10 Things + Pumpkin Pie You Can Drink

10 Things + Pumpkin Pie You Can Drink

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

A few notes from here in Nashville, here in this first week of October:

1 / An autumn that’s all big mums and our neighbors’ porches filled with pumpkins, right alongside bare feet and sundresses.

2 / A few blog updates, some obvious (design changes) and some not (new hosting). If anything seems wonky when you stop by this space, it probably relates to one of the things we’ve changed, and we probably don’t know—so please tell us.

3 / A a new library book I’ve been waiting for, an interview with its author (posted here) and my favorite quote from that interview: “My description of this room will differ from your description of this room will differ from everybody else’s description of this room because we are limited and graced by our own pair of eyes, the things that we notice in the foreground versus the background—That’s the beauty of creative work.”

4 / A good chunk of time thinking about this story, especially because of one line about always wanting everyone to understand what you do, and why you can’t and they can’t, so just stop: “For several years I felt this overwhelming need to explain ourselves and the decisions we made as a family to other people. I hated that I lived in that trap, and yet I couldn’t seem to get out of it. But God slowly freed me of that in Oklahoma.”

5 / Constant nostalgia about this and sometimes this and disbelief that they happened almost two full years ago.

6 / Extra work hours, new projects, more social activities and several upcoming trips—and how all of these things, with the tighter schedules they bring, are good things we are being given right now.

7 / Remembering August, when I cried in the middle of Wal-Mart, by myself, walking the aisles to buy copy paper so we could print out paperwork to try to get back earnest money from a house we thought we’d buy, but lost.

8 / Remembering last night, when I cried in a Goodwill parking lot, next to Tim, out of sheer and overwhelming joy at how shockingly we have been comforted and encouraged since then.

9 / Words like these, from Naomi Shihab Nye : “I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.”

10 / A mug filled with creamy, frothy pumpkin pie you can drink—recipe below.

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Brown Butter Sage Sauce

It should come as no surprise that the day after I finished The Fault in Our Stars, the New York Times bestseller written by John Green and given to us as a gift New Year’s Day by Sonja and Alex, Tim and I were in the kitchen mixing and rolling homemade gnocchi dough, he with the camera, me with flour-covered fingers, watching the sunlight streak across our dining room table and the giant bamboo cutting board I gave Tim as a gift two years ago.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

It should come as no surprise because, at least according to Instagram, most of you already know about this book, one of those classic star-crossed love stories that, at the end, leaves you looking at life in a different way from when you’d started, which in my case meant grabbing Tim and sobbing about how thankful I am to have him and about how I hope he knows, like really knows, that I feel so remarkably blessed and happy to share his life.

There’s this one line in particular, towards the end of the story, that’s stayed with me since I turned the last page Friday night, one that sort of echoes a theme reoccurring in the book:

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Kabocha Squash Custards (Gluten-Free)

Kabocha Squash Custards | FoodLovesWriting.com

Every time I make my pumpkin pie, which, in our household, is not reserved for the holiday season that is fast approaching, I end up with enough extra pie filling for one little ramekin.

And when the two dishes come out of the oven, the pie plate and the ramekin, both of them sitting atop the stove to rest, Tim and I cannot help ourselves from digging into that mini custard, the two of us with spoons, blowing away steam and reveling in the hot and caramelized comfort.

So about a month ago or so, it occurred to us: Forget the pie.

Why not pour all the filling into ramekins?

That’s how these kabocha squash custards were born.

Kabocha Squash | FoodLovesWriting.com

Here is what you need to do to start: Get yourself a kabocha squash.

Do you guys already know about kabocha squash? This squatty gourd, also called Japanese pumpkin, came into our lives this fall, as one of the heavier ingredients in a weekly CSA box. At first, it seemed a clone of butternut or acorn squash—slightly different in appearance with a gnarled stem and bumpy exterior, but overall the same, at least in terms of use—but then, one day, after roasting it and puréeing the insides, I took a spoonful of the thick, whipped mixture to my mouth and shrieked.

Tim! You have to taste this!

You guys. Think butternut squash but thicker and sweeter, velvety in texture, practically a mousse once blended, all on its own. One bite in my mouth, and I’m telling you, it was the first time in my life where I thought baby food—you know, the kind where you just blend a cooked vegetable into mush—sounded like better cuisine than my own.

Kabocha is to squash what LOST was to TV.
What sunlight is to afternoons.
What October is to the calendar.

In other words, kabocha squash is not just another squash but the best squash, the one I always reach for first when I’m at the store.

Kabocha Squash Puree | FoodLovesWriting.com

To prove my point, I offer Exhibit A: me, standing in the kitchen a few weeks ago, waving my arms in the air with a dinner guest, my eyes wide and eyebrows high, talking quickly and excitedly about the Dessert That Is Pure Kabocha Squash. It doesn’t need sugar, I kept saying to him. It’s perfect on its own! Get yourself a kabocha squash!

Making Squash Custard | FoodLovesWriting.com

Then, there is the fact that we’ve made these squash custards four times in the last month, for a dinner party, for a pre-St.-Louis-road-trip breakfast, for an everyday snack. The recipe makes five to six (five is ideal; six is slightly pushing it but possible), and Tim and I, on our own, have no trouble polishing them all off, in one day.

True, for a recipe like these custards, you could use pureéd sweet potatoes or butternut squash or acorn squash or pie pumpkin in lieu of the kabocha squash purée, but, in response to that, it should be said: it was kabocha squash that, once blended into these custards, had Tim looking me straight in the eye at our dining table, swearing, and I quote, “This is what my dreams are made of.”

Squash Custards | FoodLovesWriting.com

Something magical happens to these custards in the oven: the filling cooks and the edges caramelize, creating a dark, sticky ridge around the soft and sweet insides. We especially like them warm, whether topped by ice cream or homemade whipped cream, but they’re also lovely cold, straight out of the fridge.

Kabocha Squash Custards | FoodLovesWriting.com

And while normally, this is the point in the post where I’d have something nice and neat to wrap up the paragraphs with, today I’m just going to end with (1) Make These and (2) Tell Me about It, because, listen, it’s almost Thanksgiving and tomorrow’s the weekend and, no kidding, we love these custards almost as much as we love hearing from all of you.

Holding Squash Custard | FoodLovesWriting.com

One last thing on the thankful front, by the way: to those of you who’ve downloaded the ebook, and especially to the ones who’ve written us with feedback and the bloggers who’ve given unsolicited endorsements for the ebook page, thank you. We feel blessed.


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Butternut Squash Spelt Biscuits

Autumn Squash | FoodLovesWriting.com

I have the worst case of writer’s block. I don’t know what to say. I feel like Tim is going to tell me, any minute, that he’s finished what he’s doing and we need to go, so I can’t focus on what I’m writing because I keep thinking, we’re about to drive to the grocery store and we also need toilet paper and I can’t forget to set my alarm clock for tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m.! It’s Thursday night, the one night this week when we haven’t had something going on, and what was supposed to be a relaxing evening at home has turned into a nonstop day that continued into a nonstop night, and it’s 8:30 p.m., we’re only now about to go to the store, and I still haven’t written a blog post.

Part of the busy schedule this week has been, get this, because of food. In a strange turn of events, we ended up with three CSA boxes in the last two weeks, giving us bushel and bushel and bushel full of fresh food, all of which we needed to do something with so as to avoid the one thing I absolutely do not want to do, as in, waste any. This may have led to tears once or twice. Besides beets (roasted!) and beet greens (pesto!) and yellow squash, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers (ratatouille!) and potatoes (home fries! mashed! fritters!), we’ve had squash. Oh, have we had squash: butternut, acorn, spaghetti. Most of it roasted, so as to make pureé. Also, pumpkin—namely, a 20-pound monstrosity I carried around the house and outside for a photo as if it were a small child. Well, it weighed as much as one.

The Giant Pumpkin | FoodLovesWriting.com

And tonight, while the fridge is stocked with roasted peppers and sautéed beet stems and a tomato-kale-pepper salad, while there are half a dozen butternut squash biscuits left on the counter and some quinoa grains soaking to be cooked tomorrow, I’ll be honest and say I know a week of longer work days and unexpected meetings and two extra bushels of vegetables is not exactly the stuff of nightmares, but, honestly, I’m tired. Tim and I are having friends for dinner tomorrow and then an overnight guest through Monday, and as I sit here, looking at the photographs of squash and biscuit dough, reading through the paragraphs I’ve written, the main thing I keep thinking is, would I want to read this if I were someone coming to the post? And I want to start over. But then, what would I write? See sentence two above.

Flour and Dough | FoodLovesWriting.com

The thing I’ve found in the last year or so, especially back in the midst of planning a wedding, is that when I get too busy, the kind of busy where I’m running from one thing to another, seldom processing anything, I only function at 50, maybe 60%. This is fine when you’re doing the dishes—less fine when you’re trying to put together paragraphs (and, ahem, putting together paragraphs is what some of us do for a living).

Cutting Biscuits | FoodLovesWriting.com

Writing is thinking. If you can’t think, you can’t write, mark it down. And the best writers, the ones who turn words with precision and truth, are the ones who are taking time to think about what they say.

Butternut Squash Biscuits | FoodLovesWriting.com

So tonight when I have nothing to say, I guess I’m really saying, help! I need time to think! And so, while Tim and I run out to buy groceries and Q-tips, cracking open a chocolate tart between the two, I say to him, listen, let’s talk. How are we so rushed lately? What is going on? And we talk and we think together, and we look for ways to pare down and take tasks off our plates.

And by 11 p.m., we’re in bed, me on my laptop, writing these last words (because I love this place! So it stays!), Tim surfing the Internet from his phone, ready to rest.

By the way: If you haven’t seen this on Facebook already, we’re thinking of doing a Q+A post sometime soon, answering any personal, blog or food questions (well, almost any questions) you guys have. Do you have a question? Ask it here: facebook.com/foodloveswriting.

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Creamed Collard Greens

Collard greens are one of those foods I kind of pity sometimes.

Like a lot of other green, leafy vegetables (kale! Swiss chard! dandelion greens!), it’s not a staple in American meals. I mean, I can’t speak for you or your household, but we didn’t eat it growing up—ever. When we had vegetables, they were more classic choices like green beans or broccoli or carrots, and while those were all good things, eating only them meant overlooking an entire wall of the grocery’s produce section—one which remained unknown to me for years.

chopped collard greens

Then I grew up. And, in the same way that adulthood exposes us to all kinds of things we missed out on as children, from bills to alcohol to taxes—I went to an office Christmas party or baby shower or some other event where we all made something, and the downstairs receptionist saw my homemade cornbread and asked what she thought was a totally appropriate question: Well, where are the collard greens?

collard greens cooking

This introduced me to two new concepts:

1) Collard greens go with cornbread?
2) People think collard greens can taste good?

Then, just a few months ago, I saw a recipe for creamed collard greens described as comfort food, the kind of thing to “soothe a worn soul.” The post also got my attention with some of the health benefits of these greens: anti-cancer agents, decreased risk of heart disease, high in beta carotene, anti-inflammatory.

creamed collard greens

So right here in my new Nashville, we bought a bunch of collard greens, and after spending about 20 minutes in the kitchen, ate big bowls of this, alongside garlic toast and with gingersnaps in the oven.

Turns out this wasn’t only fitting because it was days after my move and I was in need of some comfort, but also—it was the perfect way to introduce myself to collard greens, and in the perfect place, since it seems here in the South, people don’t find them so strange after all.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

pumpkin cheesecake bars

I’ve always liked pumpkin. I like the way it tastes. I like the way it looks. Mostly, I like the season it comes in, fall.

The world just looks better this time of year, you know? The colors, the weather, the way you can see your breath in the morning but take your sweater off in the afternoon. This October, I’ve seen leaves fall in Seattle and Ohio and then back again in Illinois; I’ve sipped hot apple cider and walked on piles of crunchy leaves; I’ve felt crisp air and slept with the windows open. It’s been beautiful. And even though the days are darker as we edge closer to winter, I have to tell you: I love fall.

fall in chicagoland
crunching fall leaves
leaves wet on sidewalk

All that autumnal affection has to get channeled somewhere, and I’m happy to tell you I’ve found the place: pumpkin. Because listen, pumpkin is to recipes what fall is to the calendar. When I make something with pumpkin, it’s like I’m eating pure fall, and I like that. That’s why when the people behind The Old Farmer’s Almanac Everyday Recipes sent me a copy of their cookbook recently, complete with little sticky tabs signaling the best recipes with pumpkin, I was an easy sell.

Beginning with pumpkin cheesecake bars.

everyday recipes farmer's almanac

Velvety and creamy, these bars start with a thick graham cracker crust and finish with a pumpkin filling as rich as cheesecake. You’re supposed to let them chill before slicing, but between us, I had a piece right out of the oven, warm and golden, and it was quite nice. The next day, I ate another piece, chilled, for breakfast—because it’s October after all, and I might as well eat the most of it.

pumpkin cheesecake bars

And if you too find yourself indoors one of these beautiful evenings, away from the colors and the leaves and the chill in the air, I sincerely hope it’s because you’re making this or something like it, with pumpkin, in the season I wish wouldn’t end.

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My Favorite Fall Cookies

I never travel without snacks, whether it’s a long road trip or a quick flight, and last week’s trip to Seattle was no exception. On the way home, I brought one of these in my bag, in addition to eating half a chicken in the airport from the Wolfgang Puck cafe; on the way there, I packed a bag of sliced green peppers, a bunch of carrot matchsticks and a large plastic bag filled with some of my favorite cookies.

These are those cookies, and I have to tell you they’re something special. Have you ever had those butter almond thins from Trader Joe’s? When I used to buy them, I could eat the whole box. In one sitting. Literally. These cookies are just like those. Or, speaking of food on airplanes, do you remember back in the day when flights would include nuts and a snack? There were these ginger-like cookies I always found so comforting. And these cookies are even better than that.

almond cookies on baking sheet

The recipe originates with Martha Stewart, and beyond my typical ingredient deviations—spelt flour, Sucanat, coconut oil—the primary adaptations I made relate to method: where she says to chill the dough in loaf pans (making it tall and easy to cut), I’ve tried a 9 X 13 pan (making long, skinny cookie strips), long logs (where you just slice and bake), large circles of dough (to then roll out and cut shapes from) and random scraps of dough formed into balls. The beauty is that all of these methods work.

favorite fall cookies

You can take this versatile cookie dough and do whatever you’d like with it: you’ll still wind up with the same buttery, nutty crisps I can’t get enough of.

spiced cookies

They’re good with tea or coffee. They’re good by themselves. And, for the record, not that this happened to anyone here, but if you’re ever stuck in Seattle Tacoma Airport for three hours while you wait for someone else’s flight to arrive, and you want something to mindlessly eat and eat until it’s totally and completely gone, well, they’re good for that, too.

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