Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart [+ slave-free tomatoes]

tomatoes on vine

I’m an elementary kid, spending a few summer days at my grandma’s house, and when she says she wants to make sauce for dinner, I know it means stepping from the dining room onto the back porch, down steps to the yard and its back-corner garden, where we’ll pull ripe tomatoes straight from the vine. The first time I ever see tomatoes growing in the ground and not stacked up neat and shiny at the store is in this yard, the same yard where my brother and I fight with water guns and talk to the the neighbor’s dogs through a chain-link fence and step on massive ant hills in the holes of Grandma’s concrete driveway.

__________________

Over 20 years later, I’m an adult, and I’ve grown other plants and I’ve stepped in other yards, but still, when I think of tomatoes, I think of Grandma’s garden, the one bordering her lilac bush and the neighbor’s fence, and of the weeks of harvest it would give each year. And lately in Nashville, as our Tuesday pickups are piled high with tomatoes—orange, red, yellow; big and grape—I hold the box of them, inhaling their scent, which is as much summer as it is that plot of land in Maywood, and I think what a gift this time of year is, what a blessing filled with rich fruit, tomatoes that are not even worth comparing with what you find at the store in January, not even close.

tomatoes

So in the midst of this, when Nicole says to me one Friday afternoon, in a quick email conversation about risotto and cooking and tomato jam that, hey, speaking of tomatoes, you might like to know about this, referring to the upcoming campaign she’ll be launching, through her organization The Giving Table, to have food bloggers come together to encourage some sort of change to end slavery in Florida tomato fields, I’m kind of confused.

All I can say is I didn’t know—because maybe I’m one of the rare Americans who had never read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article last summer; never heard of Barry Estabrook’s book when it came out; never crossed paths with someone talking about International Justice Mission’s summer program, “Recipe for Change,” a campaign to end slavery in Florida’s tomato fields.

chopped tomatoes

But Tim and I get reading articles and seeing statistics and saying to each other, This is insane! We were just in Florida! It’s happening here, not three hours south of where we laid by the beach! And I’m getting that horrible sick feeling in my stomach, the one that comes from seeing you’ve been unaware, from seeing what you have not seen—that it’s not just better-tasting tomatoes I’m getting when I grow them in a garden or pick them up from a local farmer or buy some at Whole Foods; it’s tomatoes that have been fairly harvested, without slavery, abuse, mistreatment and other tragedies that are occurring now, here:

A third of our fresh tomatoes are grown in Florida, and much of that production is concentrated around Immokalee (rhymes with “broccoli”) … The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water … Unlike corn and soy, tomatoes’ harvest cannot be automated; it takes workers to pick that fruit. And not only have workers been enslaved, they have been routinely beaten, subject to sexual harassment, exposed to toxic chemicals (Estabrook mercilessly describes the tragic results of this) and forced to wait for hours to find out whether they have work on a given day. Oh, and they’re underpaid. – from “The True Cost of Tomatoes,” Mark Bittman, The New York Times, 6/14/11

Mariano Lucas Domingo discussed being locked in a tomato box truck for 15 hours one day by his employer, Cesar Navarrete. The Immokalee farmworker had to find his way out, he said, and then help others. – from “Brothers Receive 12-Year Prison Terms in Immokalee Human Slavery Case,” Steven Beardsley, Naples News, 12/19/08

roasted tomatoes

The idea behind today’s campaign is that bloggers are donating their posts to raise awareness for a very real problem of oppression. Some facts:

  • Over the past 15 years, there have been seven cases of forced labor slavery successfully prosecuted, resulting in the release of over 1,000 people being treated unfairly in U.S. tomato fields.
  • IJM’s Coalition of Immokalee Workers has developed, along with the tomato pickers themselves, what’s called The Fair Food program, which works against the slavery, child labor and serious sexual abuse happening in Immokalee, Florida, by setting clear standards against them.
  • Supermarkets and fast-food chains and other retailers who join The Fair Food program pay a little more ($0.015 higher per pound) for their tomatoes, but are guaranteed they’ve been fairly harvested.
  • What The Giving Table, with International Justice Mission, wants to accomplish this summer is for more companies to sign this pledge, so that as purchases shift from fields improperly treating workers to those adhering to fair standards, the issue of slavery can be abolished.

grape tom_roasted tom

Would you consider raising your voice to do something about the issue of abuse happening here in America? McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already endorsed the pledge, but many major retailers have not. Here are a few ways to help:

  • With your pocketbook: Buy tomatoes from local farmers—or from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, both of which are already on board with the Fair Food program.
  • With your computer: Take two minutes and send a message to execs of the major supermarket chains yet to sign the pledge, asking them to change their stance. (It’s as simple as filling out your name/email and hitting send)

tomato tart from above

In light of Recipe for Change and today’s campaign, Food Bloggers for Slave-Free Tomatoes, we’ve created this roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, made with tomatoes grown right here in Tennessee, from the local farm that supplies our CSA.

tomato tart on the table

For more information on slavery happening in American tomato fields, visit the websites of The Giving Table, Recipe for Change and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

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Chicken Pot Pie + ‘Dinner: A Love Story’

lynnville

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.

No. Blackberries.

None.

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.

potpiewmom

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.

closeup_potpie
potpie_vertical

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.

chickenpotpie

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.

potpie_sliced

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.

slicedout_chickenpotpie

Oh, and while you’re at it, bookmark “Dinner: A Love Story” and make it a must-read. I’m so glad we did.

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Avocado Fries + Yogurt Sauce

sliced avocados

Two days into our honeymoon, Tim and I are eating lunch at a taco hut near our condo, a whitewashed building where the windows are always open and the ceiling fans are always moving, and the hot Hawaiian breezes blow in and out leisurely, matching the pace of the island where we’re staying, palm tree branches rustling in the wind.

On the porch in front, there’s a cardboard box set up on a bar stool with a sign that reads, “$0.25 each” and which holds a dozen or so avocados, each of them half the size of Tim’s head, and there’s no one around to collect payments, just a large glass jar, so after looking at each other in disbelief, still amazed that we’re in Kauai, let alone that we’re paying 1/8 of what we’d pay for avocados in the states, we grab a handful of dark green, alligator-skinned fruits, leave our money and go.

bowls of flour, egg, bread crumbs

As far as foods go, avocados are the closest thing I know to magic, and not just when you’re eating them on your honeymoon. They’re cool and creamy, filling, versatile enough to be guacamole and smoothies and salads and rich chocolate frosting atop raw chocolate brownies. They’re filled with vitamins: A, B complex, C, E, H and K. They’re high in essential amino acids and rich in minerals: folate, magnesium, copper, iron, calcium and potassium. But most importantly, avocados are fatty—not just any kind of fatty, but good fatty.

And while I know in this world of low-fat diets and counting calories that putting words like good and fatty together can seem like an oxymoron, kind of like saying gorgeous ugly or smart stupid or transparent Southerner, they’re the fatty that promotes good cholesterol (HDL) and lowers bad (LDL). The fatty that’s good for heart health. The fatty that makes it easier for your body to absorb and use the good vitamins and antioxidants in the rest of the salad you’re eating them in. The fatty proven to work against inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

In other words, like I said, magic.

making avocado fries with tim

I love avocados because they taste good and because we eat them in Hawaii and because of their health benefits, and I spent a good chunk of time trying to convince my dad (and all men I know) to eat them more often because they’re also shown to reduce risk of prostate cancer, but mostly I love them because they literally amaze me—avocados are one of those rare things in life that regularly make me think, wow, now this is exactly as it should be, and we all need more of those moments.

avocado fries

Because, you know, in this life, it’s not hard to be disappointed. In a broken world of child abuse and poverty and fundamentalism and egos, it’s not hard to put your heart out there and have it crushed, not hard to be hurt, to feel the sting of someone’s words, to be forgotten or ignored or misunderstood. And there are days, I’ll just be honest, when I feel overwhelmed with all the bad things that surround us, enough that writing a little post on avocados seems pretty silly, pretty paltry, pretty small.

chopped cabbage

But here’s the thing I tell myself when those thoughts come: it’s good to see the truth of what is hard and face it, yes, but it’s better to see the whole truth, that hard things are not the only things and that there are good gifts too surrounding us—surrounding me—every day.

avocado fry with yogurt sauce

That’s why it’s blessed to look at the avocados we buy in Nashville and bring back to our gift of a home to cook in our gift of a kitchen, covering in flour and eggs and bread crumbs and sauteing into fries, so we can share them together at the table, dipped in yogurt sauce and eaten while the daylight pours in. And it’s blessed to be in Hawaii marveling at the abundance of avocados and starfruit and bananas, blessed to recognize how produce and vacation and the very marriage that they’re celebrating are gifts to make our hearts grateful and more filled with joy.

So we do, when we slather avocado on toast, when we eat guacamole late at night, when we add an avocado to our salad, when we make avocado fries. We thank God for making a food so rich and nutritious and enjoyable, even as we thank Him for everything else.

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Foolproof Homemade Cheesecake with Pecan Crust

foolproof homemade cheesecake with pecan crust

“The feelings of being loved and being listened to are so similar, most people can’t tell the difference.” David Augsburger

Before I say anything else here today, I have to say this: thank you. To every one of you who read the last two posts, who heard my heavy thoughts, who voiced your own perspectives on making friends and being real and people-pleasing, who listened, thank you.

I have so many things I want to say to you today, so many thoughts on intimacy and friendship and identity, but the truth is, part of learning to love is learning to listen, really listen, and so right now, listening is the thing I most want to do.

So today, I bring three simple things: a Nashville announcement; a list of recent inspirations (i.e., places where I’ve been listening lately, where my soul’s been stirred); and, a recipe, for foolproof homemade cheesecake with pecan crust.

I hope you’ll enjoy them, too, and know, I’m sending them with a heart full of gratitude.

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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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super easy oat bread

super easy oat bread

Here’s the thing no one tells you about change: it affects you, and in ways you might not plan for.

Every day, we’re surrounded by the details of our life, be they people or objects or geography, and, even when it’s by your own choice, when you start moving around a lot of those details—whether city, job, church, relationships, house, diet, marital status or say, all of those things—it can unexpectedly, out of nowhere, hit you hard.

Because when enough things around you begin to disappear, you may start to feel like you will, too.

nashville home

This, as you already know, is a post about how I moved last week. It’s the story of how I left an adorable house in East Nashville that I shared with three roommates, a house I only moved into in February and had barely settled into, packed up all of my Tennessee belongings (there aren’t many) and together with Tim and one of our good friends, moved to another side of town.

nashville bookshelves

This new house is nice. It has built-in bookshelves and hardwood floors. It has air-conditioning and a washer/dryer set. It’s the first place where I’ve ever signed a lease and the first rental to earn me my very own library card. More than anything, this house has the distinct privilege of being the first house we’ll live in, me and Tim—the initial place we’ll call home together.

nashville hallway

And, like everything else in my life over the last six months, this house is new. It’s something I don’t know very well. It’s something that will take time to feel familiar.

It’s change.

nashville

There are so many things I love about Nashville: the great food (Marche, Margot, City House, Silly Goose, Burger Up, Baja Burrito, Mas Tacos), the great coffee shops (new favorite: Edgehill Cafe), the rolling hills south of the city, the beautiful cliffs to the east. I love that it hardly snows. I love that it will be warm in November. I love, most obviously, Tim.

nashville home, right side of fireplace

But every now and then, I’ll be driving down a street and wish I saw a Dominick’s on the corner (who says that?). I’ll meet someone for the first time and wish they already knew my name. I’ll see the regular reminders that I’m still new here in my Illinois driver’s license or matching license plate. And sometimes, amidst missing some old details and observing the new, I’ll wonder if I’m not gone, too.

nashville home, through the window

it’s the kind of thing that has me asking, What is it that makes us who we are anyway? Is it our income? Our house? Our family and friends? Do our jobs define us? Our life’s work? Our relationships? Our connections? Our family?

I think I am learning that really, anything that can change isn’t what makes us—not our age or our savings accounts or our things or our hobbies. Not our spouse. Not our friends. What makes us who we are is something deeper than all of those things—something that remains even when all our life details change and however many times they change.

Our identity may often get lost in the details around us, and because of that, it is a sort of gift to lose those details, so at least in the midst of it, you see your soul—that eternal, imperishable part of us that knows it’s made for something more than this life. That’s who I really am, in Illinois or in Nashville. That’s who you really are, too.

Living in my new house, living in the next.

nashville home, view of garage

They took away what should have been my eyes,
(But I remembered Milton’s Paradise)
They took away what should have been my ears,
(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears)
They took away what should have been my tongue,
(But I had talked with God when I was young)
He would not let them take away my soul,
Possessing that, I still possess the whole.

– Helen Keller

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Blueberry Scones + UPrinting giveaway

I am not even ashamed to admit that I love a good bargain. I clip coupons; I buy $15 desks. When Jeni’s celebrated its new Nashville location with free scoops of ice cream last week, we were front in line. And when Whole Foods had a $1.99 sale on organic blueberries June 17, you know I bought a whole case.

A whole case.

mixing blueberry scone dough

Organic blueberries, which typically go for more like $4 or $5 a pint, are definitely on my top five list of favorite fruits. They are packed with antioxidants. They’re delicious by themselves, and even better with cream. They’re great to freeze for morning smoothies; they’re great to eat with milk and cereal. And, on top of all that, they remind me of Tim—because he wrote about them in one of the first ways we got acquainted.

blueberry scone dough unsliced

So really, I guess you could say it was my bargain-loving instinct—and the 12 pints of blueberries that accompanied it—that we can thank for this recipe, a pretty basic adaptation of a simple blueberry scone. Mixing the dough couldn’t have been simpler: it took 15 minutes, maybe, and even with the added 20 minutes of bake time and more to clean the kitchen, it was still somewhere under an hour total, which is a pretty small investment for what you get in return.

blueberry scone dough circle

These scones are really beautiful to look at, flecked with the deep purple stain of blueberries and nicely shaped into golden triangles of dough. Fresh out of the oven and topped with a little butter, they are pure heaven. I ate four.

scones on baking sheet

I told Tim, while we ate them yesterday afternoon in his kitchen (where I, yet again, forget to bring my camera and resorted to iPhone/instagram tactics), these scones feel like something you’d be served at a bed and breakfast in Maine, where wild blueberries are simply everywhere, worked into menus from breakfast to dessert.

fresh scones

I think I’d rather like to go back to Maine, if only for all those blueberries. But for now, I’m glad to have a freezer full, as well as these scones, to enjoy.

Oh and hey! Before the recipe, one more thing: A UPrinting Giveaway!
[UPDATE 7/25/11: The winner of the giveaway was Jessie V! Congratulations!]

Details of the Giveaway from UPrinting:
The winner receives:

  • 50 pieces 8.5″ X 11″ brochure printing
  • 100lb Paper Gloss
  • With Folding (Half Fold, Trifold/Letterfold, Z-Fold, Roll Fold, Accordion Fold)
  • Outside and Inside printing, 2 Business Days Turnaround
  • Free shipping

Restrictions:

  • Open only to US residents
  • 18 years old and above only
  • Contest ends tomorrow, June 30, 2011 at midnight CST [NOW CLOSED]
  • Winner cannot have won another UPrinting contest in the last six months

How to Enter:

  • Simply leave a comment on this post, stating what you’d do with the prize AND/OR telling me your favorite way to eat blueberries.
  • Winner will be chosen via random number generator July 1

Disclaimer:
This giveaway is sponsored by UPrinting, an online printing company. Visit UPrinting.com for more information about brochures and available brochure templates. UPrinting will get in touch with the winner for the prize claim within 30 days.

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