Panna Cotta with Figs and Honey

pannacotta

“You take two cups of milk and two cups of cream and warm it on the stove,” Tim’s saying to me from the dining room. I place our medium Le Creuset saucepan, the cream one with the handle, on the back burner.

“OK, then what?” I call back to him.

“Add ½ cup of Sucanat and stir until it dissolves.”

While the sugar combines with the milk and cream, I set out a bowl and fill it with six tablespoons of water, then toss five teaspoons of gelatin over the top.

I return to the stove. A couple minutes and a few stirs later, the sugar’s totally dissolved, and I remove the saucepan from the heat. I add vanilla extract and almond extract, stir, and pour the saucepan’s contents into the gelatin-water bowl. Stir. Let it all dissolve.

“Then I just pour it into the cups?” I say to Tim, thinking aloud that this has been too simple, wondering if we’ve somehow skipped a step. He’s in the kitchen next to me now, right beside me while I divvy up the mixture, pour it into oiled ramekins and set them in the fridge.

“I told you it was easy,” he responds, his back to me now while he begins washing dishes and setting them to dry. This is not the first time I’ve made panna cotta, nor Tim’s, but it is the first time we’ve made it together. Also, more notably, it’s the first time the process has been so easy that as soon as we’re done, I’ve got it memorized, repeating the whole process back to Tim minutes later when we settle in on the sofa, and I take out a piece of paper and write it down.

panna cotta

Tim made this exact same panna cotta recipe for me, minus the almond extract, I think, a few weeks ago, when one or the other of us heard someone say “panna cotta,” developed a craving and quickly passed the obsession along to the other so that pretty soon, both of us, regularly, were saying out loud, “Doesn’t panna cotta sound so good?” “I wish we had some panna cotta right now!” and “Let’s get some cream at the store so we can make panna cotta.” But it wasn’t until late one night, when the sky had already grown dark, that we finally made good on the daydreams—and side by side with a Netflix movie, ate rich, luxurious, creamy bowl after bowl of it, alongside raspberries, licking our lips as we went. This panna cotta isn’t the kind of craving that abates when you feed it, the kind where you, one night, make yourselves panna cotta, and then for months thereafter give it nary a thought: no, sir. This panna cotta is the chocolate chip cookie of the magical custardy world: with every bite you take, you just want more.

fresh figs and panna cotta

So that’s how we’ve found ourselves in the kitchen tonight, panna cotta chilling in the fridge while we clean the kitchen and return to our laptops, long work projects calling our names. It’ll be past 10 p.m. when the desserts are finally set enough to warrant sharing one, and the next morning when we finally get to turn two out onto plates and top them with sliced figs and honey.

panna cotta on flower plate

But even after we do, after, between the two of us, we’ve consumed dish after dish after dish after giant wine glass filled with panna cotta, the rich cream cut by the sweet and caramel-like milk layer, and it’s all gone, every last bit, less than one day after it’s made, we look at each other and still think the same thing:

Let’s make more panna cotta!

Soon.

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Strawberry Walnut Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

bowloficecream

Last summer, summer 2011, was the summer of wedding planning (also known as The Pit). I spent all my free time hunkered down in there, absorbed in the constant tasks of ceremony details, caterers, jazz bands, invitations, favors, showers, guest lists, seating charts, expectations, and I’ll be honest with you: sometimes it got a little dark. Thankfully, Tim was with me. Having the two of us together made The Pit more cozy.

The only problem with hunkering down for a summer, however, is that you miss a lot of things. It has to happen, but you do. While we were making regular trips back and forth from Chicago, the rest of the world continued on, the way it always does. While our weekends were spreadsheets of to-do lists and hours picking towels and bed sheets at Target, I tuned out of blogs and stopped reading or writing or paying attention to, well, anything that couldn’t get into The Pit with us. Sometimes my family got in there. Sometimes, our friends. But everything else didn’t fit, and so I let it go.

For the most part, that was OK. Simplifying, even. But then a few weeks ago, I was washing dishes in our kitchen, looking out the window, and I noticed how big and tall and purple our neighbor’s tree had gotten. In an instant, my eyes moved across the street to another one, hot pink like a Spring Break bikini. We drove to the grocery store, past that vintage brick apartment complex we always see, and an entire row of trees bordering the road had exploded into whites and reds and violet and deep maroon. It was then that I realized just how deep we’d been buried, together with our heads down, moving through that tunnel in the dark.

Last summer, I don’t remember a flower. This year, giant blooming trees are EVERYWHERE.

Nashville in Bloom with white buds
Nashville pink flowers
NashvilleinBloom_flowers
NashvilleinBloom_house

So if there’s one thing I’ve wanted for summer 2012, it’s to stay above ground. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been here so often. When I look back on this year, I’ll remember making risotto with my brother, enduring weeks of three-digit-temperature days, sitting inside while the sky got dark with clouds and rain and thunderstorms.

NashvilleinBloom_sky

I’ll remember walking through neighborhoods with Tim to see the world in bloom, camera around my neck, marveling at the different colors and the intricate petals and the way they look against the early evening sky.

I’ll remember telling myself to take the time to notice, really look at and observe, the life I’m living: the mornings Tim and I shuffle to the dining table, laptops in hand; the afternoons walking down the driveway, feeling the heat as we grab the mail and see that couple across the street who wave like friendly grandparents. I’ll remember walking through a park last night, where the air smelled mossy and moist, surrounded by one hundred different shades of green.

NashvilleinBloom_twilight

But mostly, I’ll remember what we’ve been eating:

The ice cream.

dual_icecream

Summer 2012, in addition to being the first summer we were married and the first summer I felt like I lived in Nashville has also, more notably, been this, at least in our house: The Summer of Ice Cream.

icecream

There are new flavors rolling out every week, from frozen yogurt to chocolate chunk to cinnamon honey, and we eat it almost as quickly as it comes out of the machine. The first time Tim made this strawberry version, plumped up with chopped walnuts and big pieces of soft chocolate chunks, we polished it off in one day. It might be our current favorite.

bowlandspoon

In fact, the way things are going, this fall may be The Autumn of Ice Cream and this winter, The Winter of Ice Cream, and who knows how long it will go. But whatever the future brings, ice cream and otherwise, one thing’s for sure:

I get to have my eyes open to notice it, right now, today.

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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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Homemade Blueberry Kefir

how to make blueberry kefir

Today, we started our morning with homemade blueberry kefir—a beverage that’s becoming something of a staple in our home—creamy and satisfying, sweet and tangy, loaded with good probiotics and convenient to grab on the go.

Even though making our own kefir is something we’ve talked about since before we were married, it’s only been in the last few weeks that we’ve finally ordered live kefir grains online and begun the process of combining them with raw milk and watching them grow. And, just as it is with ice cream in this household, the person behind the process is the one much more knowledgeable about food and nutrition in this marriage, Tim—which is why today’s FAQ-style post is all from him!

Below, he answers questions on how to make kefir, why use live grains, why it’s so good for you and more. Enjoy!

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Night in Atlanta + Amaranth Porridge

Tim and I spent last Monday night in Atlanta—just a quick one-night getaway to the biggest city four hours from our home, made possible by a wedding gift from our friend Kim. After a rainy drive down that turned into a sunny stop at IKEA, we arrived at Stonehurst Place, our bed and breakfast for the night.

stonehurst front stonehurst front windows

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Stonehurst is a stunning estate built in 1896 and totally renovated in 2007-08. Our room, the Farnsworth, overlooked the screened-in back porch and was decorated with a Hollywood glam theme. It featured its own fireplace, a queen-sized bed with Egyptian cotton sheets, a marble bathroom and a full walk-in closet.

stonehurst room

stonehurst patio

stonehurst room water in the room

One of the last times I’d stayed in a B & B was in Maine, a place whose quaint little towns often make it hard not to stay in a B & B, and the thing I’ve always liked most about them is the extra amenities: at Stonehurst, we had access to an upstairs sitting room with a Keurig coffee/tea maker, fresh organic fruit and baked goods in the dining room, an open front porch overlooking the streets of Midtown—not to mention, breakfast the next morning was a gourmet spread of hot coffee or tea; organic yogurt with berries; and toasted sourdough topped with ricotta, kale and eggs cooked the way we like.

stonehurst sitting area stonehurst upstairs

fun decor at stonehurst

stonehurst upstairs stonehurst bookcases

stonehurst front patio

stonehurst tree

Even though we were in Atlanta for under 24 hours, we managed to fit in a lot of stops, from driving through Buckhead to shopping in the Virginia Highlands (and sipping on fresh-squeezed orange juice from artisanal chocolatier Cacao, a shop recommended by our Innkeeper, Sarah):

cacao in atlanta
fresh-squeezed OJ at cacao

to dinner at Yeah! Burger, a surprisingly impressive burger joint that may look like your standard eat-in fast-food place but inside is actually the adept maker of a spread like this: fresh-squeezed orange juice (we’re obsessed!), fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, a bunless grass-fed burger with goat cheese and sauteed onions, a breadless portabella sandwich with goat cheese and tomato jam, Brussels sprouts and salad.

yeah burger
yeah burger dinner

But it was our final destination that wowed us most: the DeKalb Farmers Market, which is like Costco meets Whole Foods meets an international grocery store, the one-stop-shop for every kind of specialized food ingredient and fresh produce you could ask for. Sucanat for $2.50 a pound. Organic cacao nibs for half the normal price. Fresh-baked spelt sourdough bread. Spelt cherry pistachio bread. Kamut hazelnut fig bread (!!).

We were overwhelmed.

dekalb farmers market
fresh unpasteurized OJ
dekalb farmers market bread
dekalb farmers market kumquats

When we finally left, bags and bags of groceries in our cart, this was just some of our loot:
loot from dekalb farmers market

And among that hoard was organic amaranth (at $2.99 a pound), the increasingly popular nutritional powerhouse related to spinach, beets, Swiss chard and quinoa.

amaranth

I’ve never cooked with amaranth before, but I’ve wanted to ever since I noticed it in the bulk bins at Whole Foods. Like quinoa and millet, amaranth is not actually a grain, but as any gluten-free cook could tell you, it’s often referred to as a grain because it can behave like one, yet with none of the gluten and way more health benefits.

soaked amaranth
scooping out amaranth cereal

Amaranth is rich in amino acid and proteins, and it has four times more calcium than wheat and twice as much magnesium and iron. Research has linked it with fighting cancer, inflammation and heart disease.

amaranth porridge #1
amaranth porridge with bananas

While the seeds can be eaten like couscous/rice or ground into flour for baking, one of their most well-known uses is as a breakfast porridge—something akin to Cream of Wheat or another hot cereal—so when we returned from our fast getaway, the following Sunday morning, we had amaranth for breakfast, in porridge form. It didn’t officially extend our vacation but, hot and creamy, sweet and comforting, it was the next best thing.

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Hot (!) Spiced Milk

hot spiced milk

I started making this milk within the last few weeks, inspired by the tumeric milk posted over at the beautiful Journey Kitchen. Similar to a hot chocolate my friend Carrie makes (milk + cocoa powder + sweetener + heat = bam!), it’s nothing complicated or confusing. It’s hot and soothing—pure comfort when paired with a big down comforter and some online TV, especially when it’s as cold as it has been around here lately. And, because of the powerful spices, spiced milk is actually really beneficial for your health, too:

spices

First, there’s tumeric, the bright yellow spice that colors mustard and flavors curry. Commonly used in both Chinese and Indian ancient systems of medicine, tumeric is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices out there, the same ingredient I heard physicians wax eloquent about at a CCFA symposium I attended with my friend Alicia a few years ago. Because inflammation is connected to so many physical ailments, from Crohn’s to eczema to heart disease, foods that work against inflammation are like nutritional powerhouses, ingredients I want to work into my diet as much as possible.

There are also ginger and cardamom, long considered beneficial for digestion; cinnamon, which helps regulate blood sugar; cayenne, aid to the circulatory system, among other things; and cloves, another anti-inflammatory and also anti-bacterial spice. I add raw honey for taste, but I could just as easily be adding that for the nutritional benefits as well, as raw honey has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.

hot spiced milk for two

But all that aside, trust me when I say the health benefits are just icing on the cake for this drink, which is at once soothing and stimulating, spicy and sweet. Going down your throat, it burns just slightly (and of course, you could adjust the spices to your liking if you’re less tolerant of the kick of cayenne) and feels like a kicked-up version of chai tea or some really amazing steamed milk.

More than anything though, to me, it’s been one of a hundred comforts I’ve been tasting over the last few days, I really believe brought to me by the Great Comforter, the one to whom I could barely hang on at the beginning of this month. There have been long talks with Tim, encouraging Bible studies with friends, peaceful nights of sleep, random free tickets to the symphony, the ability to think clearly enough to remember how many blessings I’ve been given. My friend Joanna, in a recent email, told me that the darkest times in our lives are also times covered by God’s love and grace to pull us out of them, and she’s right. I’m tasting that these days, and it is good.

You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.
(Job 10:12 NIV)

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