When Tim makes Italian-style green beans, he thinks of his grandma Emily, a beautiful Italian woman with short white hair and smiling blue eyes, who still explains recipes with a flick of her wrist and an “Oh, it’s so simple!” When I make Italian-style green beans, I think of Tim, the man who brought them, along with avocados and perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and raw milk bought straight from the farmer, into my life three years ago.
Of all the reasons for blogging, there’s no contest, the greatest fringe benefit is the people, this amazing community of thoughtful individuals who are interested in other people’s stories and find enjoyment in good food (and sometimes even become real-life friends, inviting us into their homes). Does it get old to hear we’re so thankful for each of you out there? Because we are. We’re so inspired by other bloggers, and we’re so blessed by those of you who read here. In fact, just as we get to know certain bloggers by following their sites, we’ve found we get to know certain readers by their consistent comments—we start to remember so-and-so as the one who likes gluten-free recipes or the one who always has something encouraging to say. One such reader is the ever kind and supportive Marie Matter of the Little Kitchie blog, who inspired today’s recipe for creamy, comforting tortilla soup so good, I had tears in my eyes while I ate it yesterday, and not just because of the kick of cayenne.
You should know I didn’t set out, at the beginning of this week, to bring you two back-to-back soup recipes. [Read more…]
I realize two days before Thanksgiving is not exactly the ideal time to post a Thai chicken recipe, not when the majority of cooking America is, at this very moment, abuzz with turkey, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie. But, forgive me, I have this habit of assuming all of you out there aren’t so different from me, and so I figure maybe you’re also two days away from attending a delicious Thanksgiving meal in another state, one that’s so completely out of your hands, you already know all that will be expected of you is to show up, maybe chop a vegetable or two. In that case, finding another Thanksgiving recipe is not the pressing issue on your mind, but, what to make for dinner tonight, the night before you fly home, is—and so here’s something easy and quick.
The truth is, even if I were in charge of the meal on Thursday, that would only mean remaking a dozen or so of the same dishes my family eats every year: turkey and potatoes and green beans, maybe a gelatin mold and some homemade cranberry sauce. Can you relate to this, too? Last year, my mom added sprouted dinner rolls she found at her natural grocery store, and I’ve heard stuffing has been taken off this year’s list, but, overall, our Thanksgiving meals are pretty predictable. In this social media world of the latest and greatest and newest and best, predictable can sometimes seem like a bad thing, but, in truth, when it comes to the holidays, predictable means the stability and security of annually gathering around the table to do the same thing we’ve done every year—and that’s something I find as comforting as looking through old baby albums or hearing my dad make his coffee in the mornings when we’re home.
Whether you relate to our routine or not, whether Thai chicken must stay off your radar until at least Friday or whether Thanksgiving isn’t even on your calendar, let me offer this recipe today anyway. If you’re leaving town tomorrow and want something foolproof for dinner tonight, this is the recipe. If you’re shopping all day Friday and want something easy to come home to, just have someone turn this on two hours before you do.
But mostly, if you’re that kindred soul I always write to, the one who has also tasted Thai chicken curry—and maybe, like me, for the first time with friends this summer—and found it to be so good, so just-the-right-amount-of-heat, that you regularly find yourself craving it, remembering the slight burn on your throat, you’re going to love this.
The recipe comes from one of my old Nashville roommates, Sara (not to be confused with my other old Nashville roommate, Sarah), who posted a picture of it on Instagram recently, and, in response to my comment, emailed me the ingredients and directions with a, “I hope you make this. like now! It’s AMAZING!” added on.
Tim and I ate it last week, shared some with a friend, and, then, ate the remainder for lunch the next day: every time, it had us reaching for water glasses with smiles on our faces. Quick and simple, with the fire of the curry paste, the kick of the ginger and the cool splash of lime squeezed on top, it’s going to be my go-to Thai curry recipe every time the craving hits from now on (and, Thanksgiving week or not, that’s always now).
Happy holiday weekend, friends! Hope you know how thankful we are for each of you.
Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about food. I feel like posting a pretty picture.
I took the above shot last month in Huntsville, Alabama, the town where my college roommate Kim lives and where I met her for the afternoon one Saturday. She treated me to high tea at this fancy little shop, and then she drove me around the area’s historic neighborhoods, letting me ooh and ah at the architecture, and to this park off the highway, where we climbed into the woods and looked out through leaves at the parking lot and, off in the distance, the hills of her hometown.
Tim was away in New York that weekend (you’ll remember his happy homecoming here), and I was missing him, so when I came back to the empty house that night, I was glad to be so tired from driving and touring and eating little scones, because at least that meant I would fall fast asleep, a skill usually reserved only for the male half of this little family, and fall fast asleep is exactly what I did. The next day, he was back, and we ate filet mignon and kale mashed potatoes, and by evening, he was sound asleep beside me the minute his head hit the pillow and, thirty to forty minutes of heavy late-night thinking later, so was I.
There are many things I tend to envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair, but his sleeping ability is becoming one of the great marvels of our married life. Whereas I need to wind down after a day of work or social activity or drama-filled TV, Tim simply climbs into bed, shuts off the light, and he’s out. Gone. Dead to the world. It’s amazing. We’ve had many long, hilarious conversations about this, wherein I try to prompt him to describe for me what this feels like or how it works (or, ahem, see how long I can keep him awake with me). And over thirteen months of marriage, what we’ve essentially concluded is this: sleeping is one area in which he will likely always have the upper hand.
Indian food, on the other hand, is another story.
I may be the one who’s half Indian, but, in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food. When we were dating, he took me to Sitar downtown, and told me to order his favorite dish, Chicken Makhani (or, butter chicken), and garlic naan. The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred. I could never go back to the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine. From that point and forever forward, I was all in.
We went back to Sitar to celebrate a month of marriage and then again to celebrate two months. More than once over the last year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim’s whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice, leaving me speechless, every time, eyes welling up with tears that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients and, more than that, that the man who could bring them together was the same one laying next to me each night.
But over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with heat in my cooking, and now one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sautéed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream, the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, a mysterious proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.
Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me into this curried world, Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic entrée at Indian restaurants that relies on a tomato-based creamy sauce and a blend of fragrant spices. There is no shortage of recipes for either of these dishes online, but our version has one great advantage going for it: it’s fast. The day I wanted to make it, I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible, so I wanted a nuts-and-bolts set of directions to use as a guide instead of a ruler.
Over at Serious Eats, I found this:
“The basics of masala sauce are simple: start with a base of aromatics—onions, garlic, and ginger are common—cooked in oil, ghee, or butter. Add a simple spice mixture, largely based on cumin, coriander, and chilis, throw in some canned tomatoes, cook them down, then purée the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats
A bunch of chopping, a little sauteéing and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, my version of following the general guidelines above. It was easy, it was spicy, and, by the end of the meal, it had us wiping the skillet and wooden spoon clean, wishing for more. I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted not loving this style of food—and I’m glad the one to open my eyes is the same one I sleep next to (OK, he sleeps, I think) every night.
It’s hard to think that while this past Friday, November 2, was a day we’ll remember as the announcement of our little book, for many others, it’s part of the painful weeks of hurricane disaster recovery and rebuilding. This is always happening in life: pain and sorrow hand in hand, celebration smashed up against heartache, joy against grief.
Today, while I bring you sweet potato soup, for example, there’s someone else who doesn’t have a stove, or food, to cook with. While I nursed a cold this weekend, feeling pretty glum, someone else ran a marathon, feeling high on life. My friend’s baby girl was born two weeks before her grandma died. Even as I post these thoughts, on America’s Election Day, many of you have polls and campaigns on your minds, while, simultaneously, others of you don’t. The world is big.
We’re all dwelling in our own small worlds, inside this larger one, and we know it’s this way. It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around, the enormity of so many people thinking so many things in so many places, and that’s why it’s often easier to focus on what’s in front of you. But there are times, I think, when we see a different reality, when someone reaches outside his or her immediate perspective and rejoices with someone else who’s rejoicing or weeps with someone else while he weeps.
We’ve seen it in the aftermath of the hurricane, as people send relief and donate to the Red Cross, Nashville Bloggers hold a bake sale and community dinners get organized by a ladies auxiliary in Pennsylvania.
I’ve seen it online in the food world, where bloggers regularly promote each others’ work and spread good content. Kristen at Dine & Dish and Sarah of The Vanilla Bean Blog are particularly good at this.
I’ve seen it with our release of the ebook, as you guys have rejoiced with us in our celebration. Every comment, every Facebook share or like, every purchase, has felt like a huge, undeserved gift, and we’ve cherished it. People I’ve never met have emailed to tell me they bought the book. My brother-in-law got it on his iPhone. A girl I haven’t seen since college eight years ago told me that she couldn’t put it down. My friend Jacqui, one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known, wrote an incredibly thoughtful post about it.
It’s all kind of overwhelming, like a room full of wedding gifts or the gift of a Hawaii honeymoon, and when I sit here trying to think of what to say, I almost lose my voice.
We broke even by Sunday, making back everything we put into the book, financially speaking. Thank you. I was so afraid to do this ebook, so afraid that no one would buy it (or, worse, that people would buy it and it would be bad). I don’t tell you that to get your pity but to give you the truth. If you’re out there reading this and wonder about your own visions or dreams or book ideas in your head, I hope this can be the nudge for you to go after them.
Sometime last month, I read an ebook called Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge. Like the book we would end up launching this past Friday, Create is a short, light read, the kind of thing you can breeze through in a dozen quick bursts of downtime or an hour or so of quiet. It’s just $2.99. And I mention it here because a few points Altrogge makes in it have been the kind of things to comfort my anxious mind before the book launched, when it launched, afterwards while we waited for some feedback, today while we consider what to do next.
Altrogge’s main point is that we are all creatives, every one of us; we were made this way. Some of us write and blog; others organize files or decorate houses or build houses or bake cakes; but we all create, somehow, something. You can sit on the sidelines because you’re afraid, or you can get out there on the court and do something. Sure, you might mess up, you might look ridiculous and you might completely fail. But, thing is, when you get out there and try, you are practicing and learning and getting better. You are developing your skill and you’re doing what you were made to do. You’re giving the other guys on the sidelines courage to mess up, too.
One of the biggest things I am learning about creative work is that while your work is yours, from a blog to a book to a mural, it is not you. That’s enormously freeing. We can make imperfect things and be willing to take chances and to get better over time, and we can let other people ignore or dislike what we’ve made while we do. What we make isn’t us; it’s a snapshot of where we’re at at a given moment. When we see this, when we stop being so afraid of what people will say about our work, we can start focusing on using our work to bless them—we can start looking outside our own small world and reaching into someone else’s.
That’s what I’ve hoped to do with the ebook, to get thinking outside my own insecurities and try writing what I know to be true.
What are you afraid to leap towards?*
“Mayonnaise is a food best made at home and almost never made at home. This has robbed us of something that is both healthy and an absolute joy to eat with gusto.” Tamar Adler
My favorite chapter in Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal,” was, hands down, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly,” and before you click away because, this girl! she’s always talking about Tamar Adler!, please bear with me because, I promise, I’m going somewhere good. So this chapter two of Tamar’s book, the egg chapter, is 15 pages long and divided into six parts, each one dealing with a specific method in which to use an egg. She talks about boiled eggs, poached eggs, fried or scrambled, omelets, frittatas and, just when your mind is appropriately reeling, thinking of all the different things eggs can do, mayonnaise.
Here is the part that hooked me:
I keep my mayonnaise and aioli for two or three days in the refrigerator even though they contain raw eggs. I trust the freshness of my eggs, and the cleanliness of the lives of the hens that lay them. If your eggs don’t come from a source you know or if you are worried, make less and keep it for a shorter time.
Two things about those sentences: (1) She’s not afraid of raw eggs and (2) That’s because she’s so confident of the quality of her eggs.
Tim and I were talking the other day about how a lot of things on this site are subtle, not overt, like the fact that we drink raw milk from a farmer who lives about two hours away from us, whose farm we’ve visited and whose cows we’ve touched. Some of you have been following along here long enough to know the whys and hows of this decision, as well as the fact that we get our eggs from the same farmer and, the majority of our produce from a different organic farm down the road, but many of you probably don’t. That’s because, when push comes to shove, this site isn’t about where you buy your groceries or whether or not you support the consumption of raw milk (which, because we’re asked about this often, is not illegal, just not available in the store [at least in most states], and you can find a local provider in your area through realmilk.com) (also, while we’re on the subject, you can find more thorough info about raw milk here or here or here).
The point is, in our home, we sort of take it for granted that when we’re using milk, it’s the kind we pick up in a local parking lot on Monday afternoons; or that, when we’re whisking eggs, they’re the kind produced by happy, sun-seeing chickens raised on small farms. Whether or not you source your food from similar places is up to you; we’re just saying that this is what works for us.
So along those lines, that’s why, when the people at Pete & Gerry’s eggs* contacted us recently, suggesting we check out their heirloom eggs, we researched the way they treat their hens (keeping them in spacious, cage-free barns; feeding them grain free of antibiotics or hormones) and where (on small, low-overhead farms in New England) and felt comfortable with the process. Buying from a local farmer you trust is best, but when that’s not possible, companies like this one offer a strong alternative.
When you’ve got good eggs, you want to find a way to make them shine, so, for us, Tamar’s book still fresh in our minds, that meant making mayonnaise—and then turning the mayonnaise into garlic aioli. Do you like mayonnaise? Or, are you like me, and the mention of mayonnaise calls to mind gloppy, white, gelatinous mixtures well-meaning folks tried slopping on your sandwiches when you were a kid?
Either way, homemade mayonnaise is an entirely different experience.
First off, homemade mayonnaise tastes like the ingredients you’re using: eggs, olive oil, lemon, seasonings—not like an unidentifiable spread in an entirely different food group. Second, homemade mayonnaise is thick and beautifully yellow, in part from the tumeric we used but also from the brilliantly vibrant yolks from our heirloom eggs.
After it’s made, adding some smashed garlic paste and chopped parsley turns it into a rich and creamy aioli that’s perfect for dunking fries or, appropriately this time, spreading on a sandwich.
Making it is not for the faint of heart—there’s a lot, and I mean, a lot, of whisking involved (just ask Tim, bless him)—but the rewards are pretty fantastic: mayonnaise that tastes like mayonnaise should; garlic aioli that’s bright and fresh and luxurious.
And while next time we make it, I might go with coconut oil so I can speed things along in the food processor (see note in recipe below), I have to admit that watching a sauce like this come together, right before your eyes, is pretty empowering, as is learning where your food comes from or, doing a little research on something before you buy. Making your own mayonnaise, like meeting your own farmer, might not be necessary and might not be for everyone, but it’s working for us—adding pleasure and rich joy to the way we cook and, mostly, the way we eat.
*Oh, and also, while we’re talking about eggs, here’s an interesting article from “The Atlantic” worth checking out: “Sunny-Side Up: In Defense of Eggs”
If you’d been a fly on our kitchen walls this past week, you would have seen a lot of easy weeknight dinners going on. After we followed Tamar Adler’s advice and, in one big batch of cooking, filled our fridge with jars and Pyrex packed with roasted eggplant, boiled potatoes, roasted yellow squash and so on, we then began the daily task of putting her strategy to the test. There were vegetables tossed with quinoa, vegetables inside morning omelettes, leftover vegetable hash pureed with milk and water until it became a hot and creamy bisque so comforting, I almost cried. Roasted eggplant became baba ganoush. Boiled potatoes turned into mashed, soft and creamy and studded with garlic. Preroasting all your produce is not for everyone (and not for every week), but this last week, as we’ve tried it, Tim and I have seen firsthand how simplifying the strategy can be in helping to make dinner every night.
There are other things you’d see from your kitchen perch, too, though, like the failed cookie recipe I attempted, a sort of cookie rollup is what they turned out to be; or the truly amazing cookies I baked a few days after that. We’ve had our morning smoothies and thrown together a quick chicken salad, and listen, if you have two oranges, some Pellegrino and a bit of honey, go pureé it all in the Vitamix and remember what is good about life. Also, there’s been comfort cooking, like yesterday, when I made a new chicken recipe, taken from Luisa Weiss’s soon-to-be-released book, “My Berlin Kitchen.”*
Luisa Weiss is the blogger behind The Wednesday Chef, which, along with Orangette and Smitten Kitchen, is one of the first three food blogs I started reading back when I discovered food blogs five years ago. When I found her, she was a cookbook editor in New York, though today she lives in Berlin; I was reading the day she posted about getting engaged to the man she dated before her now-husband; the day she wrote about quitting her job, “leaping” as she called it, less than a year before I would end up doing the same thing; I remember reading about her sweet and beautiful wedding; I remember the first photo of her brand-new baby boy. Following along with her life the last few years, the way I do with so many blogs, the way I’m amazed some of you do with mine, I felt on some level like I knew her, and I liked that.
My friend Jacqui and I always say that the thing we most love about blogs is reading people’s stories. Sure, there are recipes and photos and nutrition info and giveaways—but what keeps me reading, what makes me care about any of it at all, is hearing someone else share their story, like she’s a friend. I started Luisa’s book two days after finishing “An Everlasting Meal,” and it only took me another three to get to the final page. She pours her heart out in the pages, detailing her cross-continental childhood, her search for identity, her eventual settling and family-making in Berlin, the city where she first belonged—and as an added bonus, there are recipes along the way.