There are recipes you make because you like the way they taste (chicken pot pie, carrot risotto, thin and chewy pizza crust); there are recipes you make because you're trying to show love (hot chocolate cookies, homemade cheesecake, soft and…
It’s a hot and sunny Saturday and we’re on our way to Lynnville, a sleepy little town that you could live in Tennessee all your life without hearing of, but which today has drawn our attention because of an ad I saw somewhere for a blackberry festival. The whole trip, I’m reading to Tim from my latest library find, and right away, we’re both so into the stories about food and parenting and the world of magazine editing that before we know it, we’ve driven the entire hour, past hilly pasture land and giant barns and no places to use a bathroom, anywhere, and then there’s Lynnville, right before us, rewarding our travel with what turns out to be the very anti-climactic main street that today boasts one carnival booth, four craft tents and, off in the corner, a 85-year-old man selling tomatoes.
So we talk with the tomato man, who tells us he’s lived in Lynnville all his life, and we ask him about blackberries, and he says, no, there aren’t any, but you know, he used to pick them when he was a boy, and we buy a bag of his produce, and he gives us a green pepper for two quarters, and we’re back in the car.
We say to each other, laughing at the wasted hours in the countryside, well, at least there were tomatoes! but then I pull out my book and we remember: actually, at least there’s this.
It’s a week later that I finish “Dinner: A Love Story,” the Saturday night we’re flying home to Chicago, just a few minutes before we board the plane. About 80% of the book I’ve read aloud to Tim, either that day to and from the no-blackberry blackberry festival or in the five or six nights following, before we fall asleep at night. Part cookbook and part memoir, it comes from Jenny Rosenstrach, the former Real Simple editor who blogs at a site by the same name. I wasn’t a follower before I read the book, but I am now: after reading Rosenstrach’s stories, which are as much about food as they are about parenting, as much about gathering around the table as they are about building relationships, I feel like she’s someone with whom I’d like to be friends.
While we’re in Illinois, my mom says to us one morning, I have some chicken, what should I make? And I jump from my chair. I know exactly the thing! I tell her. And I run upstairs to my suitcase to pull out this book, to flip to the chicken pot pie recipe, the one Rosenstrach has been making since the early days of marriage and entertaining and which she has been known to monogram for a real wow factor for her kids.
My mom makes it and it has the same effect: I eat three pieces. And later that night, my brother wipes the dish clean. So when Tim and I come back to Nashville and we’re making dinner for friends, it’s this recipe that we turn to, making it the night before and just sticking in back in the oven for 15 minutes before serving.
The thing about chicken pot pie is it’s comfort food. It’s hot and it’s creamy and eating it feels like you’re nine years old again, cradling a cup of chicken soup—but it’s even better! with a flaky crust!—so while I know it’s July and it’s humid and many of us are heading to the pool or the beach or the lake house, and so salads and grilling and fresh fruit sounds more like the norm, bookmark this one (rainy days or not!) because it’s good.
Oh, and while you’re at it, bookmark “Dinner: A Love Story” and make it a must-read. I’m so glad we did.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you sow.” Robert Louis Stevenson
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.
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?
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?
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.
“When a wife has a good husband, it is easily seen in her face.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I have a good husband.
So to Tim, that husband: I want you to know you have a happy wife.
I love you. Happy birthday!
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.
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.
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.
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 (!).
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.
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.
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.
February 17 was a big day for my family this year. Not only was it my mom’s birthday, but it also was the first time they came to visit Nashville. Ever! And while I’ve been wanting my parents to visit ever since I first moved last February, I’ll be the first to admit that in the valley of a few weeks ago, it felt a little impossible. So I’m thankful to say that in fact, we had a busy four days, filled with many moments where I’d look at Tim and say, I’m not in pain!, amidst marathons of Downton Abbey, antiquing in Franklin, a visit to the gym and grabbing them Olive & Sinclair chocolate-dipped popsicles at Hot and Cold. It all started when they arrived early Friday morning, having braved a 6 AM flight to get here, and so we had a birthday breakfast waiting—and the star of that show was this quiche.
Here are the reasons I like this quiche: 1) You don’t have to make a pie crust. It’s not that I have anything against pie crust (especially not this foolproof one!); it’s just that sometimes, say the weekend where you’re already making two other pies, one pumpkin and one lemon meringue, you don’t feel like another. And even sans crust, I love how this quiche holds together beautifully, firm and solid, like an egg bake.
2) It’s a meal in itself. It’s true this quiche was our breakfast, alongside sprouted cinnamon raisin English muffins and fruit, but it could just as easily be lunch or dinner, maybe with greens on the side.
3. It is the perfect blend of flavors. I hesitate to use the word perfect here, mostly because it feels a little pushy amidst a sea of competing opinions for the best this or the most delicious that, but I’m doing it anyway because, objectively, this quiche was so good, everyone had seconds, and the one small piece that was leftover after the five of us ate it was gone the next morning. And also, you know how sometimes you cook a new recipe and all you think is how it’s missing something? This quiche was the exact opposite: it was precisely as it should be, from the dispersion of spinach and chard to the blend of three different cheeses.
But beyond that, perhaps the most convincing argument, if you want to know the truth, is that my mom, the birthday girl herself, has asked me for this quiche recipe three times, and something like that hasn’t happened since the Great Pot Roast of 2010. After that kind of ringing endorsement, I don’t know what else to say but that here, I bring you, Mom and everyone:
our new favorite crustless quiche!