Grapefruit Honey Sorbet + the Ripe Cookbook

Grapefruit sorbet from Ripe

It’s a quiet weeknight at home, and Tim and I are sitting Indian-style on the leather sofa, facing each other, our knees barely touching. I flip to a new page of the glossy hardcover on my lap, reading its words aloud.

three grapefruits

“People avoid chard,” I say to him, lifting the text from a dark green page opposite two criss-crossed leafy stems. “They see it at the market, with its big, imposing leaves, and think: If I bring that home, it’ll overrun the crisper and suffocate the carrots in their sleep.” The image makes us laugh, mostly because we know our own fridge is currently packed to the full with kale and lettuce and, indeed, enormous chard from our first week’s CSA. “Actually, you want these larger leaves for making stuffed chard,” it continues, “which is my favorite way to eat this pretty green vegetable.”

We sit like this for a while, the two of us, reading page after page as if it were a novel and not a cookbook perched across my lap. That’s because this book, written by Cheryl Sternman Rule, a sharp and clever lady I met in Oregon last fall, and photographed by Paulette Phlipot, a talented artist who knows how to showcase produce like it’s up for an Emmy, is no ordinary cookbook.

RIPE cookbook

Ripe is part coffee table accessory (so stunning you’ll see it for sale at Anthropologie), part encyclopedia (but organized by color, not alphabet), part story (short, tight stories that fit into one to three paragraphs at most). It’s about the glory of grown food—not the health of it or the sustainability of it, but the glory, the heart-and-soul glory of loving fruits and vegetables because they taste so good you can’t help yourself.

Grapefruit Sorbet

It’s one of the first cookbooks I’ve looked at, ever, and thought, I wouldn’t change a thing about this. At once attractive and informative and filled with ways to prepare whole foods that celebrate their flavor for what it is, Ripe is a book to have out on display and a book to have near your kitchen. It provides exactly one recipe (and three quick ideas for using) for each food featured, and not one of them feels pretentious or overcomplicated.

grapefruit sorbet with blackberries and a spoon

This is a book that makes you want to cook, that makes you want to eat, and, in my personal opinion, that feels a lot like Cheryl: insightful and savvy and, definitely going places.

Actually, make that already gone.

For more info on the book: RipeCookbook.com
To view Cheryl’s blog: 5 Second Rule

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Raw Berry Cream Pie + Raw Chocolate Crust

raw berry pie + raw chocolate crust

There are days when a story chases you, when you feel like it’s falling out of you or like you have to write it, in that moment, before it’s gone; and then there are days when it doesn’t, when you sit, staring at your keyboard and photographs, searching for words like you’re hunting for lost gold.

All it means is that you’re a writer.

1_berries

Everyone from Anne Lamott to Elizabeth Gilbert will tell you this. For most of us, creativity is less a kitchen faucet, turned on and off like we please, and more a gust of wind, unpredictable and sometimes violent. While there are those of us who tap it well, who know how to do their rain dances of disciplined writing times and creative writing exercises to produce results, for a lot of us, it’s not as simple. We stare at a lot of blank screens, spend a lot of afternoons escaping for want of inspiration, do a lot of wrestling with paragraphs like we’re fighting stubborn pieces of clay. That’s how it goes.

2_ingredients

Because I’ve heard them say it, I know it’s true of authors and journalists as well as it is of, say, self-employed copywriters and Nashville food bloggers. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing someone else’s story or your own: you can still feel that same pull, that same hard-won fight and effort. You listen back to your interview, you look at pages of notes, you stare at your WordPress dashboard and you feel the familiar desire to write, the need to write and yet, all you hit is a wall. Words won’t come.

So here’s what I’d love to know: what do you do about it?

3_foodprocessor

The answers out there, like the writers, vary greatly—I recently wrote about this for my day job—and I think in having the discussion, we have a lot to offer one another. Some writers draft outlines; some riff on previous work; others leave the screen altogether, opting instead for a run in the park or conversation with friends to get their creative juices flowing.

In the more specific realm of food bloggers, sometimes it’s less the writing that’s difficult but more the coming up with topics—those of you who blog, do you feel that way? Dianne Jacob writes that finding inspiration as a food blogger may mean thinking outside a traditional recipe post, opting instead for a round-up of products you like or a new series that will set your topics for you.

4_pie

I tend to be of the camp that free-writes, that sits down and starts writing everything in my head without edits or backspaces, whirling along until something valuable appears, and, three or four or five paragraphs in, it usually does.

5_pie

Today, for example, this post originally began with “So I want to write about berry cream pie” and progressed into a few lines about Tim Riggins’s dad showing up at his football game (side question: television on in the background while you work—white noise or distraction?) and eventually became a more sculpted set of paragraphs about our living room and the ottomans we bought at T.J. Maxx.

forks and raw berry pie

It was only several paragraphs later that I hit on another approach, the direct one that this post has become, wherein I felt like I didn’t know what to say and so, said exactly that.

last plate of raw berry pie

What about you? How do you approach the writing process? Whether you write newspaper articles or nonfiction essays or poetry or blog posts or in the journal on your nightstand, what does it look like for you?

It’s true that writing can be a lonely business, but it’s less so when you invite others in.

That’s why I’m doing that here, sharing a little of my writing process, asking you to share yours—because I think, maybe, when we share our stories, we not only gain community but also, we help each other grow.

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Tim’s Mostly Raw Chocolate Ice Cream

mostly raw chocolate ice cream

When we started registering for wedding gifts last summer, there was one thing Tim really wanted to add: an ice cream maker.

And where I (the impatient, get-it-done type) probably would have just clicked the first version I saw at Target or Williams and Sonoma and rejoiced to have checked something off my list, this man I married is different. He does research.

delonghi ice cream maker

So it was in those final few months before our wedding that we had at least three different conversations about ice cream maker options: the kind where you have to freeze the bowl ahead of time, the kind with the freezing mechanism already inside; small ones, large ones; ice cream makers from Cuisinart, ice cream makers from Italy. Because this was around the time when I was off for a weekend to Oregon, I even remember talking to Kim and Tyler Malek from Salt and Straw about the ice cream maker(s) they use and recommend and why, jotting notes in my notebook to share with Tim.

scooping out ice cream

My Tim loves ice cream. I mean, he loves it. He’s been dreaming of making his own (with raw milk because that’s what we drink) since long before he knew me (there are handwritten notes that prove this fact).

spoonful of ice cream

So having told you all that, I probably don’t have to tell you what happened when, after our honeymoon, opening the handful of gifts at my parents’ house in Chicago that our friends hadn’t already transported down to Tennessee for us, we found one very heavy, very large box sitting amongst them, holding that dream ice cream maker (a Delonghi GM6000, if you’re curious):

those first few weeks back in Nashville, he must have made ice cream eight or nine times.

Literally.

bowl of ice cream

And while I’ve been telling Tim all along, amongst our ice cream night with friends and homemade ice cream at the pie party and quiet nights at home filled with scoops of chocolate chocolate chip or bourbon vanilla or cinnamon or hazelnut coconut chocolate chip, that one of these days, I’ll really have to blog these ice creams, it wasn’t until recently, amidst our raw experiment week, when Tim made a raw ice cream sweetened only with dried fruit (!!), that I got too excited to contain myself.

raw brownie  and raw chocolate ice cream

So, without further ado, I bring you the most interesting ice cream I’ve ever had: Tim calls it raw chocolate. With an ingredients list including raw milk, dried fruit, raw organic egg yolks (does that scare you? read this), cocoa powder, vanilla, gelatin and cream (if we’d had raw cream, this could have been a totally raw version), it’s free of refined sugar and, I can almost promise, unlike anything you’ve ever had: icy and sweet, flecked with hints of raisin (although next time, we might just do dates), refreshing and unique and delicious.

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Brown Butter Cranberry Hazelnut Tart + Chocolate Tart

bokeh christmas tree

I never thought much about what our first Christmas would be like—which is funny because, for a classic overthinker like me, it’s rare not to think about something. Maybe it was because of how big October seemed and how faraway December felt.

first christmas

The first week, we bought a six-foot Fraser fir, purchased from a giant red-and-white tent outside Home Depot, a tree that smells like the forest and sheds needles every day. We stowed it in the back of Tim’s car, alongside a poinsettia and a fresh wreath from Aldi, and put it in our living room, inside a plastic stand Tim hadn’t used for four years and topped by white bulb lights I’d hung at that blog birthday party I had in 2009.

advent calendar

We hung a homemade advent calendar (inspiration: summer harms) on our dining room window, made of leftover wedding kraft envelopes and filled with holiday activities each of us wrote on slips of paper, mixed together and inserted randomly.

The first day was kisses every hour; the second was a thankful list to hang on the fridge.

We made a bed by the tree and read “The Gift of the Magi.”

christmas craft night

We had some of our favorite kids over to make ornaments, just simple circles cut out and hung with red string, after which we ate popcorn and watched a movie about a valiant mouse.

stockings

We took our burlap wedding runners and made stockings.

burlap Christmas wrapping

Then we took more and wrapped gifts.

pie day saturday

And last Saturday, we had a holiday pie party at our house, where everyone brought a pie to share—lemon meringue, key lime meringue, candied apple, pumpkin.

For our contributions, Tim and I made two tarts: David Lebovitz’s dark chocolate (the perfect dessert for incorporating some coffee Starbucks sent me a few months ago):

chocolate tart

And Meg Gordon’s brown butter cranberry with a hazelnut crust, beautifully Christmassy with its bright red berries and set on a nutty cookie-like crust:

cranberry tart

And so here we are, less than two weeks from Christmas Day, in the throes of new traditions and new memories, and I’m certain of one thing:

I may not have thought much about what our Christmas would be, but I know I will think, often, of what it was.

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Soft & Chewy Salted Caramel

homemade caramel

Two years ago, I made my dad caramels for his birthday. They were hard and crunchy, like gold-wrapped Werther’s, the kind that would crack like glass when you bit them.

While I’d been after something a little more chewy that time, since that’s how Dad likes them most, it turned out candy-making could be something of an art, especially when you were new to it, so all I could muster were those smooth caramel stones, best for placing between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and slowly melting away. I gave them to him, presenting them proudly, and I put my candy thermometer away.

cooking caramel

But then this year, when Tim and I were up visiting a few months ago, talking to my dad in the kitchen about dinner plans or about something we’d baked, Dad, almost out of nowhere, asked if I’d thought about trying caramels again. Maybe soft and chewy this time? he’d asked, hopefully, like it would really mean something to him if I could.

caramels in pan

Now I know a lot of people would say their dad is great, the best, the guy they always looked up to, but my dad, who continually surprises me with his generosity and compassion and ability to think of other people more highly than himself, really is something special. And since he so rarely asks me to make him anything, I didn’t just want to make him these caramels—I had to.

Which meant it was time to revisit the art of candy-making.

caramels to cut

There’s a reason they call things an art, you know? The art of painting, the art of marriage, the art of caramels—you can’t just check some tasks off a list and expect genius. There’s some skill involved. Some creativity and some adjusting and some finding a rhythm. And usually, art isn’t easy.

For me, as if trying to make candy in the first place wasn’t challenge enough, I also wanted to do it with better ingredients: without corn syrup and without white sugar.

But while art isn’t easy, it is worth it.

caramels, wrapped

Because guess what? It worked.

It took three tries and two bonus trips to the grocery store, but last Wednesday night, while Tim and my brother-in-law and I drove up to Chicago for the holiday weekend, it was with more than thoughts of turkey and sweet potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce: It was with these soft and chewy salted caramels, created with sorghum syrup and sucanat, sitting in the back seat, individually wrapped and tucked inside a burlap-covered mason jar.

Happy birthday, Dad.

(He was worth it, too.)

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Coconut Cupcakes (+ Xylitol!)

Thank you all so much for your congratulations and excitement on the last post! I told Tim, getting engaged feels like this giant burst of love from everyone who’s known you—and even some that haven’t. Thanks for sharing in our joy, every one of you. You are the best part of blogging.

And speaking of the best parts of food blogging, let me tell you about another one: namely, getting exposed to new and interesting ingredients—like Xyla (Xylitol), for example, the alternative sweetener I used in today’s coconut-packed cupcakes.

xylitol

Before an email from Xylitol USA found its way into my inbox a few weeks ago, I had heard a little bit about this “un-sugar.” I knew it was popular in chewing gums, but, actually, it turns out it’s been used in the dental field for more than sixty years, praised for its plaque- and cavity- fighting abilities, as well as power to fight demineralization of tooth enamel and mouth infections.

Even beyond dental benefits, Xyla has a long list of selling points, according to its sellers: way lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar (it’s like a 3 compared to 100) so it hits your body differently in terms of insulin, anti-aging properties, helps prevent ear infections, fights bacteria, increases absorption of B vitamins, aids in weight loss, inhibits harmful yeast. What’s more, Xylitol is said to be all-natural, derived from certain fibrous vegetables and fruit—or, like what Xylitol USA sells, from birch trees.

On the other hand, some research suggests there are dangers associated with this sweetener: an article in Natural News pointed out that not all Xylitol is created equal, as “one commonly used source is corn imported from China”—which then needs to be highly processed before consumption, making it a far cry from all natural. It’s really pretty interesting to read about Xyla; it’s been getting more and more buzz, with all kinds of mixed opinions floating around.

one cup of xylitol

Since Xylitol USA’s product comes directly from birch trees (a change made as recently as last year), I feel a little more comfortable using it in baking, where it’s supposed to be a one-to-one swap for sugar, behaving, looking, and tasting almost exactly like it.

So when, last week, I was in the mood for a cupcake loaded with coconut (we’re talking coconut milk, coconut oil, shredded coconut; coconut in the cake, coconut in the frosting), I pulled out the Xylitol to give it a shot as the sweetener to make it happen.

three eggs

Just to make sure I was giving you a fair assessment, I had at least seven people taste these cupcakes, quizzing them on level of sweetness, weird after-tastes, anything that stood out to them. The verdict? Xyla is a definite win.

One person thought the cupcakes had a very slight metal taste; a few of us thought they were powerfully sweet (but then, not eating regular sugar can affect your sensitivity to these things); but overall, these cupcakes were deemed delicious desserts. I will also add that since I used whole-grain spelt flour, they had a dense quality that’s hard to get away from with alternative flours.

coconut cupcakes

So would I use Xylitol again? Maybe. It’s hard to find in stores, so the Internet would be the only way to get it (XylitolUSA.com is actually offering a discount code for Food Loves Writing readers: 10% off with code FIRST).

cupcakes in container

I liked the way it tasted and I liked the fact that it’s a natural substitute for sugar—especially one that is so much lower on the glycemic index. Nonetheless, I’d like to do some more research before feeling confident.

So what about you: Have you ever used Xylitol? Know anything about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any interesting research you find!

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