Sauteéd, Garlicky Beet Greens

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“Will you do me a favor?” Tim says to me, the two of us side by side in the car. He’s driving. He’s usually driving when we’re in the car together. It’s our habit. He knows I’d rather sit—sit and look at Instagram, sit and watch people out my passenger window, sit and zone out to ponder some new topic he will no doubt hear about from me in due time—so the fact that he usually drives is one way he serves me. It’s right up there with killing bugs, cleaning out gutters and replacing the battery in our car—all tasks I guess I could do, if pressed, but which are becoming, to me, as good as poetry and candlelit dinners because I know, to him, they’re love. While it’s words that flow out of me when I feel great affection, for Tim, it’s more practical things, like going with me to Goodwill, which is the store we’re leaving now, as he pulls the car around a corner.

“Will you make beet greens for dinner?”

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Garlic Scape Pesto (+ Photos from the Woods)

the woods

Thursday through Sunday, I was away in the northwoods with no Internet, little phone signal, creatures crawling in the walls in the middle of the night (!!) and daily dinners at supper clubs where the only vegetables were potatoes. It’s a funny world to escape to for a greens-loving girl, but, every year when I go to Minocqua, I think again how nice it is to detox a little from a connected life.

the trees
out in the water
downtown minocqua

In order to take the trip, I was away from Tim for the longest time since we got married, and, kind of like Mary in Downton Abbey, I have to say that it’s amazing how another person can become so a part of you that you almost can’t remember what it was like to be without him. If I wrote every post on this site from here on out just telling you about what a kind husband I have, I still wouldn’t do him justice.

Anyway, we’re here with my family today, soaking up some time together and with them, so I’m going to keep this post short. I just want to tell you, first of all, that I am so thankful to the God who heard my prayers and gave me a husband who talks, fights, plans, travels and suffers with me in a grace-filled way; who isn’t insecure; who doesn’t say one thing when he means another. After a few days away from him, I’m freshly surprised about how sweet it is to have him. Also, I want to tell you about the garlic scape pesto he and I made the night before I left.

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The House Salad with Cucumbers and Tomatoes

I’d eaten at Tim’s approximately two times when I started to sense a theme. When that guy makes a salad, he makes it a particular way. Maybe everybody does this? Over the following years and months, I’ve eaten this same basic salad with him alongside grilled cheese sandwiches, at fancy dinners we’ve thrown for friends, during Sunday night barbecues, on lazy weeknights and in many spaces in between. I’ve eaten it so many times with him that it’s truly become our salad, the one we always make, the fallback, the standby, the one we’re calling The House Salad, with Cucumbers and Tomatoes.

House Salad | Food Loves Writing

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Bruschetta Sauce with Balsamic & Fresh Fennel

The other day, I bought fresh fennel at the grocery store.

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Fresh fennel, if you’re not familiar with it, is awkward and big, not unlike many of us were when we were back in junior high. Undeterred by the way my two bulbs wouldn’t fit inside a standard produce bag, their dill-like fronds poking out on top, I carried those towering bodies proudly to the checkout line, along with the other items in my cart. Then, I took them home to Tim, laying their bodies across our cutting board, where, together, we deconstructed them, like vegetable surgeons working as a team: The tops, we chopped for garnishes. The stems, we boiled into broth. The bulbs, we cut to wedges and sidled along onions to cook slowly on the stove. An hour or so later, in return for all these efforts, we ate the braised bulbs for dinner, and, as we did, I made a discovery. This past week, or specifically, this particular moment sitting across from Tim at the table with plates of fennel as our meal, I learned I hate, and I mean, hate, cooked fennel (or, at least, cooked fennel that tastes anything remotely like the version we made). Since there are weeks, nay, entire months, of my life where I can’t remember learning anything notable, particularly between the high school years of 1996 and 2000, I guess you could say this was not a complete waste of time.

Besides the cooked fennel, our kitchen has seen a revolving door of new recipes this last week: sesame tahini cookies, chocolate banana smoothies as thick as ice cream, homemade honey mustard with roasted sweet potatoes and a seriously unusual raw lemon tahini pie. Nothing was as shockingly memorable as that batch of fennel. Nothing was as good as this bruschetta.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

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Arugula Dijon Salad with Figs and Pistachios

Every spring, when the ground brings new life and the trees turn every shade of green, I think of Julius.

spring

Julius and I met in grad school. He wore silver-rimmed spectacles, ironed business shirts and dress pants and a neatly trimmed reddish-brown beard that was quickly going gray. He came to class with his work I.D. still on his shirt pocket and a bag or briefcase carrying his books and papers in his hand. When he spoke, you’d hear an accent, betraying the Eastern European setting from which he’d come, but, he told me, he and his wife had lived in America quite a while. The first class we took together was a Travel Writing course. It was a workshop class, meaning we’d turn in copies of our assignments to each other and then discuss them, as a class, together. I’d write short, sweet pieces about places like the Wisconsin Northwoods; he’d write long, flowering tales about dining with locals in Morocco.

spring in nashville

One October, walking from the fluorescent lights and metal chairs of our night class out into the crisp, cool air of Chicago fall, I told Julius how autumn was my favorite season.

“Do you feel this air?” I asked him as we walked side by side, breathing in deep for emphasis. “I mean, is there anything better? I wish it were fall all year.” I might have talked about pumpkins and apple-picking and Halloween.

“Yes, it’s nice,” this man, 15 or 20 years my senior, responded, almost as if to appease a child, with none of my enthusiasm.

“And I bet you didn’t know this,” I began, my volume increasing and my words coming fast. I was about to share with him a rehearsed party anecdote, a standby that, at the time, was finding its way into any conversation I had about the colors of fall, sort of the way I’m always jumpy today to tell people that dislike for cilantro is a genetic trait. “When leaves turn colors each fall,” I said to him, “they’re actually shedding a layer, revealing the true colors that were always there, underneath. People think the leaves are turning but really they’re just showing what they always were, down in there, but we couldn’t see it! How amazing is that? ”

I waited for his elation and surprise, for him to join me in proclaiming fall’s glory. Instead came counter argument.

spring greens

“Actually, that’s sort of how I feel about spring!” he said to me, his eyes growing wide as his volume raised to match mine. “All the green! The emeralds, the pale greens, the yellow greens! Everything becomes so alive!”

arugula salad | foodloveswriting

I hate to say it, but I think at that moment, walking with Julius to our cars in a dark parking lot, I saw spring for the first time.

arugula salad | foodloveswriting

I was thinking about that conversation, some seven years ago or so now, last week, when Tim and I walked through the park on a 70-something-degree day in Nashville April. There were white buds on branches, pink flowers on trees, leaves of all different shapes and sizes sprouting along a lazy creek.

blueskies

The sky was fiercely blue—bluer than the bluejay we’ve seen around our house lately, bluer than the ocean hitting white sands—and the smell of grass was in the air. I was thinking about it when we brought home bags of greens from the grocery store and set plates of arugula on our table for dinner one night, streaming sunlight falling on the table.

arugula salad | foodloveswriting

There’s a verse in the Psalms that exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” and another in the New Testament that rejoices, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

This spring, with salads like this arugula one, that’s what I’m thinking about: the wonder of a created world with ordered seasons, the kind we can count on to come, and how noticing them, while walking parks and while eating dinner, makes me rejoice.

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Lemon Tarragon Pesto Dressing

Lemon Tarragon Pesto

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of too much [insert green here] must be in want of a pesto—or, at least, that’s how this recipe was born, as a response to too much tarragon in the fridge.

Now, I realize I won’t be telling you anything you don’t know when I say making pesto is easy but, it is. Pesto is a basic formula: greens plus nuts plus oil plus cheese plus salt (and plus garlic! and probably lemon!, at least if you’re asking me). Pesto is a basic process: combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and spin! But in return for your short ingredients list and easy preparation method, pesto gives you a killer pizza sauce, fantastic toast topper, the kind of thing to make eating a bowl of pasta a special treat. Sometimes, especially when it’s a pesto like the one in this post, I eat pesto all on its own, spooning a bite of it to my mouth, smacking my lips together in sheer delight once I do.

But, here’s a bonus trick I only learned last summer, one that’s taken the ways pesto improves my life up one more notch:

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Cajun Salmon & Garlic Parsley Mashed Potatoes

cajun salmon & parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

If you had stepped into our kitchen at around 4 p.m. a few Wednesday afternoons ago, you would have seen our side door, the one that exits to the driveway and our upstairs neighbor’s black iron stairs, flung wide open. You would have seen smoke wafting from the stove through that door, intermingling with the 50-some-degree weather and bright blue skies of Nashville February. And you would have smelled the sea, not the dreamy, refreshing scent of ocean tides, but the pungent, unfortunate odor of smelly, gamey raw fish. Tim and I were testing a recipe.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

The idea of fish for dinner is nothing new in my family. My parents eat it once a week, at least. When we take my dad to restaurants, he looks for fish on the menu and asks the waiter, looking the guy in the eye and flashing a smile, if the chef might be able to blacken the salmon? And if you really could do that, boy, that would be great. While it’s true I didn’t grow up sharing my parents’ love of fish—nor their ability to treat perfect strangers as confidantes—thanks to their influence, blackened fish entered my palate early in adolescent life. Turns out, I learned as a teenager, cover something with enough powerful spice and cook it until it forms a crust, and even the fishiest fish tastes halfway okay. Now, as an adult, I freely admit I delight in a blackened, crusted tilapia and the way it sits light in my gut (not to mention, now also, the way that my dad values every waitress, businessperson or child he meets). And as far as how I feel now about fish, I think I like it best of all the meats—and yet, strangely, it is the kind I buy and cook least.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

Standing over our smoky, steaming skillet, Tim and I wondered where we’d gone wrong. We’d followed a recipe I’d found on Pinterest, brushing Dover sole filets in lemon juice and coating them in a paprika-heavy spice mixture before sautéing them in oil. The resulting filets were fine, edible even. They were spicy, for sure, practically Cajun and the kind of food to leave you reaching for a water glass. But they weren’t fun to eat. I disliked them as much as I disliked the way our kitchen smelled for hours afterwards.

So that night, discouraged, I emailed my mom.

“Could you send me your recipe for blackened fish?” I typed and clicked send. That was all I said. Our correspondence, which, since I’ve lived in Nashville, relies more on emails than phone calls, typically plays out this way.

“Use whatever spices you like,” she responded. “Cayenne, Old Bay… there’s no real formula.”

“But what about technique?” I shot back. “Any tips?”

Her eventual response wasn’t lengthy—four sentences of instruction at most—but it gave me hope:

Put EVOO and butter in a pan and let it get hot, but not smoking. Place fish in pan and sprinkle on your seasonings. Let the fish get good and cooked, and flip it to the other side. It only taks a short time. Enjoy!

Directions like that imply that even a child could cook salmon well, so two weeks later, Mom’s email open on my laptop, her instructions are exactly what Tim and I followed, and here is the result:

cajun salmon and parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

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