Lacto-Fermented Salsa

My senior year of college, while I was student-teaching my way into an education degree I already knew I didn’t want, I had an advisor named Heather. Heather was fantastic. She wore dark-rimmed glasses and crisp, collared shirts, and her short brunette hair was always cut neat and kept perfectly in place. Though I’d never taken one of her classes, I’d known her since the semester before, when one Saturday afternoon we’d both shown up to help a friend paint a new apartment. Moving her paintbrush against the wall like she was Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid,” she’d stood next to me in the living room, nodding for me to follow suit, “It’s like makeup, Shanna: blend!”

Some people who are quick to teach like this can be terribly off-putting, always demanding to be heard, but not Heather. Her brand of counsel combined with an otherwise warm and soft demeanor to make her the best kind of maternal, like a big sister who shared all her secrets. We’d have our weekly phone calls to discuss my kids and how they were taking to “Silas Marner” or what I should do about the funny boys who tried to flirt with me, and she’d have me both cracking up and taking notes while she dispensed adages like “monitor and adjust!” for handling a classroom. I loved her.

Those days are almost a decade ago now, but I’ve known a lot of other Heathers since then, people who have chartered a path in a way that makes me want to follow. There was Kelley who taught me about newspaper reporting; Liz, who showed me how to knit; my dad, who demonstrated firsthand the value in being self-employed. And when I met Tim, he’d stand next to me in the kitchen, baking cookies without a recipe or, putting cucumbers in a jar with water and salt to make pickles—the way hundreds of generations had set the example before us—and I learned what it was to lacto-ferment.

lacto-fermented salsa

We’ve been doing a lot of lacto-fermenting in our kitchen this summer. This has been in part because of all the vegetables we’ve had on hand, in part because of a few fermentation cookbooks that have come our way. In addition to sauerkraut and pickled okra and garlic carrots, we’ve made a moist and dense chocolate carrot kefir cake, adapted from a zucchini version in “Cultured Food Life.” We’re experimenting with making our own mead as I type, the jar of it sitting at the bottom of our buffet.

Also, there was this lacto-fermented salsa, from “Real Food Fermentation.”

salsa and chips

In my world, just as the concept of blending brush strokes came through Heather, the idea of lacto-fermenting came through Tim—but it originated far before us. Lacto-fermentation is basically just the natural process whereby the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid through the presence of a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria. It’s been used for centuries, since far before the advent of refrigerators and freezers came along to preserve produce shelf life. Lacto-fermented foods are tangy, delicious and loaded with probiotics, that buzzword you’ll hear us talking about when we say kefir or yogurt or kombucha.

salsa_chips

This salsa recipe is, no question, going to be placed on regular rotation in our household, if not for the good bacteria, then for the taste. In the one or two weeks it lasted in our kitchen, we ate this salsa on sprouted corn tortillas brushed with coconut oil and toasted in the oven; piled it on top of tacos from Baja Burrito; and ate it with chips again. It’s hot enough to get your nose running but not so hot to have you crying, and in my book, that’s the mark of a winner.

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New Potato Tian

timsplate_potatotian

Before I say anything else, I need to thank you for your encouragement on the last post. When I wrote it, I did it for myself, to say out loud and to the Internet that I wanted to practice intentionality in this space. I figured that way, next time I found myself fixated on photography or recipe indexes or Sitemeter, I would have a published reminder to come back to, a post to point out my purpose, to remind me I’m here to share my stories, whatever does or doesn’t come with that. I swear I didn’t write it so you would pat me on the back and tell me I’m awesome and that I should keep going. In fact, reading through the comments, I almost couldn’t take your kind words. It seems while I’ve spent a lot of the last few years wondering about my focus in this space, you guys have discerned it all along. You are the greatest gift of this place. I don’t know what else to say but thank you. Thank you.

Now, continuing with the theme of things I’ve wrestled with: potatoes. It’s not that I don’t like potatoes; I do. Like most of you, I grew up eating baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, French fries and hash browns. When hasselbacks emerge from the oven, crusty and golden, garlicky and soft, I’ll be the first to spoon half a dozen to my plate. I’m nuts about au gratin, that sloppy, creamy potato casserole plumped full with butter, milk and several different kinds of cheese—you and I both know that’s pure comfort on a plate. And if it’s Chanukah and you bring latkes, you’ll make me one happy girl—in fact, that’s true if it’s Chanukah or not.

But all these facts notwithstanding, in this household, we hardly ever buy potatoes. I think the last time they were in my grocery cart was circa 2010, and as strange as that sounds when you consider my earlier admissions, the reason’s pretty simple. It comes down to two words:

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Golden Tomato Sauce

goldensauce

So speaking of CSAs, ours recently gave us a bunch of yellow tomatoes (along with red tomatoes and grape tomatoes), and while my first thought was yellow tomato cake! and then, maybe fried yellow tomatoes! it was Tim who suggested turning these tomatoes into one of those things tomatoes do best: sauce.

Golden tomato sauce.

yellow tomatoes

I don’t know how sauce works in your household, but in ours, it goes something like this:

1. Prep the tomatoes (i.e., boil water, remove the stems of tomatoes and score an x at the bottom, plop them in the pot for eight seconds, remove and cool, peel off skins like they’re a loose jacket; chop)

2. Saute garlic and olive oil in a skillet, sometimes with onion, sometimes without

3. Add chopped tomatoes, maybe with basil or maybe with wine

4. Add salt

5. Cook for a while and watch and season to taste, adding sugar or honey or herbs or spices or whatever you need until it tastes the way you like.

goldentomatoes

It’s not complicated, not even as hard as putting together a blog post if we’re being honest, but it works. Every time. And with golden tomatoes, it works so well that it makes you look like you’re really smooth in the kitchen, like you’re doing more than just that basic, mindless thing you usually do to pull together sauce, the mellow and sweet flavor of the fresh tomatoes doing all the work while you go about your business washing the dishes or talking to your husband about weekend plans.

peeled tomatoes

Golden tomato sauce is the kind of thing I absolutely love. Like a back-pocket secret. Something you can do or make that is low on effort and high on value, so when you’re done, the reward so far exceeds the journey that it’s almost not worth talking about. Like when you turn your shrunken maxi dress into a sundress that gets complimented just because you cut it, with a scissors, in two seconds flat; or being told you have a ‘trendy’ dining room with mismatched chairs when actually you just picked your chairs because they seemed cute and easy to paint and, mostly, were under $10 each; that quick and easy pie crust recipe that always turns out flaky; the morning smoothies that use up leftover lettuce and too-ripe bananas and kale.

And the way I see it, when you do one of these too-easy, still-impressive things and someone comes to you, eyes all wide and admiring, asking how you come up with this stuff, you have two ways you can respond: (1) smile or (2) tell them the truth.

Which do you do?

yellowtomatoesauce

I mean, think about it: When someone’s impressed at your handmade pillows or golden sauce, it feels good. You know something. You did something. Victory! So sometimes it’s kind of nice to just smile and nod and bask in that praise and say, oh, it’s nothing, leaving the other person to wonder at your talent and wish they had it, too. I think there are generations of cooks who did this, who told us younger folks that some people just have it and others don’t and, sorry, kid, maybe you’re one of the don’ts.

But I don’t buy it.

spooning sauce onto toasts

Because sure, it’s fine to keep our back-pocket secrets, fine to make our sauce and watch people eat it and feel good—but that doesn’t change the fact that our wedding ideas came from Pinterest or that the origin of a recipe came from our grandmas. Just like we learned our secrets, other people can learn them, too, which is why I’m a little averse to phrases like “good cooks” or bad ones.

Why is it that we think calling someone a bad cook should make us a better one? Why do we need to put down someone else’s ability in order to feel more confident of our own? Why can’t we instead join together, all of us, bloggers and cookbook authors and home chefs and grandmas, and trade secrets and share stories and grow?

Is that crazy? Maybe.

sauceoncheesetoasts_closer

Or maybe, when one of us shares our secrets, even if it’s a little one, it gives another of us the courage to try. And maybe in the process, the both of us take another step forward towards that kind of sharing-and-growing-together world of cooking and eating and living that we all want to be part of, the kind where we’re all rooting for each other, not competing, the kind where cooking is just mostly fun.

Maybe I’ll start—with golden tomato sauce.

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Avocado Fries + Yogurt Sauce

sliced avocados

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.

bowls of flour, egg, bread crumbs

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.

making avocado fries with tim

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.

avocado fries

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.

chopped cabbage

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.

avocado fry with yogurt sauce

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.

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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?

cauliflowerrice_inbowl

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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Cauliflower Pizza Crust

cauliflower pizza

“When a wife has a good husband, it is easily seen in her face.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

cauliflower

Today is Tim’s birthday, the first one since we’ve been married.

And over the last few weeks, as I’ve been thinking about its coming up, reflecting on what our life together is like now, about how this birthday would be different from all his previous birthdays, sandwiched between our daily rhthyms of working from home and sleeping side by side and sharing breakfasts, lunches, dinners, I’ve been wanting so much to explain to you, somehow here on this blog, exactly what my face would show if you could see it: I have a good husband.

pizza ingredients

I told Tim early when we were dating, I had a little bit of a fear of marriage growing up, a fact I know some people can’t understand and others get all too well. The best I can explain it, I think, is that when you’ve been exposed to bad marriages, or to their problems, when you’re young enough, you don’t know how to take it. And for me, I took it and turned it into fear, the kind of fear that made me read books about marriage in junior high.

tim dressing the pizza tim grating cheese

Even after I met Tim and shared deep parts of my heart with him, moving to Nashville and planning our wedding, a little bit of that gnawing fear hadn’t left. There are so many men who aren’t like him, I would think to myself, there’s no way he can always be like this. Sometimes still, that fear comes up—when something triggers that part of my mind that adds up the realities of broken people (i.e., us!) covenanting their lives together. It’s almost crazy when you think about it. How can anyone really make it work?

pizza on cauliflower crust

And then I look at Tim and I marvel at our life, and I think, that’s it, that’s mystery: how God can take two selfish people and make them one, to push through the hard and the ugly and the wonderful and the unexpected, together. That adventure, that battle, is in itself a gift, a refining tool like my friend Carrie and I were saying the other night, something that changes you whether you mean for it to or not.

But the second mystery, at least for me, is that of all the people on the planet, I get to do it with Tim, a man who is, literally, unlike anyone I’ve ever known.

pizzas

I am married to the kind of man who doesn’t cancel plans at the last minute, because he believes in honoring commitments, even small ones like having coffee with a friend; a man I can go to, randomly on a weekday morning, and say, you know that story in Judges chapter 6? and he knows exactly what I’m talking about; a man who’s been cooking with me since I first knew him; a man who has taught me, and teaches me, to pray about everything, from finding a source of income to resting about an upcoming conversation to writing posts like this one; a man who can humble himself; a man who, above everything else, loves God.

my plate

I feel so blessed to share this simple life with him, to work in our dining room together, to laugh about the things the neighbors do, to make a cauliflower pizza crust and eat it across from each other, next to the window, while the longer April daylight streams inside.

dinner from above

I have a good husband.

dinner

So to Tim, that husband: I want you to know you have a happy wife.

I love you. Happy birthday!

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Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

my quinoa black bean burger

This past Saturday was my favorite kind of day: we had no plans, no place we had to be, no major to-do lists—and, at least for someone with my personality and temperament, I am finding days like this are crucial. Spending 24 hours at a leisurely pace, the kind where you stroll around the Franklin farmers market, fall asleep for two hours on the sofa, hold your husband’s hand as you walk up and down the block before the sun sets is just the ticket to helping yourself slow down, be still and feel thankful. Seriously, this Saturday was so good, it was almost like being in Hawaii again. Oh and also, there were these quinoa black bean burgers.

black beans + quinoa

I got the idea to make black bean burgers last week and, after pinning five or six recipes that caught my eye, I put together a version that combined their ideas and added some of my own. Using bulk-bin organic beans and quinoa, I had to soak them the night before, but once that step was taken care of, the process was pretty easy: cook the beans, cook the quinoa, saute a heap of veggies and spices; combine everything in a food processor; form into patties; saute or bake and bam! I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you: we loved these quinoa black bean burgers.

garlic, onion, celery, carrot, pepper

Price-wise, you can’t beat them: for under $7, you get eight homemade patties, some of which can easily be frozen for later. Nutrition-wise, they’re incredible: filled with the whole-foods protein and nutrients of beans, quinoa, veggies and spices. And taste-wise: I seriously can’t believe non-meat burgers can pack so much savory flavor into every bite. They’re even wonderful on their own, sans bun or toppings, eaten like little quinoa black bean cakes, reminiscent of fried green tomatoes or potato pancakes in their crispy exterior and hot, soft insides.

quinoa veggies + black beans

black beans and veggies

I wonder if it will be strange to tell you that what I think most when I look back at these pictures and this recipe is that I’m thankful? Thankful that these burgers came on a much-needed day of rest wherein I sat still long enough to notice my good gifts—gifts like longer daylight in the month of March, the kind of daylight that expands my days and makes it easier to work or cook or, as on Saturday, go for long strolls in the neighborhood; gifts like my kind and thoughtful husband who goes on those walks with me, who works alongside me, who talks to me about every single thing on my mind and who surprises me with tangible demonstrations of love like homemade chocolate souffles before we go to bed on Saturday night (!).

pan-fried quinoa black bean cakes

Because the fact is, I am too quick to forget how much I need to rest. Too quick to think I don’t have time for a free day with nothing planned. Too quick to try and squeeze in more work hours, knock out another project, feel the weight of responsibilities no one has mounted on my shoulders but me.

quinoa black bean burgers quinoa black bean burgers

And so, because they came on the restful, peaceful Saturday that I didn’t know how much I needed, because they helped me stop to savor the good, because they represent the joy of trying a new recipe with no time constraints and the pleasure of sitting down to eat with the person you share life with every day, I love these quinoa black bean burgers even more than how good they tasted and more than the migraine-preventing, protein-packed power of quinoa or the digestion-benefiting, blood-sugar-regulating abilities of black beans.

quinoa black bean cakes

The day after I made them, I read Matthew 11:28, where Jesus says to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I read that and thought, I am so glad He does.

May you enjoy these–and rest!–as we did, sometime very soon.

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