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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Joanna Linberg’s Cajun Sweet Potato Fries

cajun sweet potato fries | foodloveswriting.com

If my life were a novel, the way I found Joanna Linberg’s blog, Honey & Salt would be a classic example of foreshadowing. Picture it: November 2010. I’m posting some scattered thoughts on thankfulness (or, really, unthankfulness) here at the blog. Three days later, unbeknownst to me, a magazine editor from Iowa links to that post in a roundup at her site, sending a pingback to my email inbox, landing me on her thoughtful piece of the Internet; I start reading her blog; we become friends; we visit each other; we cry in my kitchen; we write letters; and now, here I am, bringing you a sweet potato recipe from the woman I would now call one of the most thankful people I know.

You probably remember Joanna—the Joanna of Brad and Joanna, the friends we went to see in St. Louis last month? She could just as easily be called the Full of Wisdom Joanna or the Writes Beautiful Letters Joanna or the Joanna Who Points Me to Truth and Gratitude Every Time We Talk. But, I suspect, to you, she will quickly become the Joanna Who Makes Cajun Sweet Potato Fries, and nothing else will matter, at least after you try this recipe that is, because, people, it’s something else.

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Sweet Potato and Tatsoi Soup

sweet potato tatsoi soup | foodloveswriting.com

It’s hard to think that while this past Friday, November 2, was a day we’ll remember as the announcement of our little book, for many others, it’s part of the painful weeks of hurricane disaster recovery and rebuilding. This is always happening in life: pain and sorrow hand in hand, celebration smashed up against heartache, joy against grief.

Today, while I bring you sweet potato soup, for example, there’s someone else who doesn’t have a stove, or food, to cook with. While I nursed a cold this weekend, feeling pretty glum, someone else ran a marathon, feeling high on life. My friend’s baby girl was born two weeks before her grandma died. Even as I post these thoughts, on America’s Election Day, many of you have polls and campaigns on your minds, while, simultaneously, others of you don’t. The world is big.

tatsoi | foodloveswriting.com

We’re all dwelling in our own small worlds, inside this larger one, and we know it’s this way. It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around, the enormity of so many people thinking so many things in so many places, and that’s why it’s often easier to focus on what’s in front of you. But there are times, I think, when we see a different reality, when someone reaches outside his or her immediate perspective and rejoices with someone else who’s rejoicing or weeps with someone else while he weeps.

We’ve seen it in the aftermath of the hurricane, as people send relief and donate to the Red Cross, Nashville Bloggers hold a bake sale and community dinners get organized by a ladies auxiliary in Pennsylvania.

I’ve seen it online in the food world, where bloggers regularly promote each others’ work and spread good content. Kristen at Dine & Dish and Sarah of The Vanilla Bean Blog are particularly good at this.

ingredient prep | foodloveswriting.com

I’ve seen it with our release of the ebook, as you guys have rejoiced with us in our celebration. Every comment, every Facebook share or like, every purchase, has felt like a huge, undeserved gift, and we’ve cherished it. People I’ve never met have emailed to tell me they bought the book. My brother-in-law got it on his iPhone. A girl I haven’t seen since college eight years ago told me that she couldn’t put it down. My friend Jacqui, one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known, wrote an incredibly thoughtful post about it.

It’s all kind of overwhelming, like a room full of wedding gifts or the gift of a Hawaii honeymoon, and when I sit here trying to think of what to say, I almost lose my voice.

We broke even by Sunday, making back everything we put into the book, financially speaking. Thank you. I was so afraid to do this ebook, so afraid that no one would buy it (or, worse, that people would buy it and it would be bad). I don’t tell you that to get your pity but to give you the truth. If you’re out there reading this and wonder about your own visions or dreams or book ideas in your head, I hope this can be the nudge for you to go after them.

sweet potato tatsoi soup | foodloveswriting.com

Sometime last month, I read an ebook called Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge. Like the book we would end up launching this past Friday, Create is a short, light read, the kind of thing you can breeze through in a dozen quick bursts of downtime or an hour or so of quiet. It’s just $2.99. And I mention it here because a few points Altrogge makes in it have been the kind of things to comfort my anxious mind before the book launched, when it launched, afterwards while we waited for some feedback, today while we consider what to do next.

Altrogge’s main point is that we are all creatives, every one of us; we were made this way. Some of us write and blog; others organize files or decorate houses or build houses or bake cakes; but we all create, somehow, something. You can sit on the sidelines because you’re afraid, or you can get out there on the court and do something. Sure, you might mess up, you might look ridiculous and you might completely fail. But, thing is, when you get out there and try, you are practicing and learning and getting better. You are developing your skill and you’re doing what you were made to do. You’re giving the other guys on the sidelines courage to mess up, too.

One of the biggest things I am learning about creative work is that while your work is yours, from a blog to a book to a mural, it is not you. That’s enormously freeing. We can make imperfect things and be willing to take chances and to get better over time, and we can let other people ignore or dislike what we’ve made while we do. What we make isn’t us; it’s a snapshot of where we’re at at a given moment. When we see this, when we stop being so afraid of what people will say about our work, we can start focusing on using our work to bless them—we can start looking outside our own small world and reaching into someone else’s.

That’s what I’ve hoped to do with the ebook, to get thinking outside my own insecurities and try writing what I know to be true.

What are you afraid to leap towards?*

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Root Vegetable Chips + Root Vegetable Fries

turnip and cutting board

I should start by saying this: I am grateful to be writing this post today—not just because of the lunch of rainbow root vegetables or afternoon of hours spent photographing them that it represents, but because, about a week or so ago, pacing the floors at 2 AM while alternating between holding my sides and massaging my temples, the idea of writing a food blog post—or really, cooking or caring about cooking—seemed like something I might never be able to do again.

spices for root vegetable chips

I can tell you now that the pain was from a kidney infection, developed from a UTI, and it came complete with stones and intense throbbing and a weakening of my desire to live, to be honest with you. I’ve never experienced anything like this. I joked to some friends in passing this weekend, how can someone have that much pain and not get a baby at the end of it! But really, it was bad. I would look at pictures of me and Tim in the office, on our honeymoon or baking a cake last summer, and I would think, who is that happy girl in those pictures? Was there really a time when I didn’t feel this much pain? and I couldn’t remember what that felt like.

root vegetables and cutting board

What made this particular pain so difficult, I think, was its duration, lasting, at least in some measure, for over ten continuous days. This was no 24-hour bug or weekend flu; it felt unending. Under the weight of it, I grew more and more weary, more and more discouraged, and eventually, more and more aware that this infection was no longer just physical.

root vegetable rounds

In “When the Darkness Will Not Lift,” (which you can download for free online), John Piper writes about C.H. Spurgeon, a well-known preacher from nineteenth-century England who tasted depression caused by physical pain. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says of Spurgeon,

That great man was subject to spiritual depression, and the main explanation in his case was undoubtedly the fact that he suffered from a gouty condition which finally killed him. He had to face this problem of spiritual depression often in a most acute form. A tendency to acute depression is an unfailing accompaniment of the gout which he inherited from his forebears. And there are many, I find, who come to talk to me about these matters, in whose case it seems quite clear to me that the cause of the trouble is mainly physical.

Gout, it so happens, is closely tied with kidney pain (among other things) and so when I read these words, I found great kinship with Spurgeon, particularly in the way in which his experience linked physical pain with spiritual depression—that’s what this was for me.

matchstick root vegetables

It’s not that these days were without comfort: Tim was as supportive and wonderful as you’d expect him to be, my true partner in healing, making me special drinks and running to the store and reading the Bible to me in bed and massaging my back to help me fall asleep at night. Several of my friends were praying for me. My dad was pure compassion on the phone. There was this series of posts that fed me truth when I needed to hear it.

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But we were supposed to go to Baltimore last Wednesday, just for the night, on a trip we’d planned months ago because of $37 Southwest flights and a generous wedding gift from my brother, and then we couldn’t because I was in too much pain.

But we are just newly married, still practically honeymooning, and things this difficult aren’t supposed to happen when you’re tasting so much happiness.

But why are we dealing with this when other people aren’t, people who are able to enjoy life and care about what they’ll wear today and get excited about their baby’s first birthday or a promotion at work or a new recipe they’re trying.

These familiar voices are not a new affliction, but over the last few weeks, they’ve been more persistent. Maybe you know them too? They’ve kept me in bed, they’ve kept me from the blog, they’ve made heavy my heart.

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And while fighting them can be tiring, I am glad to tell you that at times when you least expect it, light breaks.

Because there comes a moment, amidst the small everyday choices of “waiting patiently” that involve getting out of bed to see the sunshine, of asking for help from the One who understands, of doing some dishes, of smelling some fresh air, when you’re surprised to see, not that you’re cured of all discouragement for good but that, at least, you want to spend time in the kitchen again, you’re enjoying chopping carrots and parsnips and turnips and sweet potatoes, you’re ready to write a blog post.

And you do.

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