coconut macaroons

coconut macaroons

The thing nobody tells you ahead of time when you say you’re going to move to a new place is that doing so—packing up most of your belongings and driving eight hours to a new city with the help of two men who must really love you to put themselves through a drive of snow and ice and, Indiana on the whole of their Saturday and Sunday—will, at many times, feel much less like Adventure and much more like Terrifying.

macaroons without chocolate

Which, I guess, is another way of saying, I’m here, for those of you who’ve been wanting an update. I’ve gone and moved to Nashville. I’m sleeping on a mattress on the floor and realized yesterday I didn’t bring my snow clothes (it snows in the South? what?), but on the whole, things are good. In fact, there has been a lot of Adventure in getting to know new streets, meeting lots of new people, visiting three libraries before finding a place to work on Monday afternoon.

dipping the macaroon

And while I do already have some basic groceries, this post is actually about a dessert we—I and that guy I moved to Nashville for—made a couple weeks ago at his house, back when I was still hunting for a place to live in this city that I guess is now home.

dipping macaroon

It’s pretty simple, just a combination of egg whites, sugar, coconut and a few other small things, but it’s handy to have when you want to use leftover egg whites (say, after making some homemade chocolate pudding, for example).

dipping the macaroon

If you’ve ever had store-bought coconut macaroons before, you’re in for a pleasant surprise with this homemade version: it’s so much softer and chewier than what I’ve had before. To finish them off, we melted a bar of dark chocolate to dip or drizzle them in, but that step is entirely optional.

dipped in chocolate

I was thinking last night while I boiled water for tea that it’s funny what things make you feel at home. For me, it’s seeing my clothes in the closet, knowing my towel’s on the back of the bathroom door but, more than that, it’s food—using the same kinds of ingredients I used in Chicagoland, stocking a new pantry, eating toast with butter and raw honey for breakfast.

plate of macaroons

So when I come up for air around here—amidst a sea of work projects and an always growing shopping list—I can already tell you where you’ll find me:

chocolate covered

and I’m already in the mood for more cookies.

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that kind of discovery (olive oil granola)

my favorite olive oil granola

There are some things in life that grow on you—places that get better every time you visit, favorite movies that catch you with something new each time you watch, people that seem funnier and smarter and kinder every single time you talk.

With these things, it’s rare you didn’t like them at least a little to begin with; you probably did. It’s just that, for whatever reason, when you liked them enough and kept experiencing them again and again, your affection kept increasing—and in continued exposure, you found the marvelous reality that discovery, even or maybe especially in something familiar, leads to greater love.

That’s how I feel about granola.

granola in the pan

Our back story—mine and granola’s—is pretty ordinary: I had granola bars in the school lunches I made myself in high school. I threw them in my messenger bag in college. I even bought bulk packs at Costco or Sam’s when I worked my first adult job, so I could grab a couple to stick in my purse or to make a quick breakfast on my way out the door. You could say I always liked granola, and we spent many years on good terms.

But. Then sometime after I started this food blog, I decided to make granola (here and then here and then in bars last November, and there was also a batch last December 24 that I never told you about, which smelled sweet with cinnamon and cloves and Christmastime). I know it’s nothing difficult, baking granola. It’s as simple as stirring, spreading and putting in the oven. But over the last year or so, I’ve discovered how much better granola can taste when it’s homemade, fresh out of the oven, fragrant and golden with clumps. I’ve discovered that I like it in a bowl, with milk; spread over yogurt, with or without fruit; eaten straight from the pan, in big fistfuls I bring to my mouth.

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You’re Invited

cupcakes and raspberries

My blog is turning one in August, and I’m having a party.

Will you come?

Over the last year, you’ve sent me awfully nice e-mails, telling me something about why you like this site or giving me the recipe for a similar dish or asking for clarification on something. I really like the notes about how your cookies looked when they came out of the oven, all puffed and golden, and especially the ones about how something you read here got you to think about things—even ones having nothing to do with food—in a new way.

So I was thinking, for the one-year anniversary of Food Loves Writing, why not have a real-life party? There will be cake and there will be cookies, August 8, at a park in the Chicago suburbs:

gilbert park

Maybe all who comes will be me, the two friends who’ve already promised to appear, and no one else. If so, we’ll eat a lot, and that will be lovely. But if any of the rest of you come, too, well, I hope you know how much I’ll love to meet you.

coconut cupcakes

Maybe we could have a cookie-decorating contest? Or a frost-your-own-cupcakes table? In that case, we should really have these: coconut cupcakes, as seen at Everybody Likes Sandwiches. They’re good (and, bonus: vegan! which seems to be the theme this week).

These are the exact opposite of my droopy gray coconut cake—the one I botched by grabbing coconut flavoring instead of extract? They’re moist and sweet, with flecks of coconut throughout. They’d have been wonderful with coconut frosting, too, but, well, did you know you can over-beat whipping cream? Let’s just say lesson learned, and, um, these aren’t half bad with spoonfuls of raspberries on the side.

vegan coconut cupcakes

Anyway, back to the party.

I really don’t have much nailed down but the location and time: August 8, between 7 and 8:30 PM, at a gorgeous pavilion walking distance from downtown Downers Grove.

I’ve made a Facebook invite for the event (you have to log in to see it), and, if you’re able, I hope you’ll R.S.V.P. there. I’d love to see you, hear your story and share a glass of lemonade.

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the kind you won’t let go

orange

I’ve been thinking about fables lately—those short, sweet stories with a moral tacked onto the end? One of Aesop’s tells about a boy who, reaching into a tall jar with a wide base of hazelnuts, grabs a large handful, greedy to bring the lot to his mouth. But, when his tightened fist won’t fit back up through the container’s slender neck, he bursts into tears and panic, having imprisoned his clenched fingers inside a jar full of hazelnuts, where the solution is as simple as releasing his grip.

I’ve heard that monkeys do this in real life. In tests, they supposedly leave their fists inside the jars, indefinitely, unwilling to release the nuts but also anxious about being caught in the jar. And I am fascinated. If I’m honest, it’s because I think they sound like me. Aesop’s intended moral was simple: Do not attempt too much at once; but mine would be more complex: You have got to let go and trust That Which Is Greater—because that is faith, and, because gripping things tightly doesn’t really make them yours anyway.

I hinted before at some upcoming big decisions/changes in the works around here, and, while I have nothing substantial or concrete to report, there have, slowly, been movements towards change—the loosening of my grip, as it were—and that is something. I almost rented a new apartment I loved; I’ve been pursuing some new writing opportunities; and I’ve been daydreaming a lot about what, in all of this, will matter 50 years from now.

Of course there has been food, too. That goes without saying. But what with all the change-seeking also taking my attention, I am very behind on telling you about it.

coconut citrus pancakes

For one thing, there were these pancakes.

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the cake that was gray

frosting coconut cake

Over lunch on Mother’s Day, my brother happened to mention a coconut cake recipe he’d seen online, and I responded exactly as you’d expect: by whipping out my cell phone—newly with Internet, which, by the way, in itself is a huge change for me, and you know how I do with change, so congratulate me on that—and trying to find it.

The cake was beautiful: a pristine, white, regal-looking thing, step atop a cake stand and topped with toasted, shredded coconut. It was the reason that, a few hours later, I beelined straight for the baking aisle’s coconut extract and grabbed this.

What I purchased—coconut flavor—wasn’t exactly extract, but it was the next closest thing, and the bottle said something about its being good for baking. So maybe that substitution explains the problem I wound up with later, when, making the frosting, I found butter + sugar + milk + coconut flavor = icing the color of gray. As in, the same shade as gravestones or, decaying flesh.

icing

The cake tasted all right, albeit dry. It was the frosting that was the real problem—slightly grainy and never thick enough, changing textures while I covered the cake, from fluffy to very thin and not that far from soupy. It did taste like coconut, though, which I considered a small victory, but the color! The color! I didn’t have the heart to throw it away immediately, but I’ll let you guess where I’m headed as soon as I finish this post, barring, of course, any refrigerator miracle overnight. (Fingers crossed.)

the cake that was gray

Anyway, it got me thinking. In the kitchen, I know what failure feels like. I have done it—done it to death, you could say, embracing it with cupcakes and artichokes and an awful soup I still haven’t had the heart to tell you about—and I’ve always lived to see the next mornings.

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