Strawberry (Basil) Jam + Strawberry Jam Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Field of Strawberries

Last week, my friend Christina and I went strawberry picking. I like Christina. Christina is sharp and funny and unassuming enough to regularly surprise you as you get to know her over time. She’s one of the maybe three friends I’ve ever had who is a twin. I’ve always wished I were a twin. People sometimes mistook my brother and me for twins (do you see it?) but, as his knee-jerk reaction has always been sheer and absolute horror when these assumptions have been made, I think it’s safe to say I’m the only one flattered there. I met Christina’s twin, Nicole, a few months ago over tacos at a table barely as wide as a paperback book; I liked her, too.

Freshly Picked Strawberries

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Not Your Momma’s Chocolate Pudding (Three Ways)

Chocolate pudding has always been my comfort food—and, contrary to what the title of this post might suggest, my momma makes a great one. That hot, creamy Cook N’Serve of my childhood was pure heaven to the both of us more nights than I can count. We’d pull out the tiny cardboard box, rip open a paper envelope, combine the contents with milk on the stove and whisk and heat that mixture until it grew into a thick, creamy, throat-coating dessert. I liked it best when it was hot, almost steaming. But we’d both also eat it cold, having been covered with wrap in the fridge. It was milky. It was rich. It was the first thing I’d reach for when I’d had a rough day. But lately, I’ve been learning there’s more than one kind of creamy, chocolate comfort.

Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding

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Moosewood Brownies (+ Etsy Shop Announcement)

Moosewood Brownies | foodloveswriting.com

About a week ago, Tim and I made a quick stop at McKay’s, which, for the record, is the largest, cleanest used bookstore I’ve ever been to in my life. Set high up off Old Hickory Boulevard on Nashville’s west side, McKay’s exterior looks more like a bulk warehouse shopping center than a place that makes it easy for anyone to walk in and buy or sell old books any day of the week. You park your car in an eco-friendly brick parking lot and walk inside to a bright, high-ceilinged space filled with aisles and aisles of books, books on tape, CDs and DVDs. The inventory’s always changing, so even if you’ve just been in a week before, you still never know what you’ll find when you come. In December, I bought a Mexican cookbook that later had me Googling for information about its illustrator, a woman who loved beautiful buildings and architecture as much as I do. Last Monday, we came looking for a children’s book; we left instead with a hardcover Tim had been wanting and a $2 original copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977, for me.

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Coconut Milk Mexican Flan (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

Coconut Milk Mexican Flan | FoodLovesWriting.com

I go to used bookstores for the same reason I look into windows when we’re driving down residential streets at night: I like to imagine the people inside. The same way I fix my gaze on the warm glow of a table illuminated by candlelight or the man who’s sitting in his recliner all alone, I pick up a hardcover, tracing over the handwriting, wondering about the person who underlined that passage or the reader who signed her name in this front flap.

This might be what I love about the first-edition copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking, written by Jan Aaron and Georgine Sachs Salom, that I found at McKay Used Book Store Friday Night. Published in 1965, this beauty has all the earmarks of another era, one in which American women still wore skirts and aprons to make dinner and in which Mexican food (along with other ethnic cuisines) was just beginning to enter the conversation.

Art of Mexican Cooking | FoodLovesWriting.com

There are hand-drawn illustrations at the division pages, created by artist Dierdre Stanforth, the same woman who did illustrations for a Betty Crocker cookbook two years later and for books on New Orleans after that. I’d never thought much about book illustrations until recently, when we went and made an ebook and hired the amazing Rebekka Seale to create the cover—now I notice them everywhere I look: on blogs, on Pinterest, when I’m flipping through the thick pages of my new vintage book.

Over the last few nights, reading The Art of Mexican Cooking before bed, usually out loud to Tim, along with continually remarking that “This entire recipe is a paragraph! One paragraph! These directions kill me!,” I’ve also been thinking about the woman who drew the maps in the front and back pages and who sketched two large pots of soup in front of Mexican tiling.

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Summer Days + Homemade Soft Serve

PercyPriest_skyblurrytree

It’s a bloody hot day in Nashville, a Wednesday, the kind of day where walking the 50 or so feet from your kitchen door to the mailbox means beads of sweat forming fast on your forehead and upper lip. Tim and I are inside, working, I at my laptop on the dining room table, he from his computer on the sofa. When I look up from the article I’m writing, I see him straight ahead; when I turn to the right, it’s all blue skies and beating sunshine above our front yard.

I want to be sitting in the grass, I want to be having a picnic, I want to be sipping lemonade while rocking on a giant front porch.

Then I remember the heat, and I change my mind: I want to go swimming.

PercyPriest_sky

“What time is it?” I say to Tim. He tells me it’s half past noon. “Too bad,” I answer back. “Wish we had time to go to the lake.”

And then we look at each other from across our freelance perches, and he says what we’re both thinking: oh yeah, we do.

PercyPriest_woods

PercyPriest_dreamy

So we finish our work and throw some towels in a bag and drive 20 minutes to Percy Priest, the manmade lake that makes Nashville feel a little less landlocked. We haven’t been there since last summer, when we were still engaged, on a Saturday that was loud and crowded and earned me a sunburn on my back.

PercyPriest_beach

Today it’s quiet, just a few dozen people grilling or swimming or soaking up sun. We stretch our blanket out in the green grass, sandy shores ahead of us, the smell of charcoal in the air. We step into the water and it’s warm, like a bathtub, and I don’t have to shudder when I dip my toes in first.

We’re only there two hours, but it’s two hours that feels a million miles from life—a few hours that feels like a summer vacation in the middle of the day. We walk, hand in hand, to the water; come back to the blanket to dry off; go back to the water; come back to the blanket. It’s so peaceful, so relaxing, so like Wisconsin or Florida.

percypriest_book

I finish the book I’ve been reading, “Writing Down the Bones, in which Natalie Goldberg talks about one of her favorite writing prompts for students: to talk about a time when you were happy. She says this is worth doing because,

“Stories stay with us … Our stories are important … To begin with, write like you talk, nothing fancy. This will help you get started.”

I look up from where I’m laying on my stomach, elbows propping me up, and a little girl runs past us in her bathing suit. I hear voices laughing in the water. I see Tim laying next to me, a smile on his face. We go back into the lake, and the way I talk to him, while we’re standing together, water coming just above our shoulders, minnows swimming past our feet, is with a breathless, “This is so fun!”

PercyPriest_sandytoes

We come home, taking showers and sweeping up sand and unpacking our towels, and we make frozen yogurt. It tastes like soft serve—the kind I used to get at places like TCBY, perfect for piling high with toppings like fruit and coconut and nuts, perfect for eating on the couch with your husband after an afternoon at the lake.

softserve_twinbowls

And I want to tell you here, the way I’d tell you if we were talking, how much I like this day, how much I love laying by the water on a weekday, surrounded by forests and swimmers and picnic tables.

homemadesoftserve_strawberries

softserve_wstrawberriescoconut

But then I think about Natalie Goldberg and about writing how we talk, and all that comes out is “It was wonderful!” and “I love this” and “This is so fun!” So then I think, you know, sometimes, maybe that’s exactly right.

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Give Me a Big Scoop

chocolate ice cream VEGAN STYLE

Here is the ugly truth: When I eat too much ice cream, I get sick.

But I love ice cream.

vanilla ice cream VEGAN STYLE

Saturday night, at around 10:30 PM, I couldn’t say no to a big, frothy milkshake at Stella’s Diner, orange and vanilla like a Creamsicle. For what it’s worth, it was delicious. And I don’t know if it was the milkshake itself, or the combining of said milkshake with scrambled eggs, two-and-a-half pancakes (not all three because, please, I show some restraint) and a few fries, but I got so sick later, people. Sick enough that all I ate for breakfast the next day was a mushy banana and sick enough that I might not want another milkshake for a very long time.

chocolate ice cream from above

Maybe this sort of thing happens to you, too? I like to think I have an iron stomach, but I don’t, and it’d be nice to know I’m not alone. If I’m really honest with you, I’ll also mention, technically, I have Crohn’s Disease, which is a digestive disorder that requires, among other things, regular medication, annual doctor visits and, this is the worst part, watching what you eat. It’s no big deal, most of the time. Just when I do things like, you know, eat milkshakes late at night, chased by breakfast foods. Also, when I have too much chocolate, too many cookies, very spicy foods and, I swear, the smallest cup of regular coffee. But that’s probably true of most everyone. Right?

vanilla ice cream from above

What I need, you could say, is a way to enjoy foods I love (i.e., ice cream) without fear of churning-stomach consequences. In other words, I need Wheeler’s.

chocolate and vanilla

Have you heard of Wheeler’s? I’d guess if you’re from Boston, you have. That’s where the storefront is, drawing people for healthy ice cream flavors that include everything from coffee to oreo to blueberry to coconut. Made with soy, almond, coconut or rice milks, these creations have 1/3 fewer calories than regular ice cream and are just as creamy, icy and refreshing.

inside of Vegan Scoop

Also, since we we’ve been talking about vegetarianism around here, it seems appropriate to mention that these recipes are 100% vegan, using various milks, arrowroot powder (available in the spices aisle at the grocery store, at least at Whole Foods) and sometimes crazy things like cocoa butter instead of dairy or egg products.

And now, with the arrival of their new cookbook, The Vegan Scoop, we who are not from Boston can try the ice cream, too.

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On Expectations

vanilla muffin cakes

The story of these vanilla bean cupcakes with salted caramel frosting is bittersweet—a perfect example of what you shouldn’t do, and I don’t just mean with recipes.

It’s the same thing I’d tell my teenage self, that cocky girl who felt she had the future in her control. Looking her square in the eyes, my hands tight on her shoulders as I shake them slightly, I’d tell her, whatever you do, if you can just remember this one thing: Don’t set unfair expectations. (On my way out, I might also add that a little styling product could do wonders for your wavy hair, but that has nothing to do with these cupcakes.)

Those simple words would have saved me a lot of heartache, trite as it sounds. If I could have learned then that when someone hurts your feelings, it’s possibly unintended; or that when it is intended, that person could be coming from a very dark, unhappy place that deserves your pity not your anger; and that, most importantly, whatever hurt your feelings, you’ve probably said and done something very similar or worse—maybe I would have learned to cut people some slack—that, and spent a few less nights listening to depressing music or whining on the phone.

From where I sit today, I know setting someone or something on a pedestal is probably the absolute worst thing you can do to it. The moment you demand things must be, you set yourself up to be devastated when they aren’t. With some things—a job that provides paychecks, for example—it’s fair to be demanding; with others—a friend that forgets to call you back or never returns your e-mails—it’s not.

But now I’m getting carried away with myself. Back to the cupcakes. From the moment I got the Chow.com e-mail, luring me with words like “irresistible” and “flecked with vanilla,” I built these vanilla bean cupcakes up to be the most marvelous I would have ever had.

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