simplifying, even. But then a few weeks ago, I was washing dishes in our kitchen, looking out the window, and I noticed how big and tall and purple our neighbor’s tree had gotten. In an instant, my eyes moved across the street to another one, hot pink like a Spring Break bikini. We drove to the grocery store, past that vintage brick apartment complex we always see, and an entire row of trees bordering the road had exploded into whites and reds and violet and deep maroon. It was then that I realized just how deep we’d been buried, together with our heads down, moving through that tunnel in the dark.

Last summer, I don’t remember a flower. This year, giant blooming trees are EVERYWHERE.

Nashville in Bloom with white buds
Nashville pink flowers
NashvilleinBloom_flowers
NashvilleinBloom_house

So if there’s one thing I’ve wanted for summer 2012, it’s to stay above ground. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been here so often. When I look back on this year, I’ll remember making risotto with my brother, enduring weeks of three-digit-temperature days, sitting inside while the sky got dark with clouds and rain and thunderstorms.

NashvilleinBloom_sky

I’ll remember walking through neighborhoods with Tim to see the world in bloom, camera around my neck, marveling at the different colors and the intricate petals and the way they look against the early evening sky.

I’ll remember telling myself to take the time to notice, really look at and observe, the life I’m living: the mornings Tim and I shuffle to the dining table, laptops in hand; the afternoons walking down the driveway, feeling the heat as we grab the mail and see that couple across the street who wave like friendly grandparents. I’ll remember walking through a park last night, where the air smelled mossy and moist, surrounded by one hundred different shades of green.

NashvilleinBloom_twilight

But mostly, I’ll remember what we’ve been eating:

The ice cream.

dual_icecream

Summer 2012, in addition to being the first summer we were married and the first summer I felt like I lived in Nashville has also, more notably, been this, at least in our house: The Summer of Ice Cream.

icecream

There are new flavors rolling out every week, from frozen yogurt to chocolate chunk to cinnamon honey, and we eat it almost as quickly as it comes out of the machine. The first time Tim made this strawberry version, plumped up with chopped walnuts and big pieces of soft chocolate chunks, we polished it off in one day. It might be our current favorite.

bowlandspoon

In fact, the way things are going, this fall may be The Autumn of Ice Cream and this winter, The Winter of Ice Cream, and who knows how long it will go. But whatever the future brings, ice cream and otherwise, one thing’s for sure:

I get to have my eyes open to notice it, right now, today.

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Blueberry Cookie Dough Truffles (Gluten-Free)

(We’re still away visiting family, but we couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you. With any luck, we’ll be making it again in Chicago!)
blueberries

We’re walking through the grocery store, and Tim’s telling me about this idea he has for using up the case of blueberries in our cart (because apparently it’s an annual tradition).

“It’d be like a cookie,” he’s saying, “but you wouldn’t bake it, and there’d be blueberries mixed inside. Then, we’ll dip them in chocolate!”

I hear my mouth say something like OK even as I’m rounding another aisle on the hunt for flour, but honestly, all I’m thinking about is cracking open a pint as soon as we can get in the car. In the checkout line, when our cashier inquires about our blueberry plans, Tim’s ready. “Well, we’ll bake some, we’ll eat some and then we’ll freeze some!” he tells her, as excited as it were a conveyor belt of diamonds and rubies, not berries, that we are sending down the line.

And minutes later, as we’re feasting on fistfuls of blueberries while exiting the parking lot, talking excitedly about scones and pancakes and smoothies, I think to myself, man, there’s just nobody like Tim.

blueberry cookie dough on tray

We’ve only been married eight-and-a-half months, a time span not quite long enough to complete a school year, qualify for employee vacation time or in most cases grow a child, and yet there are so many things I already find myself taking for granted about our life—like the way we read to each other, in bed at night, on car trips to nearby towns or at the table when one or the other of us finds an article that’s interesting in the middle of our workdays; or the random way we’ll enter deep discussions, like when I ask him “Why do you think people are so drawn to laughter?” one afternoon, driving in the car.

In many ways, Tim is just like me: enjoys reading, a homebody, gets frustrated when something is imprecise. In other ways, he’s not: doesn’t fear what people think, for one; is full of faith, for another. I told our friend Jared a few weeks ago that I think marriage is sometimes like a mirror and what I meant was this: there’s something about the very close, very personal day-to-day interaction with another human being that makes you better able to see yourself. Through eight-and-a-half months of living with Tim, sharing our meals and our work and our weekends, I’ve seen things about myself I don’t like, areas were I lack—mostly because they are areas where he doesn’t.

tim making cookie dough truffles

I, it’s becoming clearer and clearer, am what you might call a cynic, a person prone to suspicion and doubt. I like proof and want evidence and probably won’t believe something until I can see, for sure, that it’s true. You could blame this on authority figures I had who lied to me or to the social environment I grew up in that deceived and hid grace, but the larger issue is me—me and my fear and my doubt. A few years ago, in a Bible study I was in, we were reading about the apostle Thomas, the one who had to see Jesus’ hands, and I starting sobbing when I read Christ’s response: no censure, no condemnation, just “Put your finger here. See my hands.” I think about that sometimes when Tim and I talk about the future and wanting to give more, and I have to rehearse in my mind promises, promises that I’ve seen to be true, like evidence, right before my eyes.

And I think about that when he talks animatedly about blueberries, to a stranger at the grocery store, without inhibition or caution or a guard up, and I think about it when he tells me his hopes for the future, hopes I’d throw away as impossible or too big. What a gift to live life with a man like this, what a gift to rub up against him and feel my faith sharpened, see my hope grow. And what a gift to eat blueberry-filled, cookie-dough truffles covered in chocolate, the ones he envisioned and I couldn’t see, the ones that are crazy, almost unbelievably, good.

 

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Cherry Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream (+ homemade chocolate)

coconut milk and cherries

It’s been two years—two solid years since I came over here to this little space, logged into my WordPress dashboard and made the Big Announcement, alongside a recipe for cherry chocolate ice cream; two years since I’ve clocked into an office; two years since I’ve had coworkers nearby; two years without steady paychecks; two years with a much lower income (and two years with a much simpler life); two solid years since I did the thing I most wanted to do, which was also the thing about which I was most afraid; two years since I took one of the biggest leaps of my life: become a full-time freelancer.

cherries cherries

What I remember most about that hot and hopeful June of two summers ago, along with feeling free and like the future was wide-open before me, was feeling curious. From the moment I approached my old boss about becoming a contractor to the day I got into my car and drove away, for good, I remember wondering what would happen, where I would find work, if freelancing could possibly sustain me and for how long. I wondered if I’d end up moving or if I’d switch careers. I wondered if I would like it, this new lifestyle of casual workdays and variable pay. I didn’t know what to expect, and, in the same way that now Tim and I look at our future together, wondering about our lease ending in August and if we’ll have children and when, in the same way we hope for things, like a house and a garden and fruit trees, there’s something about knowing you don’t know that is both humbling and exciting and terrifying and good.

making homemade chocolate

I mean, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t the same thing as saying I like uncertainty. Most days, I just want a blueprint, a ready-made map that directs me from point A to point B and says why. I like direction. It’d be great if life were like that: Take three steps forward into a new job opportunity. Be at that coffee shop at 10 AM and you’ll meet a lifelong friend. Jump into the unknown, just you and your laptop and a lot of hopes and dreams, and you’ll make it, don’t worry, and two years from now you’ll be writing another blog post, thankful and happy and surprised.

cherry chocolate coconut ice cream

But the thing I realize most when I look back, knowing that it’s so much easier to see the truth when you’re two years removed from it, is that even when I felt unsure, even when everything seemed unknown, I was never abandoned or alone and so I never really needed to fear. These whole two years, with their ups and downs and maybes, I’ve always been OK, always provided for, and so I have every reason to trust.

Maybe that’s the whole point of the not knowing—because if you could see everything that’s coming in front of you, even all the good things, you’d never get the gift of learning faith.

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Foolproof Homemade Cheesecake with Pecan Crust

foolproof homemade cheesecake with pecan crust

“The feelings of being loved and being listened to are so similar, most people can’t tell the difference.” David Augsburger

Before I say anything else here today, I have to say this: thank you. To every one of you who read the last two posts, who heard my heavy thoughts, who voiced your own perspectives on making friends and being real and people-pleasing, who listened, thank you.

I have so many things I want to say to you today, so many thoughts on intimacy and friendship and identity, but the truth is, part of learning to love is learning to listen, really listen, and so right now, listening is the thing I most want to do.

So today, I bring three simple things: a Nashville announcement; a list of recent inspirations (i.e., places where I’ve been listening lately, where my soul’s been stirred); and, a recipe, for foolproof homemade cheesecake with pecan crust.

I hope you’ll enjoy them, too, and know, I’m sending them with a heart full of gratitude.

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Warm Coffee-Infused Chocolate Cakes

You know, I’ve gotten some pretty fantastic packages in the mail since I started blogging—a jar of coconut oil, a case of Talenti gelato, a bag of Xylitol, something like 20 containers of Chobani yogurt.

But this month, I received something totally new, something I’d never have expected, something that kind of amazed me when I opened it, in fact: I recieved an entire case of Starbucks Natural Fusions coffee—filled with several bags each of the vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon flavors—and along with, so it turns out, the opportunity to host a meal featuring the coffee: with $100 of grocery money to do it.

case of coffee

This, as you can imagine for someone who clips coupons and winces at $5 blueberries, was an offer too good to pass up.

starbucks cinnamon coffee

We planned the meal for Saturday, with six of us gathered around a table, eating a delicious feast of salmon and salad and vegetables, of which the crowning glory was definitely the dessert: coffee-infused chocolate cakes, topped with a coffee reduction sauce, set next to homemade coffee ice cream, with hot coffee to drink on the side.

Seriously.

Thank you, Starbucks.

eggs

Of the three coffee flavors, we liked the ingredients from the cinnamon the best, as they were the most whole (i.e., no maltodextrin), so that’s what we used in every aspect of our dessert: some grounds in the cakes, some super-strong brewed coffee in the sauce, some grounds steeped with milk in the process of making the ice cream.

eggs in bowl

The cakes, served warm, are like little domes of soft, rich heaven, I kid you not. They’re not overly sweet, which makes them ideal to pair with ice cream, and they’re wonderfully moist in the center, with chocolate liquid oozing out as you eat.

cakes ready to bake

cakes baked

Saturday was actually the second time we made the cakes; the first time, at another group dinner, we had experimented with proportions, done without coffee, used the berries in a sort of puree all over the top.

That time was OK.

nate's cake

This time was perfection.

a cup of coffee

I mean, really. Forget cream and sugar. I think I’ve found a new favorite way to have coffee.

(And also, just because a delicious (and free!) meal is something to celebrate, pictures of our lunch:)

salad
cauliflower
rosemary sourdough bread
my plate
around the table

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