Roasted Vegetable + Herb Salad, for the People Who Can’t Do Everything (and for the Ones Who Can)

Roasted Vegetable Salad | FoodLovesWriting.com

I had a lightbulb moment last week where I realized I cannot do everything (including, this post seems to indicate, take a non-blurry photo of a roasted vegetable dinner). I was sitting in the dining room when it happened: Like most workdays, I had my laptop open before me, streaming sunlight to my right, and, just then, I saw the neighbor working in her yard and thought how I’d like to go say hi—right as my inbox pulled in two new emails, my phone rang, I noticed dust collecting on the floorboards and my open Word document reminded me of how much left on this project there was yet to do. In that moment—that split-second moment—where so many of my honest desires, from keeping a clean house to being a productive freelancer, collided, this single thought, clear as day, hit my heart: I am just a person and I cannot do everything.

Thing is, saying there are things I cannot do is humbling. In fact, I’m not sure I want to admit it to you. When you ask me to take on a project, I want to say yes—and get it to you faster than you’d expected. When you invite me to a social event, I want to say sure—and then be charming and easy and fun. I want to meet your expectations and I want to meet mine—and the worst part is that I’m just proud enough to think I actually can. I’ll turn myself in pretzels trying to work good, love good, friend good, give good, cook good, look good, decorate good, budget good. But I can’t. Not all of it, not all of the time.

This is the sort of thing lots of people are realizing these days. Two, if not three, of the articles I cited in the last post hit at this same idea, and there are many others, too. For example, I read a fascinating, funny post recently that talked about the guilt parents experience (I can only imagine!) but then, also, it did the thing that 90% of these articles do in response to those feelings, the same thing most of us do in response to people we view as more talented or beautiful or smart or successful or cool: it poked fun/criticized parents who weren’t struggling in the same ways.

In other words, to make ourselves feel better that we aren’t accomplishing X, we dislike or belittle anyone who is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and about how it relates to blogging and all of life.

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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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Oven Fries with Lemony Green Dressing + Gruyere (& a Gift)

[Update! Congratulations to Rachel Q, winner of the giveaway!]

Oven Fries with Lemon Green Dressing + Gryere | FoodLovesWriting.com

A long time ago, I heard a superstition that says the activities in which you partake on New Year’s Day set the tone for the way your coming year will go: Spend money, and it will be a year of loss. Receive money, and it will be a year of gain. Work, and you’ll be industrious. Play, and you’ll be full of fun. Eat something green, so the tradition goes, and you can expect the luck of more green (of the financial kind) to find its way to you in the months ahead. So it’s with that old superstition in mind that we bring you today’s cheesy oven fries, kicked up a notch with lemony green dressing, salty and addicting and very green—even though, between us, it’s not exactly money that we’re hoping to find more of in 2013.

(Warning: extremely long post to follow.)

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Joanna Linberg’s Cajun Sweet Potato Fries

cajun sweet potato fries | foodloveswriting.com

If my life were a novel, the way I found Joanna Linberg’s blog, Honey & Salt would be a classic example of foreshadowing. Picture it: November 2010. I’m posting some scattered thoughts on thankfulness (or, really, unthankfulness) here at the blog. Three days later, unbeknownst to me, a magazine editor from Iowa links to that post in a roundup at her site, sending a pingback to my email inbox, landing me on her thoughtful piece of the Internet; I start reading her blog; we become friends; we visit each other; we cry in my kitchen; we write letters; and now, here I am, bringing you a sweet potato recipe from the woman I would now call one of the most thankful people I know.

You probably remember Joanna—the Joanna of Brad and Joanna, the friends we went to see in St. Louis last month? She could just as easily be called the Full of Wisdom Joanna or the Writes Beautiful Letters Joanna or the Joanna Who Points Me to Truth and Gratitude Every Time We Talk. But, I suspect, to you, she will quickly become the Joanna Who Makes Cajun Sweet Potato Fries, and nothing else will matter, at least after you try this recipe that is, because, people, it’s something else.

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Chocolate Torte with Chocolate Avocado Mousse (gluten-free, maple-sweetened)

Holding Pumpkin | FoodLovesWriting.com

Fall is to seasons what blogging is to writing: easy to love. While of course I wouldn’t want a world without spring flowers or summer daylight—any more than a world without Jane Austen or Jhumpa Lahiri—I have to say that stepping outside to a golden world of falling leaves and pumpkin patches and cardigans is the kind of thing that puts an easy smile on my face, very much like sharing little windows into our life here on the blog, reading windows into other people‘s lives and, mostly, getting to interact with all of you about it.

Fall in Nashville | FoodLovesWriting.com

I started this blog in 2008, a year out of grad school, working 9-5 in an office job where I wrote descriptions of the houses people were trying to sell. Before that, I’d done some freelance work for newspapers and magazines, just small projects here and there, because I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t know if I could, much less about what. And over the last four years, while I’ve written to you about my grandma and quitting my job and moving and getting engaged and an October wedding and the way I am hungry for truth and beauty, this blog has been the place for finding out.

When we made the announcement about the book last week, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I think about launching it soon, I don’t know quite what to expect about that, either. Part of me wants to apologize—it’s just an ebook—and part of me wants to downplay it—so, in case no one reads our story, it will be less of a blow.

But the truth is, honestly, the ebook is a lot like this blog, and this blog has been such a source of joy and friendship and encouragement over the last four years, I’m ashamed of myself for not celebrating it.

We’re launching an ebook, you guys!

I love the story it contains the way I love fall and roadside stands of mums and huge vintage trucks stuffed with orange pumpkins. I love it the way I love walking outside on an October Saturday, soaking up the beauty around me.

And, while I’ve been writing and rewriting it the last several months, I’ve been really, really hoping you’ll love it, too.

pumpkins | FoodLovesWriting.com

We’ll be sharing more information about the book in the coming post (or posts), and just thinking about some of that sharing gets me so excited, I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve, all fidgety and bursting inside. But for the meantime, here are a few things:

First, it’s an ebook because an ebook is a format that’s fast, convenient, affordable (to make and to buy) and accessible for you. It has allowed us to put together our story in a manner of months, and in the way that feels right to us. Publishing an ebook is a way to share more of our journey with you, and, as I was saying at the beginning of this post, that’s always what this site has been about anyway.

Picnic Torte | FoodLovesWriting.com

Second, the ebook tells about how the blog started, how Tim and I met through it, what struggles and beauties we found along the way; it also tells a story much bigger than that, about hope and fear and learning to let go.

chocolate torte | FoodLovesWriting.com

Last thing, for now, is that when we made the video last week, as you know, it was over a picnic lunch in the park, one in which we hauled dishes and linens and baskets of food to a concrete table surrounded by tall trees and falling leaves, and where we ate, among other things, a chocolate torte made of an avocado mousse so creamy and rich, I almost didn’t want to post the video on Friday, but this torte instead.

chocolate torte and chocolate avocado mousse | foodloveswriting.com

The crust is mostly maple syrup, coconut oil and nuts; the mousse is mostly avocados and maple syrup; and the combination is so easy to love, like blogging and like autumn and like long afternoons in the sun, you won’t believe it—and that’s whether or not you’re eating it beneath a canopy of maple leaves in the mid-afternoon.

Today, I leave you with this torte. More soon.

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Pumpkin Cake + Pumpkin Trifle

Exactly one year ago today, Tim and I were up in the Chicago suburbs, driving out to the DuPage County courthouse to lift up our hands and solemnly swear that we were who we said we were and get the nice lady in the sea of cubicles to hand us our marriage license, our marriage license! I remember walking out of that building, into the crowded parking lot, hand in hand with Tim and thinking, our marriage license! It’s official now! Not just in terms of a giant dress in the closet and a chalkboard seating chart, but, as in, according to the government, we’re actually about to do this thing. Three days from now, we’re getting hitched!

day before wedding | foodloveswriting.com

I know I’ve said this here before, but, seriously, there are so many more details involved with planning a wedding than I ever would have imagined, and, when you plan your wedding fast, like we did in six months, you learn to scrap a lot of those details in the name of staying sane—like a wedding cake maybe. We had pretty much ruled it out, thinking that there’d already be a full meal and a full spread of a cookie table, so who needed a cake?

My mom, that’s who.

Listen, she’d been a champ about a lot of wedding things she’d originally seen a different way: my not having a veil, my seeing Tim before the wedding, no little boxes of Jordan almonds. But the one thing she violently disagreed on was not having a wedding cake. Cake is tradition. Cake tastes good. Plus, and this is where she hit my soft spot, cakes are the thing my grandma used to make for weddings as a caterer. We have these amazing black-and-white photos of her tall, tiered versions, usually with one of those vintage bride-and-groom sets on top, and oh, you guys, I can’t tell you how much I wish she could have still been alive to make mine last October.

Caroline

So we talked about it and we talked about it, and we agreed: the next best thing to having your grandma, the one who taught you how to bake and love food, make your wedding cake is having your mom, who fed you before you knew she was feeding you, do it, especially when your mom is the kind of person who takes such intense pleasure in being the one to provide a meal.

It would be my gift to her to have one, her gift to me to make it, and, in the process, everyone would have some cake.

 

So months beforehand, Mom tested pumpkin cake recipes, almost giving up the idea once or twice. Turns out there are several truly bad cake recipes out there in the world and, not every recipe translates into three or four tiers.

But come our wedding day, her work was a thing of beauty. And that afternoon, she let the caterers transport the tall, dark, spiced cake topped with homemade cream cheese frosting down to the tent. It was simple, like us, no frills or iced flowers, and it was sweet and, honestly, I liked it quite a lot—partly because it tasted good, mostly because she made it for me.

Last week, remembering that cake and the work Mom put into it, I emailed her and asked for the recipe.

cake topper | FoodLovesWriting.com

She sent ingredients.

Do you have directions, too? I wrote back.

She said cream the wet with sugar; mix the dry; combine it all.

Baking times? I wrote back. Size of pan? Oven temp?

And then the correspondence became a confusing, winding email chain of 9X13 pans and guessing on oven temperatures and the promise of a different, much better pumpkin cake recipe, which, if she had it to do over again, is the one she would have used for the wedding last year.

pumpkin trifle | foodloveswriting.com

She had me laughing, and frustrated, and aware that when I talk to her I am looking at my future, and so an hour or two later, there I was, mixing ingredients in the kitchen like my mother’s daughter who was her mother’s daughter, according to a recipe she got from a Chicago news reporter or a lady at her old church or somewhere else, it’s still unclear, pouring it all into a greased and floured rectangle pan, letting the warm and autumn smell of it fill our kitchen.

Pumpkin Trifle | FoodLovesWriting.com

I may not have wanted a wedding cake, but I’m glad we had one anyway, and I’m glad I made a version of it last week—moist and pumpkiny and wonderful layered with homemade whipped cream and nuts—so that when I looked at it, like I looked at my mom’s in a big white tent, I could think, heart full, that more than anything else?

pumpkin trifle | foodloveswriting.com

my grandma would have loved this.

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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.

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