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?

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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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Sauteed (or Roasted) Brussels Sprouts with Red Chili Flakes

Brussels sprouts in the bowl

I think Brussels sprouts might be my favorite vegetable.

washing Brussels sprouts

It wasn’t love at first sight—these things seldom are—but you could say, I guess, it all started back in my days of visiting Nashville, amidst the excitement and unknowns of another budding relationship, when one Sunday night having dinner with friends, we poured leftover walnut-sage brown butter onto roasted Brussels sprouts and couldn’t believe how good it was.

Brussels sprouts on the cutting board

In truth, I shouldn’t have been at all surprised, having tasted the sweet caramelization of Brussels sprouts less than a year before, both at a restaurant and in my kitchen, but, as we sometimes do when we’re busy or distracted or just not tuned in, I’d managed to forgot all about it. The Nashville Brussels sprouts, thank goodness, made a more lasting impression, and my life’s seldom been without them since.

Brussels Sprouts

It’s funny how that works, you know? One day, Brussels sprouts—or say, that person you haven’t thought much of until now—does something impressive, and you think, Huh. I never noticed that before! And sometimes that’s enough to change your interactions ever after, to set on course a whole new path of life; other times, you forget and move on and have to be impressed all over again.

sauteed Brussels sprouts

For us, Brussels sprouts are that love that came softly, without our seeking it out or expecting it or planning for its entrance in our routines. Through gentle persistence, it’s become the vegetable often accompanying our Sunday night dinners, the favorite dinner on a weeknight, the thing we pick up from the produce department “as a treat.”

plate of roasted Brussels sprouts

Nowadays, we like our Brussels sprouts very simple—barely dressed, just sauteed or roasted enough to turn soft and golden, with crispy edges that crunch when you bite in. We cook them in coconut oil, with hefty dashes of salt and pepper, maybe with some red chili flakes thrown in—because, whereas before I thought little of this cabbage-like vegetable Rudy Huxtable pushed off her plate, today I celebrate it.

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The Perfect Crustless Quiche

crustless quiche slice

February 17 was a big day for my family this year. Not only was it my mom’s birthday, but it also was the first time they came to visit Nashville. Ever! And while I’ve been wanting my parents to visit ever since I first moved last February, I’ll be the first to admit that in the valley of a few weeks ago, it felt a little impossible. So I’m thankful to say that in fact, we had a busy four days, filled with many moments where I’d look at Tim and say, I’m not in pain!, amidst marathons of Downton Abbey, antiquing in Franklin, a visit to the gym and grabbing them Olive & Sinclair chocolate-dipped popsicles at Hot and Cold. It all started when they arrived early Friday morning, having braved a 6 AM flight to get here, and so we had a birthday breakfast waiting—and the star of that show was this quiche.

quiche for brunch

Here are the reasons I like this quiche: 1) You don’t have to make a pie crust. It’s not that I have anything against pie crust (especially not this foolproof one!); it’s just that sometimes, say the weekend where you’re already making two other pies, one pumpkin and one lemon meringue, you don’t feel like another. And even sans crust, I love how this quiche holds together beautifully, firm and solid, like an egg bake.

2) It’s a meal in itself. It’s true this quiche was our breakfast, alongside sprouted cinnamon raisin English muffins and fruit, but it could just as easily be lunch or dinner, maybe with greens on the side.

mid-brunch

3. It is the perfect blend of flavors. I hesitate to use the word perfect here, mostly because it feels a little pushy amidst a sea of competing opinions for the best this or the most delicious that, but I’m doing it anyway because, objectively, this quiche was so good, everyone had seconds, and the one small piece that was leftover after the five of us ate it was gone the next morning. And also, you know how sometimes you cook a new recipe and all you think is how it’s missing something? This quiche was the exact opposite: it was precisely as it should be, from the dispersion of spinach and chard to the blend of three different cheeses.

But beyond that, perhaps the most convincing argument, if you want to know the truth, is that my mom, the birthday girl herself, has asked me for this quiche recipe three times, and something like that hasn’t happened since the Great Pot Roast of 2010. After that kind of ringing endorsement, I don’t know what else to say but that here, I bring you, Mom and everyone:

our new favorite crustless quiche!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Coconut Cupcakes (+ Xylitol!)

Thank you all so much for your congratulations and excitement on the last post! I told Tim, getting engaged feels like this giant burst of love from everyone who’s known you—and even some that haven’t. Thanks for sharing in our joy, every one of you. You are the best part of blogging.

And speaking of the best parts of food blogging, let me tell you about another one: namely, getting exposed to new and interesting ingredients—like Xyla (Xylitol), for example, the alternative sweetener I used in today’s coconut-packed cupcakes.

xylitol

Before an email from Xylitol USA found its way into my inbox a few weeks ago, I had heard a little bit about this “un-sugar.” I knew it was popular in chewing gums, but, actually, it turns out it’s been used in the dental field for more than sixty years, praised for its plaque- and cavity- fighting abilities, as well as power to fight demineralization of tooth enamel and mouth infections.

Even beyond dental benefits, Xyla has a long list of selling points, according to its sellers: way lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar (it’s like a 3 compared to 100) so it hits your body differently in terms of insulin, anti-aging properties, helps prevent ear infections, fights bacteria, increases absorption of B vitamins, aids in weight loss, inhibits harmful yeast. What’s more, Xylitol is said to be all-natural, derived from certain fibrous vegetables and fruit—or, like what Xylitol USA sells, from birch trees.

On the other hand, some research suggests there are dangers associated with this sweetener: an article in Natural News pointed out that not all Xylitol is created equal, as “one commonly used source is corn imported from China”—which then needs to be highly processed before consumption, making it a far cry from all natural. It’s really pretty interesting to read about Xyla; it’s been getting more and more buzz, with all kinds of mixed opinions floating around.

one cup of xylitol

Since Xylitol USA’s product comes directly from birch trees (a change made as recently as last year), I feel a little more comfortable using it in baking, where it’s supposed to be a one-to-one swap for sugar, behaving, looking, and tasting almost exactly like it.

So when, last week, I was in the mood for a cupcake loaded with coconut (we’re talking coconut milk, coconut oil, shredded coconut; coconut in the cake, coconut in the frosting), I pulled out the Xylitol to give it a shot as the sweetener to make it happen.

three eggs

Just to make sure I was giving you a fair assessment, I had at least seven people taste these cupcakes, quizzing them on level of sweetness, weird after-tastes, anything that stood out to them. The verdict? Xyla is a definite win.

One person thought the cupcakes had a very slight metal taste; a few of us thought they were powerfully sweet (but then, not eating regular sugar can affect your sensitivity to these things); but overall, these cupcakes were deemed delicious desserts. I will also add that since I used whole-grain spelt flour, they had a dense quality that’s hard to get away from with alternative flours.

coconut cupcakes

So would I use Xylitol again? Maybe. It’s hard to find in stores, so the Internet would be the only way to get it (XylitolUSA.com is actually offering a discount code for Food Loves Writing readers: 10% off with code FIRST).

cupcakes in container

I liked the way it tasted and I liked the fact that it’s a natural substitute for sugar—especially one that is so much lower on the glycemic index. Nonetheless, I’d like to do some more research before feeling confident.

So what about you: Have you ever used Xylitol? Know anything about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any interesting research you find!

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