Looking ahead to Friday’s post begins for me, usually, sometime on Wednesday, which this week was the gray and shady afternoon in which Tim and I ventured way out to the west side of town, to Bellevue, the Nashville neighborhood of older shopping plazas and brand-new housing communities where Perl, a new-to-us café Yelp users compare to Marché and Scoutmob currently has a deal on, is located. Armed with my Christmas gift of a yellow Anthropologie journal and wearing the gray-and-white-striped vintage dress I found last week at Goodwill’s sale, I sat with Tim through 20 minutes of highway and unfamiliar neighborhoods and launched into the purpose of our midweek date: quizzing him about big dreams for the future. “So tell me,” I began. “If there were no limits and no obstacles, what would you want to do this year? What do you wish you could work towards? What are your big dreams?”
The last time we went to St. Louis, Tim and I were young and in love, just a few days from the night we’d sat on a bench in downtown Glen Ellyn, the Metra train sailing by, and I’d uttered the words I’d been waiting months to say (which those of you who’ve read the ebook will remember in detail). After he’d left Chicago, Tim got a random gig delivering gear for some musicians, sending him to St. Louis for a night the following weekend, and, when he told me this on the phone, I immediately Googled the distance between Chicago and Nashville, exclaimed, “I want to come meet you!” and our trip was born. (In those few days between seeing each other, I also went and chopped off ten inches of my hair to send to Locks for Love, a decision that, at the time, felt so drastic and permanent, I still reach to the back of my neck to feel my hair when I think about it. I never could have imagined a time two years later when I’d return, married, with hair as long and heavy as it once had been. Life lesson: hair grows! time heals! thank God!)
Anyway, that short trip two Julys ago was such magic, such away-from-it-all bliss, that I always think of St. Louis as a city of good things. That’s one of the many reasons we were so glad to take a lightning-fast trip there this past Saturday and Sunday, to see our dear friends Joanna and Brad.
I have this photographer friend Louie. I met him through Becky, the friend who was with me the first time I met Tim, and I’ve been following his Tweets and Instagrams and blog ever since that one random afternoon sitting across from him at Burger King or McDonald’s, watching him eat chicken nuggets, before the three of us went someplace else. Louie’s a cool kid—I say kid because, people, Louie is all of 22, as in the age I was when I started grad school, the age at which the only things I’d ever published were local newspaper articles about book clubs and town meetings, the age when I didn’t know much about cooking, much less about cooking and writing about it on a food blog. But Louie’s 22 looks a lot different than mine did, and he’s a crazy-good photographer shooting, get this, upwards of 20 weddings a year. So when he came into town last week from Chicago, asking for some help expanding his food portfolio, we were only too happy to have him over for our regular Sunday lunch with friends.
(All shots in this post courtesy of Louie Abellera Photography.)
So let’s talk about Sunday lunches. Tim’s been keeping this tradition with the same group of friends since before I knew him. When we were long-distance dating, and I’d come into town for the weekend, Sunday afternoons would have us all gathered together, grilling and assembling a meal to share at a dining room table. When my family came to town in February, when friends have come to visit this year, if they’re here on a Sunday, they come to our shared Sunday meal. It’s a nice constant, one thing that is consistently the same, no matter who else joins or leaves or what the time of year. And while usually we do it at our friends’ home, this week, we moved things to our table, where the sunlight was especially nice around 3 PM and where the four kids gathered around a blanket in our spare bedroom to “picnic” while the adults shared salads and pizza on our flea market chairs and vintage wedding plates.
Tim and I were talking recently about how every time we have people over for a meal, there’s a salad. He brought two giant salad bowls into our marriage and they get regular rotation in our eating and entertaining plans. A meal just doesn’t feel complete without a giant pile of leafy greens involved. This week, the salad couldn’t have been simpler: an arugula mix topped with sliced pluots, sliced red onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and seasonings, nothing else. We tossed it using my newest kitchen treasure, new Anthropologie servers, thanks to birthday gift cards from our family.
The pizza was just two batches of this thin and crunchy soaked crust recipe, decorated with four different choices of toppings. We baked them two by two before everyone arrived, trying to keep things as warm as we could, then placed them all on the table on cutting boards so people could serve themselves.
Then there was a quick zucchini-tomato salad, and water with lemon, and wine, gifted from Becky when she was in town a few weeks ago.
Last, for dessert, there was almond cake, a gluten-free, incredibly simply recipe my sister-in-law made for us while we were in Ohio and that wowed us so much, it was the first thing we thought of for Sunday’s meal. Light and sweet and with a nice crumb, the kind you expect cake flour, or at the very least all-purpose flour, to be necessary to achieve, this cake is made from a combination of almond flour and coconut flour, four eggs, butter, honey and a few other little things. It’s wonderful, especially topped by homemade whipped cream. (The cake and the whipped cream were made the day beforehand, and I put them together just before we ate.)
After dinner, the kids joined us around the table for card games, and Tim and I cleaned up the kitchen, and my brother-in-law had the football game on TV. Once all the guests had left, Tim and I agreed about the rich pleasure of hosting, of getting to have people into your home, give them your food and watch them eat. It is the single best part of cooking, this sharing around the table, if you ask me.
There are recipes you make because you like the way they taste (chicken pot pie, carrot risotto, thin and chewy pizza crust); there are recipes you make because you're trying to show love (hot chocolate cookies, homemade cheesecake, soft and…
Two days into our honeymoon, Tim and I are eating lunch at a taco hut near our condo, a whitewashed building where the windows are always open and the ceiling fans are always moving, and the hot Hawaiian breezes blow in and out leisurely, matching the pace of the island where we’re staying, palm tree branches rustling in the wind.
On the porch in front, there’s a cardboard box set up on a bar stool with a sign that reads, “$0.25 each” and which holds a dozen or so avocados, each of them half the size of Tim’s head, and there’s no one around to collect payments, just a large glass jar, so after looking at each other in disbelief, still amazed that we’re in Kauai, let alone that we’re paying 1/8 of what we’d pay for avocados in the states, we grab a handful of dark green, alligator-skinned fruits, leave our money and go.
As far as foods go, avocados are the closest thing I know to magic, and not just when you’re eating them on your honeymoon. They’re cool and creamy, filling, versatile enough to be guacamole and smoothies and salads and rich chocolate frosting atop raw chocolate brownies. They’re filled with vitamins: A, B complex, C, E, H and K. They’re high in essential amino acids and rich in minerals: folate, magnesium, copper, iron, calcium and potassium. But most importantly, avocados are fatty—not just any kind of fatty, but good fatty.
And while I know in this world of low-fat diets and counting calories that putting words like good and fatty together can seem like an oxymoron, kind of like saying gorgeous ugly or smart stupid or transparent Southerner, they’re the fatty that promotes good cholesterol (HDL) and lowers bad (LDL). The fatty that’s good for heart health. The fatty that makes it easier for your body to absorb and use the good vitamins and antioxidants in the rest of the salad you’re eating them in. The fatty proven to work against inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
In other words, like I said, magic.
I love avocados because they taste good and because we eat them in Hawaii and because of their health benefits, and I spent a good chunk of time trying to convince my dad (and all men I know) to eat them more often because they’re also shown to reduce risk of prostate cancer, but mostly I love them because they literally amaze me—avocados are one of those rare things in life that regularly make me think, wow, now this is exactly as it should be, and we all need more of those moments.
Because, you know, in this life, it’s not hard to be disappointed. In a broken world of child abuse and poverty and fundamentalism and egos, it’s not hard to put your heart out there and have it crushed, not hard to be hurt, to feel the sting of someone’s words, to be forgotten or ignored or misunderstood. And there are days, I’ll just be honest, when I feel overwhelmed with all the bad things that surround us, enough that writing a little post on avocados seems pretty silly, pretty paltry, pretty small.
But here’s the thing I tell myself when those thoughts come: it’s good to see the truth of what is hard and face it, yes, but it’s better to see the whole truth, that hard things are not the only things and that there are good gifts too surrounding us—surrounding me—every day.
That’s why it’s blessed to look at the avocados we buy in Nashville and bring back to our gift of a home to cook in our gift of a kitchen, covering in flour and eggs and bread crumbs and sauteing into fries, so we can share them together at the table, dipped in yogurt sauce and eaten while the daylight pours in. And it’s blessed to be in Hawaii marveling at the abundance of avocados and starfruit and bananas, blessed to recognize how produce and vacation and the very marriage that they’re celebrating are gifts to make our hearts grateful and more filled with joy.
So we do, when we slather avocado on toast, when we eat guacamole late at night, when we add an avocado to our salad, when we make avocado fries. We thank God for making a food so rich and nutritious and enjoyable, even as we thank Him for everything else.
If you want to know the truth, I have had this recipe in my WordPress drafts for weeks now. Weeks. Every time I would go to post it, just as something quick and easy, I would think, this is too simple, this is nothing special or, I don’t know, here we go with kale again, and I would talk myself out of it.
I do this kind of thing a lot. Maybe you do, too?
The last day of our Dole trip, during the one-hour drive between our hotel and the airport Friday morning, Gina from Skinny Taste said something to me and Tim that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. She said, you know, when it comes to her blog, she’s noticed that it’s always been the quick and simple posts, not the elaborate and thorough ones, that have resonated most with readers. She could spend a ton of time crafting something just so, but then it’s that fast and easy breakfast she throws together in a rush that people get excited about.
And what her anecdote about blogging tells me is this: there is real value in creating, even in creating something simple, especially if it’s true. With blogs, it’s not only the award-winning sites that have something to offer; it’s the blogs written by people in their pajama’s, at late hours of the night, created because those writers are dying to make something, to publish something, to give a voice to all the thoughts in their head; it’s the blogs written by people who don’t want to forget their recipes, who want them recorded somewhere for their friends and their grandchildren; it’s the blogs pursued for no other reason than because they’re fun.
I think this applies to more than blogging.
Every now and then, one of you tells me you want to start a food blog—or, to write more or, to experiment with flours or, to learn more about whole foods—yet then you wrestle with questions like “What do I have to say?” or “But it won’t be as good as X,” and I get it because they’re the same questions I wrestle with.
So here is what I want to say to you, to say to us: first of all, you should know that there are bloggers (just like there are writers and musicians and chefs and painters) who will tell you not to even try unless you do what they did—commit to posting thrice a week or, really understand recipes or, shoot pictures that are as crisp and glossy as a magazine’s. There are bloggers, fellow creators, who will discourage you by giving you their blog stats and telling you about their blog trips and saying how long it’s taken them to get to where they are. Try not to listen to them.
When you hear these voices, remind yourself that there is something about the creative process that often makes us hesitate, that makes us question and compare, that makes us think, no one will want to read this kale and eggs post or, I need to tell people how great my work is so that it can feel true. When you sit down with another blogger and hear these things, realize they’re wrestling with the same struggle you are—and keep creating.
In “Cold Tangerines” by Shauna Niequist, she says this about the value of making art, be it books or music or a food blog:
I know that life is busy and hard and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don’t. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym than going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making your art for people like me, people who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a real job, anymore than there’s something wrong with khaki pants, except that sometimes doing the culturally acceptable things are exactly what keeps us from pursuing creativity. The way I see it, just as the world needs more art, the world needs more people who are passionate about making it, and so therefore it needs more food blogs. Not because the writers will become famous authors. Not because they’ll get free things or gain acclaim. But because, at the most basic level, there is value in creating, value in putting something together the way our Creator does. And these days, every time I see a new blog, that’s what I’m thinking.
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.
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.
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!