Ebook Writing + Poached Eggs over Toast

iPhoneography

I listened to a podcast interview of Sara Kate from the Kitchn this week on Joy the Baker’s “We’re about to Be Friends” show, and, in it, Sara Kate compares the immediacy of a photograph to the long work of writing. She says, from her perspective as a writer, there’s something so satisfying about taking a photograph and, those times when you get it right, knowing you’ve got it; it’s a very different kind of creative work than, say, writing, for example, in which you sometimes have to wrestle and fight and rewrite and pull out the words to say before you reach that same satisfying feeling.

egg | foodloveswriting.com

I was listening to the interview while I was in the kitchen working some dough together. And a few days later, while I sautéed vegetables, I thought of it again. When you go to the kitchen and combine some ingredients into something new, there’s a satisfaction in the immediacy, kind of like taking the right photograph, especially compared to the slower rewards of writing a long project.

chicken broth | foodloveswriting.com

Think about it. Wake up in the morning, nothing prepared, go to the stove and heat up broth; crack an egg into a bowl; and slide it in the warm pot for a few minutes. Scoop out the poached eggs onto toast, shave some Pecorino on top, sprinkle fresh thyme. That’s it, you’re done, there before you is your work completed. It’s nice. It’s comforting.

Writing an ebook, well, that’s another story. True, it’s not that different from writing a blog post. It’s longer and it’s more planned out, but it starts with the same process of opening up a Word document or a WordPress draft, putting words to paragraphs, writing your thoughts to be read. You may have an initial plan for what you want to say; you may have no idea. You sit there, you and the keyboard, willing the words to come, but knowing that, sometimes, they won’t. You also wonder, after some words are finally sitting there, if what you’re writing is any good.

heirloom eggs

I started the ebook project in early July, just before our trip to see family and visit the Wisconsin town where I used to spend weeks of summer as a kid. The ebook was Tim’s idea, something I never would have done on my own, maybe because of fear of commitment or fear of failure or a form of perfectionism or something else. But early this summer, he did me the great favor of forcing me to consider the ebook, something I could sit down and work on right now, and when push came to shove, I knew he was right. And so it was on that trip, while we were relaxing in the cool and the quiet of an Internet-free cabin, that I wrote the first chapter.

I remember looking at it, reading it to Tim, thinking, so this is how people write things like books? They just, write? And then, wow, there’s more value in blogging than people give it credit for. (I mean, seriously, have you read blogs these days? They’re good.)

pecorino

Of course, I know what you’re thinking, the difference between blogs and books is not as small as I want to make it—Books are edited and revised. Books go through some approval processes. Books are longer and more involved and often require more investment. I wrote an ebook, and it’s sort of a fine line saying if it’s more like a blog or a book at its heart.

All I know is that I had a first draft finished by mid-August, after many long work dates across from Tim at coffee shops and Saturday mornings holed up in the dark office/second bedroom where we rarely spend any time. I sent the draft to a few writers/editors/friends and waited. Tim and I went to Gulf Shores. I turned 30. Feedback came in; I worked at the book again.

poached eggs over toast

Right now, from where I type this post, the ebook is done. It’s edited. It’s formatted. All that’s missing are a few small design touches and it will launch. But right now, from where I type this post, we’re a long way from early July. We’re also hours of work (and yes, tears!) from that first moment when I looked at Tim and said, OK. Let’s do this.

And even though four months is nothing like the two years (or longer) typically involved in printed, published books, contrast it with the steps involved toward making a morning meal like this one. Idea to concept, we’re talking 20 minutes, tops.

In these days leading up to the book publishing, I think you can guess where you’ll find me.

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Cozy Day at Home + Caramelized Apples and Onions

Caramelized Apples + Onions | FoodLovesWriting.com

The first time I met Tim, he said something in passing about how he’d much prefer a night in, at home, to endless social activity, one party and get-together after another, and I couldn’t believe how much he sounded like me. They say it’s the opposites who are the ones to attract, but, almost one year into marriage, all I have to say is that it sure is nice to share life with someone who also finds pleasure in picking a new Netflix movie or testing orangettes or reading side by side, before falling asleep at night.

Making Tea | FoodLovesWriting.comfall day at home | foodloveswriting.com

If it weren’t for the great enjoyment we both also find in hosting big dinner parties and attending outdoor gatherings and making meaningful connections with other human beings, and mostly the growing desire we both have to stretch outside our comfort zones and love, I wonder just how easy it would be for us to settle in at home, something brewing on the stove and, stay there, content.

Kinfolk and Tea | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s something we’ve thought so deliberately about recently that, in an effort to find ways to love other people besides each other, we’ve been filling our social calendar fuller than it’s ever been in our married life. We’ve been hosting and attending and gathering and joining, and it’s been good, all of it, delighting in conversations with friends new and old, hearing how people are doing, laughing and crying and learning, seeing how much there is yet to know.

But still, in the midst of it, I have to say there remains something equally special about those quiet, cozy days (or even hours) at home, the kind where there’s nothing much on the agenda besides laundry and reading and making dinner—and the more rare these chunks of time become, the more precious they feel.

Pound of Apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Fall is good at reminding us of this. As the days darken and chill and we turn on our heaters for the first time in months, there’s an unspoken push towards blankets and cocoa and the comfort of a warm kitchen.

Caramelized Apples + Onions | FoodLovesWriting.com

October beckons us to roast and to caramelize, to slow-cook and to stew. There’s nothing quite like coming in from the cold to the smell of something brewing, and that’s never more true than with today’s easy apples and onions dish.

Bowl of Apples + Onions | FoodLovesWriting.com

By the time the onions are soft and translucent, your home will smell as good as Thanksgiving dinner; and, standing above the stove, your hair pulled back and your house slippers on, the house quiet and still, save for sizzling, that right there will be so good, so rich, all you can do is give thanks for such a moment and, enjoy.

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New Potato Tian

timsplate_potatotian

Before I say anything else, I need to thank you for your encouragement on the last post. When I wrote it, I did it for myself, to say out loud and to the Internet that I wanted to practice intentionality in this space. I figured that way, next time I found myself fixated on photography or recipe indexes or Sitemeter, I would have a published reminder to come back to, a post to point out my purpose, to remind me I’m here to share my stories, whatever does or doesn’t come with that. I swear I didn’t write it so you would pat me on the back and tell me I’m awesome and that I should keep going. In fact, reading through the comments, I almost couldn’t take your kind words. It seems while I’ve spent a lot of the last few years wondering about my focus in this space, you guys have discerned it all along. You are the greatest gift of this place. I don’t know what else to say but thank you. Thank you.

Now, continuing with the theme of things I’ve wrestled with: potatoes. It’s not that I don’t like potatoes; I do. Like most of you, I grew up eating baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, French fries and hash browns. When hasselbacks emerge from the oven, crusty and golden, garlicky and soft, I’ll be the first to spoon half a dozen to my plate. I’m nuts about au gratin, that sloppy, creamy potato casserole plumped full with butter, milk and several different kinds of cheese—you and I both know that’s pure comfort on a plate. And if it’s Chanukah and you bring latkes, you’ll make me one happy girl—in fact, that’s true if it’s Chanukah or not.

But all these facts notwithstanding, in this household, we hardly ever buy potatoes. I think the last time they were in my grocery cart was circa 2010, and as strange as that sounds when you consider my earlier admissions, the reason’s pretty simple. It comes down to two words:

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Carrot Risotto (or, choosing whom you cook with)

top photo of carrot risotto

My brother hasn’t been in the car with us twenty minutes before I hear him say something in passing about a spring pea risotto he’s tried the week before, and before I can stop myself I’m exclaiming, “Risotto! I want to make risotto! How do you do it? Was it hard?”

Then, to Tim, “Remember our carrot risotto in California?”

photo of carrots

That risotto we’d had at La Bicyclette, the highlight of our meal and maybe our entire trip, was the kind of entrée you never forget, so even though I ask him, I know Tim knows it, too: a carrot risotto so creamy and buttery, so cheesy and comforting, so beautifully bright orange the way things hardly ever naturally are, that I heard at least three other bloggers say they would tackle this recipe when they got home.

Of course, I wasn’t one of those bloggers saying I’d make it later, just so we’re clear. I responded by saying how much I liked it, how warm and savory and amazing it was, but I didn’t dream of going home and trying it myself because, between us, risotto scares me. In my mind, risotto is great chefs and top restaurants and five-star reviews. It’s talent and skill and precision. There was a time, once, when I approached it, but the results were hard and bland and crunched when you took a spoonful, so Saturday, when we’re driving down the highway and I say, “I want to make risotto!” to my husband and my brother in the car, I don’t actually mean I want to make risotto. I mean that I want to eat risotto! and if it’s the La Bicyclette kind, preferably by the mixing bowl!

Because here’s the thing: risotto is hard. Risotto is fussy. Risotto isn’t something I can do.

But then my brother comes to town.

chopped onions and shredded carrots

You know, when it comes to the kitchen, the idea of cooking with other people, any people, may seem charming at first, but the truth is that not all cooks make good companions. You don’t have to share your kitchen many times before you see this is true.

There are cooks who will come into your home and take over, for example, leaving you stressed out and insecure even as they rearrange your spice cabinet. There are cooks who will second-guess you, who will comment on the weird way you hold the frosting bag while they take it out of your hands.

But then on the other hand, there are cooks like my brother, the kind who already know you so well that they are easy partners whatever the project. They come to visit and tell you about a risotto they made and make it seem so approachable and possible that before you know it, it’s Monday afternoon and you’re standing with them over arborio rice cooking on your kitchen stove, learning as you watch them, gaining confidence as you work together. These cooks aren’t common, but when you’re blessed to find them, give thanks—these are the people you want to cook with.

adam holding carrot risotto

And so it is that Adam and I are making risotto together, frozen stock thawing on the stove, my hands pressing buttons on the food processor to shred carrots, his hands chopping parsley on the cutting board. It’s not night yet, but the sky is darkening as storm clouds gather overhead, and the kitchen seems smaller and smaller as it grows more dim, so he flips on the overhead light above the stove; I close the blinds in the living room. He stirs the risotto, moving a long wooden spoon steadily through the rice and wine and carrots; I add stock, half cup by half cup, letting it soak in and be absorbed and change the rice to soft and plump and fragrant.

The two of us, who have been cooking together for as long as we’ve been cooking, work side by side in the entire process, like four hands in the same singular machine, a product of lifetimes of shared experience and kitchens and food. Even as it seems strange to be doing it now in Nashville, in my home, the one I share with Tim that’s eight hours away from where Adam and I spent most of our lives, it also seems familiar, just like Sunday afternoons making pizza in his Chicago apartment or weeknights baking cookies at Mom and Dad’s.

carrot risotto

Today, while we scoop ladles of risotto into bowls and sprinkle them with parsley and chopped carrots and Pecorino, I think how this person standing next to me has known me all his life and most of mine and how he’s been the first friend I talk to about decisions and passions and, two years ago, Tim.

I think how nice it is to cook with him because he knows me, so I can say to him, keep your eye on this and know he will; I can trust him to anticipate the next step, to catch something I miss; I can go to turn the pepper grinder just before we finish the risotto and, when it releases half a jar of whole peppercorns instead of a light sprinkling of ground pepper, I can count on him to laugh with me even while we have to laboriously pick peppercorn after peppercorn out of the simmering food.

After the last bit of stock has been worked into the pot, we take our bowls of risotto to the brown leather sofa and plop down, side by side, putting our feet up and flipping through movie trailers on Apple TV, and I feel so thankful for this brother who cooks with me, even as I feel thankful for the thing we’ve cooked, the thing I feared, the thing we eat spoonful after spoonful on the couch: risotto.

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French Lentils with Tomatoes, Marcona Almonds and Goat Cheese

French lentils with marcona almonds and goat cheese

As soon as we left Tim’s birthday lunch at Table 3 last week, we began plotting ways to re-create part of our appetizer: the savory lentils beneath our crispy duck confit. I am telling you, these lentils were something else: soft but not mushy, loaded with flavor, concrete proof that lentils will take on the character of whatever you mix them with.

thyme on a cutting board

It kind of cracked me up the way were talking about it—Was that tarragon, or was it thyme? Did you catch that little bit of sweetness in the beginning? The oil is just right!—because, seriously, for as long as I can remember, this has been something my mom does: she loves the lamb stew she orders at a restaurant, so the next day she’s buying lamb at the meat counter. I make her a crustless quiche, so she’s blending eggs and spinach the very day she gets back home.

making lentils

And I guess that makes me my mother’s daughter because, even beyond the lentils, I’ll be darned if half our wedding wasn’t the result of someone else’s great idea on Pinterest. The unmatching vintage plates? Something I saw on a blog or in a magazine. The banquet-style tables? Something someone else did, too. Now, from the burlap wreath on our front door to the way our dining chairs don’t match, I’m always pulling from someone else’s concept, riffing on it to make it my own.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s any real creativity possible in the world—I draw inspiration from so many sources and places; is it even possible to come up with ideas without it?

tomatoes cooking lentils cooking

As for these lentils: by the time we’d left our afternoon movie, we’d narrowed down most of the ingredients we thought we’d tasted, and so we picked them up at the store. I kept telling Tim how great it would be to get this recipe right because lentils are so cheap and so simple and yet they’re one of those foods I’ve always been a little intimidated by, as if making them well was reserved for the Really Good Cook.

lentils with tomatoes, marcona almonds and goat cheese

So here is what we did. Saturday, I soaked the lentils overnight; yesterday morning, Tim cooked them in water and set them aside. Then, in the afternoon, in the course of maybe 20 minutes total, we set to work: heating oil, adding tomatoes and almonds and thyme, combining this mixture with the lentils and topping the whole thing with goat cheese.

two bowls of lentils lentils with tomatoes

Incredible.

I think the first words out of my mouth were something like, They’re just like those lentils!

lentils for one

And this, while maybe not a mark of creativity, in my mind was a real success.

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