Poulet Sauté à la Paysanne Provençale + “My Berlin Kitchen”

If you’d been a fly on our kitchen walls this past week, you would have seen a lot of easy weeknight dinners going on. After we followed Tamar Adler’s advice and, in one big batch of cooking, filled our fridge with jars and Pyrex packed with roasted eggplant, boiled potatoes, roasted yellow squash and so on, we then began the daily task of putting her strategy to the test. There were vegetables tossed with quinoa, vegetables inside morning omelettes, leftover vegetable hash pureed with milk and water until it became a hot and creamy bisque so comforting, I almost cried. Roasted eggplant became baba ganoush. Boiled potatoes turned into mashed, soft and creamy and studded with garlic. Preroasting all your produce is not for everyone (and not for every week), but this last week, as we’ve tried it, Tim and I have seen firsthand how simplifying the strategy can be in helping to make dinner every night.

There are other things you’d see from your kitchen perch, too, though, like the failed cookie recipe I attempted, a sort of cookie rollup is what they turned out to be; or the truly amazing cookies I baked a few days after that. We’ve had our morning smoothies and thrown together a quick chicken salad, and listen, if you have two oranges, some Pellegrino and a bit of honey, go pureé it all in the Vitamix and remember what is good about life. Also, there’s been comfort cooking, like yesterday, when I made a new chicken recipe, taken from Luisa Weiss’s soon-to-be-released book, “My Berlin Kitchen.”*

myberlinkitchen

Luisa Weiss is the blogger behind The Wednesday Chef, which, along with Orangette and Smitten Kitchen, is one of the first three food blogs I started reading back when I discovered food blogs five years ago. When I found her, she was a cookbook editor in New York, though today she lives in Berlin; I was reading the day she posted about getting engaged to the man she dated before her now-husband; the day she wrote about quitting her job, “leaping” as she called it, less than a year before I would end up doing the same thing; I remember reading about her sweet and beautiful wedding; I remember the first photo of her brand-new baby boy. Following along with her life the last few years, the way I do with so many blogs, the way I’m amazed some of you do with mine, I felt on some level like I knew her, and I liked that.

whole raw chicken

My friend Jacqui and I always say that the thing we most love about blogs is reading people’s stories. Sure, there are recipes and photos and nutrition info and giveaways—but what keeps me reading, what makes me care about any of it at all, is hearing someone else share their story, like she’s a friend. I started Luisa’s book two days after finishing “An Everlasting Meal,” and it only took me another three to get to the final page. She pours her heart out in the pages, detailing her cross-continental childhood, her search for identity, her eventual settling and family-making in Berlin, the city where she first belonged—and as an added bonus, there are recipes along the way.

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Lacto-Fermented Salsa

My senior year of college, while I was student-teaching my way into an education degree I already knew I didn’t want, I had an advisor named Heather. Heather was fantastic. She wore dark-rimmed glasses and crisp, collared shirts, and her short brunette hair was always cut neat and kept perfectly in place. Though I’d never taken one of her classes, I’d known her since the semester before, when one Saturday afternoon we’d both shown up to help a friend paint a new apartment. Moving her paintbrush against the wall like she was Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid,” she’d stood next to me in the living room, nodding for me to follow suit, “It’s like makeup, Shanna: blend!”

Some people who are quick to teach like this can be terribly off-putting, always demanding to be heard, but not Heather. Her brand of counsel combined with an otherwise warm and soft demeanor to make her the best kind of maternal, like a big sister who shared all her secrets. We’d have our weekly phone calls to discuss my kids and how they were taking to “Silas Marner” or what I should do about the funny boys who tried to flirt with me, and she’d have me both cracking up and taking notes while she dispensed adages like “monitor and adjust!” for handling a classroom. I loved her.

Those days are almost a decade ago now, but I’ve known a lot of other Heathers since then, people who have chartered a path in a way that makes me want to follow. There was Kelley who taught me about newspaper reporting; Liz, who showed me how to knit; my dad, who demonstrated firsthand the value in being self-employed. And when I met Tim, he’d stand next to me in the kitchen, baking cookies without a recipe or, putting cucumbers in a jar with water and salt to make pickles—the way hundreds of generations had set the example before us—and I learned what it was to lacto-ferment.

lacto-fermented salsa

We’ve been doing a lot of lacto-fermenting in our kitchen this summer. This has been in part because of all the vegetables we’ve had on hand, in part because of a few fermentation cookbooks that have come our way. In addition to sauerkraut and pickled okra and garlic carrots, we’ve made a moist and dense chocolate carrot kefir cake, adapted from a zucchini version in “Cultured Food Life.” We’re experimenting with making our own mead as I type, the jar of it sitting at the bottom of our buffet.

Also, there was this lacto-fermented salsa, from “Real Food Fermentation.”

salsa and chips

In my world, just as the concept of blending brush strokes came through Heather, the idea of lacto-fermenting came through Tim—but it originated far before us. Lacto-fermentation is basically just the natural process whereby the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid through the presence of a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria. It’s been used for centuries, since far before the advent of refrigerators and freezers came along to preserve produce shelf life. Lacto-fermented foods are tangy, delicious and loaded with probiotics, that buzzword you’ll hear us talking about when we say kefir or yogurt or kombucha.

salsa_chips

This salsa recipe is, no question, going to be placed on regular rotation in our household, if not for the good bacteria, then for the taste. In the one or two weeks it lasted in our kitchen, we ate this salsa on sprouted corn tortillas brushed with coconut oil and toasted in the oven; piled it on top of tacos from Baja Burrito; and ate it with chips again. It’s hot enough to get your nose running but not so hot to have you crying, and in my book, that’s the mark of a winner.

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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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Sweet Tomato Jam + Grilled Cheese

tomato jam

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!

tomatoes and Herbivoracious

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.

tomatoes in a bag

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.

tomatoes tomatoes

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.

Pure gold.

tomato jam

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.

tomato jam + grilled cheese

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!

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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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roasted tomato toasts (+ an update on self-employment!)

roasted tomato toasts

Somewhere in the midst of the last two weeks—nestled right in amongst planning a wedding, looking for a place to live, climbing (up ropes! for my first! time! ever!) at Cummins Falls, watching fireworks, meeting and spending time with the very lovely Joanna and Brad (and feeling like we’ve been friends a long time), attending a Vitamix party, getting my car’s brakes fixed, and making two batches of coconut macaroons—I hit a pretty important milestone:

For those of you who’ve been with me on this entire journey, you’ll know it’s something worth celebrating, which is exactly what I intend to do with this post: as of this month, I’ve been self-employed for an entire year.

take a tomato and chop it up

Milestones have a way of making you think about things, if you know what I mean. You look back, you look forward, you compare where you are with where you’ve been, with where you thought you’d be. A year into something, you have a better perspective than you did two months in. And so, a year into working for myself, I say this more confidently than I could last summer: the last twelve months have been pretty amazing and truly a gift.

It was because of self-employment that I could move to Nashville, right in the beginning of February, without needing to quit one job and find another. It was working from home that’s allowed me to take trips back to Chicago almost every month since then—a rare blessing when living far from your family. And while it’s true I make less money than I did in my office job, I’ve still had every need supplied. What’s more, I’ve learned (and am learning) a lot about dependence through this variable income, things I didn’t know I needed to learn—and while I might not have chosen to learn them this way, I’m thankful for them, too.

fresh tomatoes

During the first ten months of the last twelve, there were times when I felt the insecurity of a changing income, sure, but overall, I saw amazing things happen, and these things helped me grow in trust: when one client would leave, another would come; when one project ended, another would start; businesses approached me with work. I’ve told so many people, I had known it was God providing for me when I had regular paychecks every two weeks; but in this new lifestyle, I’ve really felt it.

roasted tomatoes

The last couple months, though, have been stretching in an entirely different way, as work has slowed down and my income along with it. I’ve prayed. I’ve been tempted to worry. I’ve prayed more. Then I’ve been asked to give and, in faith, I’ve tried to open my hands, albeit grudgingly, and I’ve realized how much I still need to learn about trusting God—my provider when I have money to spare, but still my provider when I think I don’t.

roasted tomatoes on toast

Looking back at the last year and all the blessings and struggles and lessons it’s brought, I’m hit with the same things you’re probably hit with when you reflect on the last year of life or, marriage or, work or, something else. I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for the providence that’s brought me up to this exact point, today, where I sit, rich in time and rich in love, loving working from home but willing to return to an office. I’m thankful for the sovereign hand that’s been overseeing this whole process, overseeing me, using all of these things for good.

And I’m thankful for how looking back makes me more excited about looking forward—to whatever the next year will bring.

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Curried Coconut Chicken & Peanut Butter Noodles

Listen, it’s not like I never do adventurous things. I mean, you know: I ride roller coasters. I cut 11 inches off my hair. I launch out into self-employment. And hello, there was that mountain in Maine I won’t let anyone forget about. Remember?!

But when it comes to my kitchen and new types of cuisine, even I will admit that I stick pretty close to the basics: American, Italian, sometimes Greek, but pretty rarely anything outside that. And if it weren’t for my friend Stacey, who came over Tuesday night to, at her suggestion, try making Thai food, that would all be exactly the same.

peanut butter noodles

Our plan of attack was simple: pick two recipes, adapt the ingredients to be fully natural, follow the instructions and cook.

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