Ashley Rodriguez’s Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies | FoodLovesWriting.com

If you didn’t catch Ashley Rodriguez’s October Not Without Salt post featuring cherry chocolate chip cookies, you really missed out—and I say that not just because of the killer cookie recipe, but also because of the thoughtful writing on perfectionism and art and creative work that surrounded it. A riff on Ashley’s previously posted THE chocolate chip cookie, these cherry chocolate beauties are part toasted almond flour, part wheat (or, in our case, einkorn); made with ground flax and water instead of an egg; and studded with cherries and chopped chocolate throughout.

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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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Spelt Belgian Waffles [+ a new blog design!]

spelt belgian waffles

A few days after I came back from Oregon, one night while Tim and I were working side by side, I told him I didn’t know if I wanted to blog anymore.

It was weird—not just because we’re in the midst of working and talking about wedding plans but because I love blogging. I’d be the first to tell you there’s nothing like the feeling of sitting down to write precisely what you want to say, organizing the chaos of life into cohesive sentences and paragraphs, feeling that satisfaction of yes! that is what I mean! when you hit publish and receiving feedback in the form of comments from people who have become your friends.

But I’d wrestled with these thoughts while I was in Oregon, surrounded by big bloggers with book deals, international press trips, specified knowledge so out of my world that they’d literally left me speechless when they talked, and really, I’d been thinking about it before then. I find new blogs I like every week. I’m so impressed by the talent—by bloggers who put hours and hours into crafting original, interesting, beautiful material on the Internet for the rest of us to enjoy—and when there’s so much out there already, I wonder sometimes why I want to add more.

We’ve talked about it a few times the last couple weeks, in between drafting seating charts and making homemade ravioli for dinner and pinning table decorations and beginning to move Tim from his three-year bachelor pad to our future home. When he brought his waffle iron sometime last week, we ate spelt Belgian waffles topped with sorghum for breakfast and liked them so much, we made them again, with strawberries, for Sunday night dinner with friends. We’re doing the everyday things of life even as we prepare for the great event of ours, with my giant white dress hanging in my house, our honeymoon booked, plans for me to fly home tonight.

And thinking about that right now makes me glad to have this blog to remember it. Because while I expected, ten days before our wedding, to be telling you about the pumpkin cake my mom’s making or the cookie table our friends are contributing to or how excited I am that it’s all really happening, the thing I most want to say now is this: I am thankful to be marrying someone who, in the midst of it, set aside time to talk about issues as in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-unimportant as blogging, who helped me decide to keep doing it and, thanks to his WordPress genius, showed me how to give it a facelift that makes me excited to come back here next month.

Anytime I start to wonder if blogging is worthwhile, I’ll just remind myself: it brought me Tim.

See you soon.

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Homemade (Grass-Fed) Jello

The other day, while I was depositing a check in the drive-through lane, I saw a man come out of my bank and walk to a car that had an Illinois license plate. It was the simplest thing—a license plate—something that I wouldn’t think twice about while I’m at home. But sitting there in Nashville, waiting for my $20 and a receipt, I wondered where in Illinois he was from: maybe the suburbs? I wondered how long he’d lived in Nashville—or did he even live in Nashville? Maybe he was visiting like I’d done so many times over the last year?

Shared experiences, even hints at them, are funny. We all enjoy meeting people who have gone through situations like we have, especially when the situations are less common—say, moving to a new state, for example. We like running into people who know our friends or interacting with strangers who seem to understand us. It’s just nice to feel that commonality. Often, it’s the very way that friendships begin.

Shared experiences can be big things like losing a loved one or, small things like, I don’t know, going wedding dress shopping for the first time (hollah!).

It’s kind of like jello.

gelatin and palm sugar and Vitamix

I mean, how many of us didn’t grow up eating jello, right? There were the fun jigglers of our childhoods, cut into crazy shapes and able to be picked up with your fingers; the fancy molds of holiday dinner parties, filled with fruit or marshmallows or nuts; the simple mixes where all you had to do was combine a packet with hot water and stir.

It’s something so common, we don’t even think about it. But yet, if we went somewhere and they didn’t have it (in the same way another state doesn’t have our license plates), seeing it would be kind of comforting and exciting and community-making. I love jello.

strawberries

And it’s not just the familiarity of jello I love. When I learned how powerful gelatin is in healing the gut (this broth article is excellent in explaining that more), jello took on a whole new value.

For me, the next step was finding a really high-quality gelatin, one made from grass-fed cows rather than pigs, which led me to Great Lakes, an easy-to-order option found online.

A couple experiments and entire-bowls-eaten-in-one-sitting later, and I bring you the strawberry jello pictured in this post. While it is a little different than the boxed variety, it is filled with whole, natural ingredients that you can feel really good about putting in your body—not to mention that help your digestion and overall health.

homemade grass-fed jello

It’s a jello I’m eating a lot lately, so I hope you’ll try it, too—and then tell me about it! Because, the way I see it, we can all use a little more community and kinship, even the kind centered around a food we eat.

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Orange Crostatas

orange crostatas

I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already that I clicked through my Google Reader, the way I do most afternoons, and saw these gorgeous blood orange crostatas. We made them the following weekend, for our weekly Sunday dinner with friends, and had just enough so every person got one crostata, alongside homemade vanilla ice cream. But then what happened?

I say I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already because, honestly, I don’t know where the days have gone between then and now. I mean, I know—into work, into buying furniture, into daytrips to Chattanooga and long weekends like this last one that I spent back home in Chicago for a wedding and to see my family again. But it’s just that the time is getting away from me! I’m blogging less, I’m taking fewer pictures (sad fact: I lost my camera charger; good news: a new one is in the mail), I’m looking at the calendar and going, I’ve lived here for two months? What?

palm sugar

So before another month disappears, I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you about a new ingredient I’ve introduced into my pantry, especially because it’s an ingredient I’m really excited about in terms of a sugar substitute: palm sugar.

chopping up palm sugar

Rich in nutrients like potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, palm sugar looks and behaves almost exactly like regular sugar, but it’s lower on the glycemic index (so it absorbs into the blood stream slower) and is totally natural and unrefined. Like the name suggests, it comes from palm trees—several different types of palm trees, meaning there are different types of palm sugar.

I’ve found blonde coconut palm sugar at Whole Foods, all broken up and packaged in neat bags. But it’s also available at international or Asian food marts, which is where I first bought some. At these stores, you’ll find it in a large, hard sphere that is tough to crack but significantly lower in price. With a big knife and some muscle (note who’s doing the hard work in the photo above), you can turn it into the granules we’re more used to seeing as sugar.

oranges for crostatas

oranges for crostatas

In the days since those crostatas, I’ve had two kinds of cookies with palm sugar, including another batch of the ones we like in ice cream sandwiches. In each case, this sweetener behaves beautifully, giving you the right texture and strong sweetness that is hard to find in sugar substitutes. What’s more, unlike Sucanat with its distinct molasses flavor, the flavor of palm sugar is virtually indistinguishable in recipes.

making crostata dough

But back to the crostatas: for the most part, we stuck close to The Kitchn’s original recipe, just substituting the flour and sugar for nutritional reasons and then the mascarpone and almond extract for convenience. The dough was probably my favorite part: kind of like good strudel dough, it was very easy to work with, soft and pliable, great for stretching into rustic shapes and folding over fruit and cheese. Next time, I’d definitely try a different fruit, maybe berries, because while the oranges tasted great here when cold, they were kind of bitter fresh out of the oven.

And honestly, if you’re going to make a crostata, don’t you want to eat it a la mode? I thought so.

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