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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Summer Days + Homemade Soft Serve

PercyPriest_skyblurrytree

It’s a bloody hot day in Nashville, a Wednesday, the kind of day where walking the 50 or so feet from your kitchen door to the mailbox means beads of sweat forming fast on your forehead and upper lip. Tim and I are inside, working, I at my laptop on the dining room table, he from his computer on the sofa. When I look up from the article I’m writing, I see him straight ahead; when I turn to the right, it’s all blue skies and beating sunshine above our front yard.

I want to be sitting in the grass, I want to be having a picnic, I want to be sipping lemonade while rocking on a giant front porch.

Then I remember the heat, and I change my mind: I want to go swimming.

PercyPriest_sky

“What time is it?” I say to Tim. He tells me it’s half past noon. “Too bad,” I answer back. “Wish we had time to go to the lake.”

And then we look at each other from across our freelance perches, and he says what we’re both thinking: oh yeah, we do.

PercyPriest_woods

PercyPriest_dreamy

So we finish our work and throw some towels in a bag and drive 20 minutes to Percy Priest, the manmade lake that makes Nashville feel a little less landlocked. We haven’t been there since last summer, when we were still engaged, on a Saturday that was loud and crowded and earned me a sunburn on my back.

PercyPriest_beach

Today it’s quiet, just a few dozen people grilling or swimming or soaking up sun. We stretch our blanket out in the green grass, sandy shores ahead of us, the smell of charcoal in the air. We step into the water and it’s warm, like a bathtub, and I don’t have to shudder when I dip my toes in first.

We’re only there two hours, but it’s two hours that feels a million miles from life—a few hours that feels like a summer vacation in the middle of the day. We walk, hand in hand, to the water; come back to the blanket to dry off; go back to the water; come back to the blanket. It’s so peaceful, so relaxing, so like Wisconsin or Florida.

percypriest_book

I finish the book I’ve been reading, “Writing Down the Bones, in which Natalie Goldberg talks about one of her favorite writing prompts for students: to talk about a time when you were happy. She says this is worth doing because,

“Stories stay with us … Our stories are important … To begin with, write like you talk, nothing fancy. This will help you get started.”

I look up from where I’m laying on my stomach, elbows propping me up, and a little girl runs past us in her bathing suit. I hear voices laughing in the water. I see Tim laying next to me, a smile on his face. We go back into the lake, and the way I talk to him, while we’re standing together, water coming just above our shoulders, minnows swimming past our feet, is with a breathless, “This is so fun!”

PercyPriest_sandytoes

We come home, taking showers and sweeping up sand and unpacking our towels, and we make frozen yogurt. It tastes like soft serve—the kind I used to get at places like TCBY, perfect for piling high with toppings like fruit and coconut and nuts, perfect for eating on the couch with your husband after an afternoon at the lake.

softserve_twinbowls

And I want to tell you here, the way I’d tell you if we were talking, how much I like this day, how much I love laying by the water on a weekday, surrounded by forests and swimmers and picnic tables.

homemadesoftserve_strawberries

softserve_wstrawberriescoconut

But then I think about Natalie Goldberg and about writing how we talk, and all that comes out is “It was wonderful!” and “I love this” and “This is so fun!” So then I think, you know, sometimes, maybe that’s exactly right.

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Hot (!) Spiced Milk

hot spiced milk

I started making this milk within the last few weeks, inspired by the tumeric milk posted over at the beautiful Journey Kitchen. Similar to a hot chocolate my friend Carrie makes (milk + cocoa powder + sweetener + heat = bam!), it’s nothing complicated or confusing. It’s hot and soothing—pure comfort when paired with a big down comforter and some online TV, especially when it’s as cold as it has been around here lately. And, because of the powerful spices, spiced milk is actually really beneficial for your health, too:

spices

First, there’s tumeric, the bright yellow spice that colors mustard and flavors curry. Commonly used in both Chinese and Indian ancient systems of medicine, tumeric is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices out there, the same ingredient I heard physicians wax eloquent about at a CCFA symposium I attended with my friend Alicia a few years ago. Because inflammation is connected to so many physical ailments, from Crohn’s to eczema to heart disease, foods that work against inflammation are like nutritional powerhouses, ingredients I want to work into my diet as much as possible.

There are also ginger and cardamom, long considered beneficial for digestion; cinnamon, which helps regulate blood sugar; cayenne, aid to the circulatory system, among other things; and cloves, another anti-inflammatory and also anti-bacterial spice. I add raw honey for taste, but I could just as easily be adding that for the nutritional benefits as well, as raw honey has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.

hot spiced milk for two

But all that aside, trust me when I say the health benefits are just icing on the cake for this drink, which is at once soothing and stimulating, spicy and sweet. Going down your throat, it burns just slightly (and of course, you could adjust the spices to your liking if you’re less tolerant of the kick of cayenne) and feels like a kicked-up version of chai tea or some really amazing steamed milk.

More than anything though, to me, it’s been one of a hundred comforts I’ve been tasting over the last few days, I really believe brought to me by the Great Comforter, the one to whom I could barely hang on at the beginning of this month. There have been long talks with Tim, encouraging Bible studies with friends, peaceful nights of sleep, random free tickets to the symphony, the ability to think clearly enough to remember how many blessings I’ve been given. My friend Joanna, in a recent email, told me that the darkest times in our lives are also times covered by God’s love and grace to pull us out of them, and she’s right. I’m tasting that these days, and it is good.

You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.
(Job 10:12 NIV)

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Raw Brownies + Chocolate Avocado Frosting

raw brownies

This past week, Tim and I did sort of a cleanse, wherein we ate mostly raw: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, raw dairy, dried fruit. We added homemade chicken soup, nettle and Tulsi teas and, at a maximum of once a day, roasted vegetables, but otherwise it was, for the first time in our lives, an experience in raw eating.

ingredients for brownie base

It was interesting.

ground up brownie layer

First of all, it wasn’t hard, at least not in the way typical cleanses are. I wasn’t starving, I didn’t get major detox reactions, there was no need to summon all my willpower not to eat a cookie. A couple times, one of us would say to the other, doesn’t a taco sound good?, but, for the most part, we felt like there was so much we still could eat: a bowl of juicy grapefruit; fresh pomegranate arils sprinkled with flax seeds and coconut; caprese salad (tomatoes, raw mozzarella, fresh basil), morning smoothies, giant green salads (and you know how I like those), frozen fruit mixed with nuts in raw milk, homemade pecan nut butter on celery sticks—all along with our soup and roasted vegetables, so, as you can imagine, we were quite full and satisfied.

prepared loaf pan

Also, it was really, well, cleansing, just as we hoped it would be. The week made us feel good—really good—from our skin to our digestion to our energy levels. After the holidays, I had been fighting a little bit of a sore throat/cold/infection, the first one since I changed my diet in 2009. This cleanse week killed it, knocked it right out of me.

chocolate avocado frosting

But there’s one more thing, too, a thing that’s been especially fascinating and something I didn’t expect or plan for: this week has started to open my eyes to the world of raw eating. It’s something. You know, there are raw restaurants, raw blogs (like my new favorite g0lubka), raw cookbooks. And it’s not like you just eat an apple and a carrot and call it a day, either: there are crazy inventive raw recipes for things like raw donuts, raw cookies and chocolate avocado pudding, for example.

pan of raw brownies

I mean, have you ever had a raw brownie?

This was an idea that had never before occurred, let alone appealed, to me.

sliced raw brownies

And I know they say, when you take yourself away from something for a little while, say from sugar, for example, you change your tastes. So I know it’s possible that these brownies won’t seem sweet enough to the average palate or chocolatey enough compared to the typical brownie.

raw chocolate brownie

But to me, they were amazing, enough to make me wonder why I’ve trained my brain to think I need things sweeter than they have to be. I loved them. I made them twice. And both times, when I saw the simple combination of dates, walnuts and cocoa powder make a brownie and the ability of half an avocado with honey, cocoa powder, vanilla and cinnamon, along with just a pinch of salt, to create a velvety chocolate frosting, I marveled. It’s the same feeling I’ve had looking at a piece of segmented grapefruit or the inside of a pomegranate: what amazing foods we’ve been given. It’s good to celebrate them.

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Anise Biscotti

I realized this morning that I was starting to forget what it felt like to post a blog entry. And that that was probably not a good sign.

anise biscotti

I don’t really know what to say about it. I mean, it’s the strangest thing. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made homemade chicken stock, chicken and rice soup, homemade puff pastry (adapted from this great version at Not Without Salt), goat cheese tarts, pistachio biscotti, roasted vegetables, pizza. In almost all cases, I’ve taken no photos, I’ve planned no blog posts, I’ve just made and eaten and moved on.

Who am I?

Maybe it was finishing Project 365: marathon runners get to rest for a while, right? Maybe it was starting a new year. Maybe it was being busy and feeling like simplifying my to-do list meant cutting time here.

Whatever the case, hello again. I’ve missed you.

biscotti on a baking sheet

So let’s catch up a little. I spent the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 out of town, in Nashville—a place that just may become my new home if I can work out a living arrangement sometime soon—and on the first of the year, we drizzled chocolate onto anise biscotti that looked just like these (but were not, actually, these, as I didn’t even bring my camera on the trip).

I just read that last parenthesis and shook my head.

You know that law about how objects in motion tend to stay in motion? I guess objects not in motion, well, let’s just say it’s easy to not blog when you haven’t been blogging—kind of like it’s easy to not clean the bathroom when you haven’t for a while, or easy to not pick up the phone when you’ve forgotten for a few weeks, or easy to stay in your pajamas on a Monday morning at 2:30 PM because you’ve gotten caught up with work on your computer and you’re in the flow of things and time just flies by.

anise biscotti

Reading this post is starting to feel like a giant sigh.

But the good news is, just because it’s easy for things to stay a certain way doesn’t mean they have to. I mean, look, here I am writing a post! There you are, back at work in January! So it’s possible to do something different—to work out this afternoon instead of staying in your pajamas for example, or to go bake biscotti like you’ve always thought you should.

I’ll even help you with that last part.

This version, which I ended up making all over again last week, a few days after ringing in the new year, because seriously I enjoyed them that much, are packed with that unmistakably licorice flavor of anise, an ingredient I don’t get enough of. We made all kinds of modifications to the original recipe, halving it and swapping brandy with yogurt and adding spices and extra anise seed, and the result is really incredible: crunchy, sturdy enough for dunking in a hot drink, slightly sweet, and virtually irresistible every time you walk into the kitchen and see them on the counter.

Of course, you could resist them if you really wanted to—just like I’m forcing myself to get out of bed once I click publish. But you know what I mean.

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