Honey-Glazed Peach Spinach Salad

Tim and I live in the downstairs of a 1940s-style house; I may have mentioned this before. If you walk into our living room from the front porch, you see built-ins around the fireplace, stuffed with the combined libraries of 20+ years of separate lives: a few textbooks, many novels, the guidebook and accompanying tapes for a ‘How to Speak Italian’ course. For the first few months we lived together, the mantel between these shelves was completely bare; December brought a $5 fresh pine wreath from Aldi, which we left mounted weeks past New Year’s; we finally threw it in the fireplace in February, planning to watch it burn, but it’s still sitting there. In its stead are perched a giant canvas engagement shot, a few framed prints and a wooden letter “M” I spray-painted white in a few Pinterest-driven weeks last winter.

3 fresh peaches

Besides the ottomans and the rug, everything in this living room is either from our previous apartments or hand-built by Tim; that’s true in most of the house. The leather couch: from his old apartment with two other guys. The coffee tables: my former nightstand and Tim’s former filing cabinet. As we usher you through to the dining room, we’ll give you the biographies of the entertainment center (built a few weeks before the wedding), the dining table (finished in those days when I was in Chicago making wedding favors) and the buffet (brought to our house just after we got rid of our first Christmas tree).

It’s a small and cozy two-bedroom, just the sort of place you’d think of when you think young newlyweds. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm, with beat-up hardwood floors, painted but paneled walls, white crown molding and natural light brought in through lots of windows—at least one in every room.

Fresh peaches and baby spinach

While you’re sitting at the table, we might tell you how last summer when we toured apartments, this place was last in the long line of possibilities we looked through and, by far, the best. I’d kept a list back then, with all the things we’d hoped for in our future home: an extra bedroom, a garage, windows in the bathroom and kitchen. This place had every one. And sometimes, still, we can’t believe we live here.

After we hand you your plates, piled high with baby spinach and roasted peaches and goat cheese, we might whisper that we’d stay forever if it weren’t for the smell of smoke filling our bathroom lately or the strange phenomenon we witnessed when our neighbor removed items from our trash can and took them to his backyard (!), or the growing desire we both have to plant a garden and, to watch it grow.

Baby spinach on plates

We talk to you from the kitchen, a white, 100-square-foot galley-style space with gray laminate countertops and a floor our landlord laid before we moved in (chosen primarily, we think, because it’s the cheapest kind they sell at Home Depot). There’s a white stone bowl with red tomatoes to the left of the sink and a handful of peaches set beside it.

Tim and I cooked together when we lived in different states and would visit for quick weekends; we cooked together when we lived in Nashville in different houses and traded dinners at his place or mine; but now, in this little house, we cook together constantly, swapping tasks and sharing chores for every meal.

I wipe down the counters one last time before we join you at the table, and Tim reaches into the fridge, past spinach and Pecorino and yesterday’s zucchini fritters, to grab the water pitcher, which, we apologize, is for some reason, the only drink we have on hand today.

Honey-Glazed Peach Salad for Two

Around the table, sitting at mismatched chairs beneath a vintage glass chandelier with cobwebs on it, we look at our plates, like we do most nights, and they’re as colorful and full as any from a five-star salad course in town.

Honey-Glazed Peach Salad Plate

Closeup of Honey-Glazed Peach Salad

With you, we give thanks. Because if any part of our simple, newlywedding life is mature and adult-like and settled, it’s not our careers or our furniture or our savings plans—in truth, we’re more likely to buy extra produce than new stocks—sitting before the spread before us, enjoying it with you, we know, it’s this, the way we eat.

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Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade + Sam’s Club Book Giveaway

I’ve gone to bulk warehouses since I was a kid, tagging along with Dad while he ran errands. My dad worked a lot of nights when I was young, building the cleaning business that he and my mom had started just before I was born. The way they tell the story, in the early days, they mopped up apartments for a local university, my mom then heavy with child. They had me, then my brother, and meanwhile the company grew. By the time I was in elementary school, there were several accounts to keep up with, taking Dad away from us most nights. So to make up for it, he’d take me with him—to work and on errands, the two of us riding together into the night sky.

raspberry_lemon
samsbook_mint

My dad, who sports short, graying hair and a neatly trimmed moustache, stands 5’10”, which today is just two-and-a-half inches higher than me, but I’ve always had to jog to keep up with him. When we’d arrive at the almost-empty parking lot of a shiny office building, I’d be trotting behind his white sneakers, pumping my arms to keep up. Wearing the same pleated Dockers and collared shirts he still wears every day, whether it’s Monday morning or Saturday afternoon, he’d be talking with employees about sealants and floor polishers and machinery, and I’d be hanging behind, hunting for a vending machine.

halvedlemons

It was the same when we went shopping. In the beginning, I think we went for work supplies, but later, we went just as often for laundry detergent or water or something else my family was in the habit of buying in bulk. While he’d be on a mission to get the items on his list, I’d be scoping out cases of candy or granola or chips. I’ve always been able to count on Dad for snacks. It’s one of the main things we share, besides our dark skin and giant smiles and ability to talk in-depth for hours: we like keeping foods on hand that are easy to grab and eat. Cashews, almonds, dark chocolate, dried bananas. We could go to Sam’s Club for fabric softener, but we’d emerge with a bin of something tasty I’d be able to break into and eat fistfuls of in the car. I knew this as well as I knew my name.

pitcherlemonade

Today, living in Nashville, Tim and I have bulk memberships of our own. This feels as much a proof of our adulthood as voting or paying bills. When we walk up to our local warehouse, flashing cards with our pictures on them to gain entrance inside, we’re essentially announcing to the salesperson and our fellow shoppers and anyone who sees us that we are responsible. We plan for the future. We buy toilet paper in advance.

Never mind the fact that both our memberships have been gifted to us (the first as a birthday gift last August; the next, directly from Sam’s Club, who wants us to talk here about the warehouse shopping experience and a summer promotion they’ve got going on). From the first moment we walked those aisles together, calculating the savings on a giant bag of frozen organic fruit versus the 16-ounce bags from the grocery store, we were hooked. Generally speaking, we look to buy local and to support small business, but true confessions: if you show us a 12-ounce container of organic raspberries at Sam’s for $3.99 ($3.99!), we’re sold.

rlemonade_2glasses_fromabove
RLemonade_2glasses

A few weeks ago, we used our new membership to buy 24 ounces of fresh organic raspberries, a bag of lemons and a case of Pellegrino, which we took home and turned into this refreshing, sparkling summer drink. It’s part of Sam’s Club’s current “Fruit Cooler” challenge, wherein they’re inviting bloggers to create refreshing summer recipes based on produce from their stores.

As part of the project, they’re giving away one of their beautiful cookbooks, “Fresh, Fast and Fabulous,” to a commenter on this post (will be chosen Friday morning Congratulations, Kendra!). They’d also love you to try the challenge in your own home. The idea’s not that different from the way my dad and I have always shopped together: go into the store, hunt down what you like—although, I will grant, my preferences today lean more towards organic produce or cases of oranges than they do towards candy bars—take it home and, enjoy.

For more information on Sam’s Club produce, visit SamsClub.com/meals.

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Summer Days + Homemade Soft Serve

PercyPriest_skyblurrytree

It’s a bloody hot day in Nashville, a Wednesday, the kind of day where walking the 50 or so feet from your kitchen door to the mailbox means beads of sweat forming fast on your forehead and upper lip. Tim and I are inside, working, I at my laptop on the dining room table, he from his computer on the sofa. When I look up from the article I’m writing, I see him straight ahead; when I turn to the right, it’s all blue skies and beating sunshine above our front yard.

I want to be sitting in the grass, I want to be having a picnic, I want to be sipping lemonade while rocking on a giant front porch.

Then I remember the heat, and I change my mind: I want to go swimming.

PercyPriest_sky

“What time is it?” I say to Tim. He tells me it’s half past noon. “Too bad,” I answer back. “Wish we had time to go to the lake.”

And then we look at each other from across our freelance perches, and he says what we’re both thinking: oh yeah, we do.

PercyPriest_woods

PercyPriest_dreamy

So we finish our work and throw some towels in a bag and drive 20 minutes to Percy Priest, the manmade lake that makes Nashville feel a little less landlocked. We haven’t been there since last summer, when we were still engaged, on a Saturday that was loud and crowded and earned me a sunburn on my back.

PercyPriest_beach

Today it’s quiet, just a few dozen people grilling or swimming or soaking up sun. We stretch our blanket out in the green grass, sandy shores ahead of us, the smell of charcoal in the air. We step into the water and it’s warm, like a bathtub, and I don’t have to shudder when I dip my toes in first.

We’re only there two hours, but it’s two hours that feels a million miles from life—a few hours that feels like a summer vacation in the middle of the day. We walk, hand in hand, to the water; come back to the blanket to dry off; go back to the water; come back to the blanket. It’s so peaceful, so relaxing, so like Wisconsin or Florida.

percypriest_book

I finish the book I’ve been reading, “Writing Down the Bones, in which Natalie Goldberg talks about one of her favorite writing prompts for students: to talk about a time when you were happy. She says this is worth doing because,

“Stories stay with us … Our stories are important … To begin with, write like you talk, nothing fancy. This will help you get started.”

I look up from where I’m laying on my stomach, elbows propping me up, and a little girl runs past us in her bathing suit. I hear voices laughing in the water. I see Tim laying next to me, a smile on his face. We go back into the lake, and the way I talk to him, while we’re standing together, water coming just above our shoulders, minnows swimming past our feet, is with a breathless, “This is so fun!”

PercyPriest_sandytoes

We come home, taking showers and sweeping up sand and unpacking our towels, and we make frozen yogurt. It tastes like soft serve—the kind I used to get at places like TCBY, perfect for piling high with toppings like fruit and coconut and nuts, perfect for eating on the couch with your husband after an afternoon at the lake.

softserve_twinbowls

And I want to tell you here, the way I’d tell you if we were talking, how much I like this day, how much I love laying by the water on a weekday, surrounded by forests and swimmers and picnic tables.

homemadesoftserve_strawberries

softserve_wstrawberriescoconut

But then I think about Natalie Goldberg and about writing how we talk, and all that comes out is “It was wonderful!” and “I love this” and “This is so fun!” So then I think, you know, sometimes, maybe that’s exactly right.

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Coconut Dreams (raw, gluten-free, honey-sweetened)

When we go home, it’s not five minutes before I’m bounding up the stairs to my room, the room with mocha-colored walls that my dad let me pick the paint for, where the bookcase is still filled with my books and the windows overlook a backyard I’ve watched, year after year, turn from green to brown to white winter snow before my eyes.

timinwisconsin

I plop down my bags and head back to the kitchen, a kitchen where the fridge holds unending options, from last night’s leftovers to fresh cherries and strawberries to kombucha. At night, Tim and I share the big wooden sleigh bed I’ve had since eighth grade, and we hear my parents’ voices in the room below us before we fall asleep. My brother makes us banana pecan pancakes for breakfast, and my mom bakes a chicken pot pie from a book I love, and Tim pulls together spinach-ricotta gnocchi, and I chill a tray of coconut dreams.

coconut dream

More than anywhere else we go, maybe because it’s familiar, maybe because of who’s there, home is refreshing, a place where I’m not just telling myself to relax but where I actually do. There’s no work. Nothing to clean or water or respond to. Nothing pressing. Four people who love me are an arm’s reach away. We drive up north, and it’s OK when my Internet stops working. I don’t have to stay on top of email. Everything slows down.

What’s so wrong about spending peaceful hours on a porch swing, cuddled up with your husband, listening to the wind rustle the trees, hearing the frogs and the birds and a boat buzzing by on the water?

lakeboat
lightwoods

Our grand plans each day involve friends to see, recipes to play with, places to take pictures of, stores to visit. Some days, we’re just sitting around, me and Tim and my family, watching movies or reading books or, even, thinking and being still.

Between the two trips, when we’re back from Wisconsin but still with a few days in Illinois, I read this New York Times article (via Joanna) on busyness, about how our culture of iPhones and emails and pressure has turned us into tense, high-stress people caught up with how important our work is (be it writing or administrating or Web designing), perhaps in an effort to make ourselves feel like we’re important, perhaps without realizing what we’re doing at all. And I think how much I relate to that, even from the perspective of half a week away.

In it, author Tim Kreider says this:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

plantsinthewoods

Necessary to getting any work done. This is not the idleness of laziness or sloth, the idleness that means doing nothing; rather, he’s describing the idleness of being quiet, being still, giving your mind space to see. I keep thinking about that, about how we all need this kind of time to think and to process, whatever or personalities or job titles or geography. We need to find regular ways to disconnect—and in a world that makes it incredibly hard to do so—if we are to have any meaningful connecting at all. It’s the first time I’ve ever really considered getting rid of my iPhone, much as I love it; or finding a way to abandon Facebook and help myself remember to pursue real connections in light of the quick-contact perceived ones.

Could it be that the rest I enjoy when I go visit my family, the ability to put other things aside for a while, is a rest my body, and my mind, needs more often? Could it be that there’s a way to find that in regular life?

lightintrees

I’m still thinking about it.

But along those lines, what I want to know is this: How do you find time for quiet, especially, but not only, in terms of the creative process and work? Do you find it necessary? Is disconnecting a part of your regular routine? Do you schedule it in your days or does it happen naturally?

coconut and almonds

And in the meantime, I bring you those coconut dreams—a raw, gluten-free, six-ingredient recipe inspired by a dessert I love from a local Nashville bakery; one I’ve been wanting to re-create ever since tasting them at The Jam coffee house (which is great! and if you’re in Nashville, go!) but which I only, finally found the uninterrupted creative space for while I was on vacation, in Illinois and in the woods, in the midst of a few days away from it all, resting and remembering what it is to move slowly, embrace where I am and, to see.

coconut dreams

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Sweet Tomato Jam + Grilled Cheese

tomato jam

I am sitting here at my computer screen, imagining you, at the office or on your iPhone or skimming through your Reader, asking myself what I can possibly say to accurately communicate to you the importance of today’s recipe, and I’m thinking about the reality that you are probably doing ten other things right now, that while you are deciding whether or not to keep reading or click away, you’ve also got a Word doc up; your email inbox, open; if your kids aren’t crying, they’re about to. You and I both know that just because it’s Friday, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a to-do list, physical or not, on your mind for today, and you’re trying to remember things and wanting to go get jobs done, so when you click here for a second and I ask for your attention, even with a photo like this top one, I know it’s not an easy sell. I know what I’m up against. But listen, please hear me on this one if you’ve never heard me before and will never hear me again:

You want to hear about this tomato jam.

Once more, in all caps, the way my mom types me emails:

YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THIS TOMATO JAM!

tomatoes and Herbivoracious

Now that we’ve got that settled, let me explain. Because in response to the 30 new Twitter updates you’ve missed just in reading the beginning of this post, in defense of the time you’re spending here that could be spent in any number of other places, I am offering you something totally worth the trade off. This is not like when the cable company said your bill would go down or when the dentist said the filling would be no big deal—this stuff is the genuine article, the real thing, the kind of pearls that will actually feel gritty when you rub them along the edge of your front teeth.

tomatoes in a bag

This tomato jam is July. It’s outdoor picnics while the sun sets. You could think of it like the bottled version of long summer nights and roads lined by cornfields, as spoonfuls of Saturday morning farmer’s markets and months of no school, when the weeks stretch out before you, late morning after late morning, and you go to the pool and the lake and your friends’ houses and everything smells like cut grass and hot asphalt and your neighbor’s rows of flowers.

tomatoes tomatoes

And look, you don’t have to believe me, but to say that this tomato jam will change your life is no exaggeration, not after you watch what happens to a pound and a half of freshly boiled, peeled, sweet tomatoes (tomatoes you picked up from a roadside stand if possible, for $2 a pound) when they’re combined with onions and basil and honey and spices and left to simmer the long, slow simmer that releases their juices and breaks up their shapes and turns them into what is roughly the equivalent of tomato gold.

Pure gold.

tomato jam

This is the tomato jam I’ve dreamed of making ever since I opened Michael Natkin’s new “Herbivoracious” cookbook, which arrived at our doorstep a few months ago. It’s the tomato jam worth spending your fresh garden tomatoes on, the tomato jam to watch transform on your stovetop and find yourself remembering what it is to be amazed.

tomato jam + grilled cheese

You can slather it on roasted portabello mushrooms, fresh off the grill; put it on your morning toast, alongside your eggs; sandwich it with raw mozzarella and fresh basil on buttered sourdough, sauteing them into a grilled cheese that tastes like July evenings outside Spacca Napoli in Chicago.

In other words, like avocados and like summer and like love, this tomato jam is something to celebrate—for its ability to surprise you, for its pure magic, for its rare and uncanny ability to not only make good on its promises but, to be better than you dreamed. Make it; try it ; it will be worth your time.

Some housekeeping: Food Loves Writing underwent a little makeover this week, so if you haven’t clicked through in a while, now would be a great time. We’re still working on some changes, but for now, there’s a revised header, a new sidebar, some new organization —and feedback is welcome, so let us know what you think or if you have any questions!

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Carrot Risotto (or, choosing whom you cook with)

top photo of carrot risotto

My brother hasn’t been in the car with us twenty minutes before I hear him say something in passing about a spring pea risotto he’s tried the week before, and before I can stop myself I’m exclaiming, “Risotto! I want to make risotto! How do you do it? Was it hard?”

Then, to Tim, “Remember our carrot risotto in California?”

photo of carrots

That risotto we’d had at La Bicyclette, the highlight of our meal and maybe our entire trip, was the kind of entrée you never forget, so even though I ask him, I know Tim knows it, too: a carrot risotto so creamy and buttery, so cheesy and comforting, so beautifully bright orange the way things hardly ever naturally are, that I heard at least three other bloggers say they would tackle this recipe when they got home.

Of course, I wasn’t one of those bloggers saying I’d make it later, just so we’re clear. I responded by saying how much I liked it, how warm and savory and amazing it was, but I didn’t dream of going home and trying it myself because, between us, risotto scares me. In my mind, risotto is great chefs and top restaurants and five-star reviews. It’s talent and skill and precision. There was a time, once, when I approached it, but the results were hard and bland and crunched when you took a spoonful, so Saturday, when we’re driving down the highway and I say, “I want to make risotto!” to my husband and my brother in the car, I don’t actually mean I want to make risotto. I mean that I want to eat risotto! and if it’s the La Bicyclette kind, preferably by the mixing bowl!

Because here’s the thing: risotto is hard. Risotto is fussy. Risotto isn’t something I can do.

But then my brother comes to town.

chopped onions and shredded carrots

You know, when it comes to the kitchen, the idea of cooking with other people, any people, may seem charming at first, but the truth is that not all cooks make good companions. You don’t have to share your kitchen many times before you see this is true.

There are cooks who will come into your home and take over, for example, leaving you stressed out and insecure even as they rearrange your spice cabinet. There are cooks who will second-guess you, who will comment on the weird way you hold the frosting bag while they take it out of your hands.

But then on the other hand, there are cooks like my brother, the kind who already know you so well that they are easy partners whatever the project. They come to visit and tell you about a risotto they made and make it seem so approachable and possible that before you know it, it’s Monday afternoon and you’re standing with them over arborio rice cooking on your kitchen stove, learning as you watch them, gaining confidence as you work together. These cooks aren’t common, but when you’re blessed to find them, give thanks—these are the people you want to cook with.

adam holding carrot risotto

And so it is that Adam and I are making risotto together, frozen stock thawing on the stove, my hands pressing buttons on the food processor to shred carrots, his hands chopping parsley on the cutting board. It’s not night yet, but the sky is darkening as storm clouds gather overhead, and the kitchen seems smaller and smaller as it grows more dim, so he flips on the overhead light above the stove; I close the blinds in the living room. He stirs the risotto, moving a long wooden spoon steadily through the rice and wine and carrots; I add stock, half cup by half cup, letting it soak in and be absorbed and change the rice to soft and plump and fragrant.

The two of us, who have been cooking together for as long as we’ve been cooking, work side by side in the entire process, like four hands in the same singular machine, a product of lifetimes of shared experience and kitchens and food. Even as it seems strange to be doing it now in Nashville, in my home, the one I share with Tim that’s eight hours away from where Adam and I spent most of our lives, it also seems familiar, just like Sunday afternoons making pizza in his Chicago apartment or weeknights baking cookies at Mom and Dad’s.

carrot risotto

Today, while we scoop ladles of risotto into bowls and sprinkle them with parsley and chopped carrots and Pecorino, I think how this person standing next to me has known me all his life and most of mine and how he’s been the first friend I talk to about decisions and passions and, two years ago, Tim.

I think how nice it is to cook with him because he knows me, so I can say to him, keep your eye on this and know he will; I can trust him to anticipate the next step, to catch something I miss; I can go to turn the pepper grinder just before we finish the risotto and, when it releases half a jar of whole peppercorns instead of a light sprinkling of ground pepper, I can count on him to laugh with me even while we have to laboriously pick peppercorn after peppercorn out of the simmering food.

After the last bit of stock has been worked into the pot, we take our bowls of risotto to the brown leather sofa and plop down, side by side, putting our feet up and flipping through movie trailers on Apple TV, and I feel so thankful for this brother who cooks with me, even as I feel thankful for the thing we’ve cooked, the thing I feared, the thing we eat spoonful after spoonful on the couch: risotto.

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Grapefruit Honey Sorbet + the Ripe Cookbook

Grapefruit sorbet from Ripe

It’s a quiet weeknight at home, and Tim and I are sitting Indian-style on the leather sofa, facing each other, our knees barely touching. I flip to a new page of the glossy hardcover on my lap, reading its words aloud.

three grapefruits

“People avoid chard,” I say to him, lifting the text from a dark green page opposite two criss-crossed leafy stems. “They see it at the market, with its big, imposing leaves, and think: If I bring that home, it’ll overrun the crisper and suffocate the carrots in their sleep.” The image makes us laugh, mostly because we know our own fridge is currently packed to the full with kale and lettuce and, indeed, enormous chard from our first week’s CSA. “Actually, you want these larger leaves for making stuffed chard,” it continues, “which is my favorite way to eat this pretty green vegetable.”

We sit like this for a while, the two of us, reading page after page as if it were a novel and not a cookbook perched across my lap. That’s because this book, written by Cheryl Sternman Rule, a sharp and clever lady I met in Oregon last fall, and photographed by Paulette Phlipot, a talented artist who knows how to showcase produce like it’s up for an Emmy, is no ordinary cookbook.

RIPE cookbook

Ripe is part coffee table accessory (so stunning you’ll see it for sale at Anthropologie), part encyclopedia (but organized by color, not alphabet), part story (short, tight stories that fit into one to three paragraphs at most). It’s about the glory of grown food—not the health of it or the sustainability of it, but the glory, the heart-and-soul glory of loving fruits and vegetables because they taste so good you can’t help yourself.

Grapefruit Sorbet

It’s one of the first cookbooks I’ve looked at, ever, and thought, I wouldn’t change a thing about this. At once attractive and informative and filled with ways to prepare whole foods that celebrate their flavor for what it is, Ripe is a book to have out on display and a book to have near your kitchen. It provides exactly one recipe (and three quick ideas for using) for each food featured, and not one of them feels pretentious or overcomplicated.

grapefruit sorbet with blackberries and a spoon

This is a book that makes you want to cook, that makes you want to eat, and, in my personal opinion, that feels a lot like Cheryl: insightful and savvy and, definitely going places.

Actually, make that already gone.

For more info on the book: RipeCookbook.com
To view Cheryl’s blog: 5 Second Rule

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