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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Food and wine with friends is always a good day.

The prompt for today is “best day of 2021,” so I thumbed through my planner to find the best day. I was already up to five by April, so I just decided to go top ten. In order (somewhat) of occurrence:

  1. Inauguration Day (January 20) – I am not a person who believes that political leaders (particularly milquetoast, capitalist, and/or status-quo-y ones) are the answers to our problems. I suspect that in order for someone to make it to the highest offices in our country, they’ve probably had to (and will continue to) compromise a lot and do some pretty shady things that likely do more to add to our problems than to solve them. When I vote, it’s typically for the least objectionable person who could actually win whose future speeches are the least likely to inspire me to damage whatever screen I’m viewing them on. But I enjoyed Inauguration Day. I enjoyed hearing Amanda Gorman share The Hill We Climb, and I loved watching her capture the day on Instagram. The Bernie memes still make me laugh. It’s just a day to take a breath, and it was nice to do so.
  2. Spiderweb Loves You – This virtual performance on Valentine’s Day was a poem I pieced together from text conversations with Maggie and Michelle. As with our conversations, topics ranged from favorite TV moments to the stressors of the day. I love them both a lot, and I love that Spiderweb gives us a specific space each year to love on the people who are important to us.
  3. Birthday celebrations (technically spanned more than one day, but let’s be real – there are no rules here) – Between visiting Texas Tulips and having lunch with Tammy, wine/coffee/pastry/book shopping, dinner and hangout with CM and Sarah, an All Booked Up outing with Sarah and Joan, and new shelves and delicious early dinner with Steph, Nathan, Tammy, and Matt, I was especially well loved on the days surrounding my birthday in March.
  4. Wine and pizza at Fortunata with Kim and Beth – It was the perfect evening. Friends, food, wine, live music that we definitely sang along to, getting out of the house. Such a lovely time with two of my favorite people and some of my favorite simple pleasures.
  5. Denton Community Market – Maybe I went on opening day? The day I’m remembering was at least one of the first days in April that it was open for the season. I usually avoid DCM early on (let the crowds thin out and the summer veggies show up), but this year I was excited about it. At any rate, my favorite DCM day was the one where I saw (and hugged!) so many friends in person whom I had mostly just seen virtually for the past year.
  6. Maggie and Michelle weekend!!! In late May, Maggie and Michelle came to see me! It was so exciting. We ate delicious things, chatted, and watched TV for a long, luxurious weekend. I miss them so much. The weekend was so fun we decided that it needs to be a yearly(ish) ritual.
  7. In-person gatherings – My Cookbook club, church book club, and Follow the Reader are meeting in person again! We started getting together again about mid-year, and it’s been so nice. 
  8. Spiderweb at the farm – One of CM’s friends has a farm nearby (with sheep! And donkeys!), and we were invited over to lounge in the pool, enjoy the outside and make art a few evenings during the summer. It was an amazing little mid-week reprieve. 
  9. Colorado trip! I actually took a vacation this year. I went with Spiderfriends to a cabin in Colorado where we hiked (well, they hiked. I mostly wheezed and stayed at the cabin), read, played games and enjoyed each other’s company. It was nice to take a real break (from both jobs!) for a few days.
  10. Spiderdead – So many of my best and most memorable days include Spiderweb Salon. I really love these people and the community we have together. I got to help share a friend’s poetry during our yearly grief ritual, and it was a great experience. It was my first time performing on stage at Rubber Gloves, so that made it special to me, too.

The fact that 2021 holds so many best days for me indicates that I had a pretty good year. It hasn’t always felt that way, so this was a nice discovery.

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Whew. The holiday season is approaching at a breakneck speed and I am not sure I’m ready. There are a few things I’m looking forward to, such as our mid-week Advent services, the solo I get to sing the first Sunday of January, and the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree, but for the most part, I’m already tired and over it. Here are some things that I enjoyed this week while trying to coax myself into the holiday spirit.

  1. Speaking of spirits, I have toyed with the idea of a wine Advent calendar for years but this may be the year it actually happens. A little celebratory libation to end each day and trying out some new wines? I think so.
  2. Some people love turkey, dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer), and other holiday standards. My favorite holiday foods are the pies. I would eat every single one of these. Except the pot pie, because yuck. But otherwise? Yum.
  3. Earlier in the week, Maggie and I had this exchange:
    Maggie: You know what I forgot about? FoodGawker
    Me: …..
    Me: !!!!!!
    Me: OMG ME TOO
    So I have spent a good portion of time this week strolling down Memory Lane by scrolling back through my saved recipes and remembering all the tasty treats I enjoyed courtesy of this site. Wow, at one point I really did think I was going to make my own cheese. I appreciate my former self’s ambition. That’s adorable.
  4. “I want to line the whole place with bookcases. Then I want to paint them green, because that is the proper library colour, and then I want to fill them with books and be happy for ever.” Life goals.
  5. If you’ve already done your gift shopping…I’m jealous and also do you want to do mine, too? No? Really? You’re just going to sit there and be smug with your I’ve-finished-my-shopping-already face and leave me to suffer? Well, ok then. But if you haven’t finished and want to order things in time for Christmas or your holiday of choice (or January birthdays…I don’t know your gifting habits), Sarah Bessey curates a gift guide that features places that do good in the world in some form or fashion.

What are some things (internet or otherwise) you’ve seen this week that you loved?

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I don’t re-read a lot of books. There are a few exceptions. I read The Little Prince every New Year’s Day. If I really love a book or a character, I’ll read it once or twice again. But mostly, I stick to new experiences with books I’ve never read before.

One genre is an exception. Foodie fiction.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Chocolat. I picked it up for the first time after the movie came out, and I love getting lost in that little village so much I read it again every few years, particularly when the seasons change or it is particularly windy outside.

I don’t often re-read the whole book at a time. Just sections I particularly enjoy. Or I open it to get a recipe inside (the red lentil soup from Pomegranate Soup? One of my favorites, particularly garnished with pan-crisped onions), and I find myself reading the pages around it. It is very easy for me to get distracted by a story that revolves around food.

I especially like it when food novels have a magical element to them. Because food itself has a bit of magic to it, and I feel like these books are a nod to that truth. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has lovely insights into empathy, and Like Water for Chocolate takes cooking with love (and other emotions) to a whole new level.

Some people turn to novels set in their favorite travel locations when they need a good escape. I enjoy those, but my great escape often leads to the kitchen and the delights I discover there. My favorite book escapes lean that direction, too.

I’m writing about some of my favorite books this month.

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Day 18 – Food Memoirs

No, I haven’t pilfered some of these from the library. They were bought legitimately through a library sale. But if I were ever going to steal a library book…it might be a food memoir.

In my main collection, fiction and nonfiction stay mostly separated (to the extent that they can – fantasy and reality often overlap in life, so I suppose it’s inevitable in books). On my foodie shelf, though, memoirs and novels about food and its influence on the world cohabitate with reckless abandon.

I enjoy all kinds of books, but when I am looking for something comforting and decadent, rich and nourishing, I go for books that talk about food. Whether its a food writer by trade telling tales of all the wonderful places where they’ve eaten delectable things, a cook sharing some of the wealth of their knowledge, or a favorite celebrity talking about what food means to them, I am riveted.

This is a fairly new preference of mine. The first food writer I remember reading was Ruth Reichl. I can’t remember if I started with Tender at the Bone or Comfort Me With Apples (I mean, those titles alone. Come on.), but I greedily started the second right after I finished the first. I couldn’t get enough. She talked about learning to cook and her years as a young food writer, including many of the people she met along the way. Danny Kaye’s lemon pasta is still one of my comfort food favorites.

I understand the way food weaves into a story on a fundamental level. Most of my own stories and strongest memories are tied to a taste or a smell. The scent of melting chocolate reminds me of Thanksgiving (both happy and tumultuous) with my family. I once broke down sobbing at the farmer’s market upon discovering cream crowder peas, much to the chagrin of the kind farmer who pointed them out to me and innocently asked, “Have you ever tried them?” I explained (between gasps) that I hadn’t had them since my grandma – who used to grow them in her garden and had died recently – made them. He listened to me ramble, a little misty-eyed himself, and I’m pretty sure he snuck an extra quarter pound into my bag.

My most recent acquisition is Stanley Tucci’s Taste. I planned to save it for November, when I’m tackling The Joy of Cooking as my joy selection, but I’m not sure I can wait that long. Never mind that I will watch or read anything Stanley Tucci ever does (have you seen him make a Negroni, because you should), or that I’ve daydreamed more than once what it might be like if Stanley Tucci were my boyfriend. The way he comes to life when he talks about food is irresistible. I am really excited to tuck into this book.

No matter what kind of memoir you like – adventure, romance, quiet reflection – I bet there is a food memoir you’d like. Here are a few lists with great selections if you’d like to try:

Have you had the joy of a food memoir yet? Which one is your favorite?

I’m writing about books this month.

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I love both food and reading, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find myself reading Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking like a novel the first time I picked it up. I meant to just reference it to get some ideas about how to turn my ho-hum spaghetti sauce into something more delicious (simple, fresh, and slow is how you do it, btw), but I found myself captivated by this culinary icon’s love letter to food. Since then, it’s become a habit.

You can tell a lot about a cookbook by the way it’s written.

If you find basic instructions being repeated from recipe to recipe, this would be a good gift for a beginning cook. The author is building in repetition throughout to teach techniques that might be unfamiliar to those just starting.

If every ingredient (even spices) have specific measurements, the author likely learned to bake first. Baking is a precise science. Cooking? Not so much. Those who learned how to make meatloaf by peering past MeMaw’s elbow will say things like “to taste” and “you measure garlic with your heart.”

If the author wants you to think of good food as more than just what ends up on the plate, they’ll give commentary or tell stories.

These are my favorite kinds of cookbooks.

[Aside: Yes, I also love food blogs. I do want to hear all about your Aunt Gladys before you graciously share her split pea soup recipe with me. Ignore those jerks who complain about having to scroll through the story to get to the recipe, and shame on them for scrolling. They don’t deserve Aunt Gladys’s soup, and I hope they burn their tongues. Next time maybe they’ll just go to a recipe site and stop harassing you with their impatience and poor judgment. Being annoyed that a blogger is telling a story (i.e., blogging) is like going to an Italian restaurant and being mad that they serve pasta. It doesn’t make any sense. /endrant]

One of my favorite food storytellers is Nigella Lawson. In addition to the recipes in her cookbooks being super easy to follow, she regularly drops such gems as these in there:

  • “The trashy cook should not be stoveside too long without a drink in hand.” (Nigella Bites)
  • “This is the sort of cake you’d want to eat the whole of when you’ve been dumped.” (Nigella Bites)
  • “While you will never find me making zoodles or allowing any other vegetable to masquerade as pasta…” (in the recipe entitled “Subverting the Spiralizer” in At My Table)
  • “If the person-in-a-hurry is miniature in stature, and not progressed to caffeine intake…” (Nigella Express)
  • “I know that cookies sound like the sort of cooking someone else does…” (Forever Summer – or, if you have a more recent edition – Nigella Summer)

Just thumbing through these beloved cookbooks makes me want to make a shopping list and cook all the things. Rice pudding or happiness soup at an upcoming cookbook club? I think so.

Also, if you love food and cookbooks? Get or start a cookbook club. You can call it a supper club if you want. Potluck and share recipes/bring cookbooks to geek out over together. Good times.

I’m writing about as many of the ways that I love books that can fit into a mere 31 days.

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Sweater weather…if only in my apartment

One of my favorite posts I’ve read this month is Kaitlin Curtice’s autumn checklist. As seasons change, there is often an anticipation or rush or dread (depending on what the particular upcoming season tends to do to me), but the transition almost always includes a slight change in habits to accommodate whatever lies ahead.

I keep a standard list of tasks that I know I need to do on a regular basis for my life to feel somewhat put-together or fulfilled or happy or joyful. It is divided into general categories, and I track specific tasks within each category by color-coding so that I have a record of how often I do them (or how long it’s been and thus how I might want to work it in the next few days). The list I’ve been working with most of the year includes things you might expect:

  • Creative outlets (work on a knitting project, cook a meal, write, read, and play piano)
  • Movement (dance, kickboxing, run/walk, Pilates, and strength training)
  • Basic self-care (proper hydration, good food, and socializing online or in person)
  • Housekeeping (cleaning bathroom, doing dishes, taking out trash, doing laundry, and tidying)

As I enter fall, I look for ways to add more coziness and connection to my days. I like the idea of adding fun social outings to the mix so that I don’t isolate too much while also safeguarding the untasked downtime that I know I need for maintaining decent mental health by not packing my schedule with more meetings and obligations that try to pass themselves off as a social life. That was a long sentence that basically boils down to remembering that my social/solitude balance is important.

My reading habits also tend to change as the days get shorter and the weather grows cooler. I don’t always read more in the fall and winter but I do tend to choose more things in my comfort zone, which includes a lot of mysteries and gothic literature and magical realism and foodie fiction/memoir. You’ll see a lot more about my reading habits in October during this year’s 31 days series (more details coming on Friday).

Fall self-care looks like:

  • Warm beverages, cozy blankets, and books
  • Listening to records
  • Re-bingeing comfort shows (currently – Bones and Suits, but I’m about to start Once Upon a Time over and maybe actually watch the whole thing this time)
  • Restful weekends with minimal commitments
  • Coffee dates
  • Making big vats of soup
  • Sitting around fires

Do your self-care practices change with the seasons? If so, how?

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This week has been a little intense (some health things, some practical things, some Texas-summer-is-the-worst things), but I’m looking forward to the next couple of days. Maybe you want to enjoy a few of these things, too?

  • Playlist for The Magicians – Any time I really love a show or a book, I want a playlist that reminds me of it. The Magicians has a great soundtrack. I went to make one and found that there are already so many out there. This is a nice list to start with but this is definitely my dancing/reading/vegging vibe for tonight.
  • Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Readers’ Weekend – Minimal structure, maximum reading. Basically, the perfect weekend.
  • Suits Season 1 – I am rewatching this adorable show, starting this weekend. Yay!
  • Reconciling in Christ – our group is meeting on Sunday, and I’m glad my church is pursuing being more intentional about inclusion. This learning structure is not as…assertive…as I tend to be, but it’s a start.
  • Nectarines – I had a nectarine/cherry upside down cake at lunch and I forget every year how much I love nectarines but I think I’ll need some tomorrow. Maybe also apricots….

Hope you have a nice weekend as well!

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Today is the last day I will be working from home. I go back to the office tomorrow to staff the spring closedown/summer opening transition. A lot of transitions are happening right now.

Here are five things I’m particularly into/experiencing this month:

  • The fox family living in Susannah Conway’s backyard. I am so in love with these little darlings. Today we were happy to learn that, after a brief absence, the mama fox is still with them. I am riveted. One of them may or may not be my new background on my phone.
  • Drinking more water. It’s amazing (and by amazing, I do mean just basic biology) how much better I feel when I’m hydrated. To aid with this goal, I made a sub-goal of drinking a full bottle of water (20 oz.) first thing in the morning. This sometimes goes well and sometimes I lean back on “well, at least a full bottle by the time I finish my first cup of coffee.” That works really well, unless you take into account days like today where I put off taking the last swig of my first cup of coffee until mid-afternoon so that I can still meet my goal (see below). *sigh* Baby steps.
  • Coconut ice cream/gelato. I just love it. Specifically, the Talenti Caribbean Coconut. So good.
  • Easing back in to gatherings. This past year, I have learned a lot about myself and the people around me (metaphorically, as there have been few people actually around me). I have learned the difference between a barrier and a boundary. The next few weeks bring some long-awaited in-person reunions, and I’m very excited about that.
  • Knitting something I might actually wear. My box sweater has become longer and it’s so soft. I’m halfway through, so maybe I’ll get around to finishing it soon.

What are you into lately?

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I have dreams about this delicious stew.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been trying to limit my food waste for the last year, and I have had some pretty good successes. I used to throw out a lot of condiments. I would open a jar of salsa, for example, to eat with some chips, and the rest of it would sit in the fridge unused until it started to grow things. One might argue that another option is just to make salsa from scratch because 1) it’s so much better and 2) then I would only make as much as I need, but to make this argument one would first have to drastically overestimate my commitment to eating salsa. I’ve tried to pay more attention this year, only opening condiments when I have a plan for the whole container. It’s not perfect yet, but progress has been made.

I also used to throw out a lot of prepared food. I cook in big batches to save time and energy, but I always got tired of eating what I made on Saturday before it was all gone. I like leftovers, just not five times in the same week. This past year, I’ve been freezing leftovers so that they last longer, and it has completely eliminated my prepared food waste. I have included my favorite basic big-batch concept (the skillet meal) and variations of the recipe below. These have become my go-to staples, and at any given moment, I probably have a few servings of at least two of them in the freezer.

I find the peeling, chopping, etc., of fresh vegetables cathartic, and I’m so happy about the local produce available. But if you are short on desire, time, storage space, or access to fresh options, frozen veggies work beautifully in all of these recipes, too. I cook all of these things in my trusty, gigantic covered skillet. If my apartment were on fire, I’d save my grandmother’s quilt, the picture frame bookends with beloved photos from my childhood, and that skillet (not really – insurance would easily cover its replacement. But I do really, really love it).

Another thing to know about my cooking style – I rarely measure. This is why I need supervision when I bake, and I accept that about me. I may begrudgingly stick to a recipe the first time I try it, but then I do what I want until it “looks right” every time after that. I’ve included links to similar recipes for those of you who want a little more structure.

I also don’t like a lot of salt, so most people will want to add some to the seasoning step to taste.

Basic Skillet

  1. Sauté aromatics (onions, peppers, celery, garlic, etc.) until translucent-ish
  2. Add and cook protein/additional veggies (chicken, ground beef, beans, veggie crumbles, etc.)
  3. Add a large can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes or a mess of chopped fresh tomatoes from the market
  4. Add water (about three cups? Whatever roughly a large tomato can and a half is) and bring to a boil
  5. Add seasonings
  6. Add starch (enough to soak up the liquid, which will vary from recipe to recipe. Just make sure it is all thoroughly covered with room for stirring and you should be fine) and cover, stirring occasionally, until it’s done
  7. Add final touches and serve

Cheeseburger skillet – similar to Budget Bytes Skillet Cheeseburger Pasta – it’s essentially Hamburger Helper from scratch so it’s got the childhood nostalgia going for it. Onions and peppers (1), ground beef, veggie crumbles, or black beans (2), onion soup packet and fresh ground black pepper (5), your favorite small pasta (6), top with dill pickle relish (although I just stir a few spoonfuls into the big batch itself) and cheddar cheese to serve (7).

Chickpea stew (pictured above) – I can’t remember where I got this idea. I may have just had a lot of the ingredients in the kitchen and thought, “I wonder how that would taste together.” Onions, peppers (I used a poblano in this one and I highly recommend that), celery, and garlic (1), chickpeas (2), garam masala (5), top with raisins or currants (optional but delicious) to serve.

Cajun skilletanother Budget Bytes inspiration – really delicious no matter which protein option you choose. Onions, garlic, and bell peppers (1), chicken, sausage, or kidney beans…or all three (2), oregano, thyme, cayenne, paprika, red pepper flakes, black pepper (5), a cup and a half (ish) of rice (6).

Mozzarella skilletessentially, cavatini (but mine is better) – this is one of my favorite meals from childhood. Mom made it with ground beef and pepperoni, but I usually make it vegetarian. It’s delicious both ways. Onions and garlic (1), ground beef, pepperoni, pancetta, and/or diced salami – alternatively (or additionally -just throw everything in), zucchini, eggplant, and/or spinach or whatever green you have handy (2), onion soup packet, oregano, thyme, basil, a little cayenne, black pepper (5), your favorite pasta (6). Then – take all the mozzarella you have (shred it first, of course – for scale, Mom made this in the small stock pot and put 32 oz. of cheese in there – do not skimp) – and stir it into the skillet until it’s melted and, frankly, glorious. Add shaved Parmesan on top to serve.

I typically eat these dishes as meals by themselves, but I suppose you could serve a salad and bread alongside them. If you simply must act civilized about it. But there’s something so comforting to me about tucking into one delicious bowl of goodness.

And bonus – they all freeze beautifully.

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“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.”
-Leonard Nimoy

So today was the last workday of the year for me. I have been counting down HOURLY. I have never been more excited about having a little time off. The week has been fairly busy but not too much, and that’s good because I’ve just been too excited to focus as well as I usually do/at all in any way. I spent the afternoon finalizing student withdrawals and making sure I had everything ready for when I come back on January 4. And now it’s officially done.

All this is to say that I haven’t really had the extra focus I needed to post about joy every day, so we get to prolong the magic of this series probably into the new year. I mean, I’m still hoping my elusive industrious self will resurface over the next couple of weeks (once I’m well-rested again) and thus that I can double up on some days and finish in time. But just like sending Christmas cards or some of my Advent calendar things that feel more like busy work than anything helpful this year, I’m going to actually take the advice I frequently give others and let some of the things that don’t have to happen slide. When you’re juggling 14 balls at a time, it’s ok if some of them drop (My INTJ/Enneagram 5 brain PASSIONATELY disagrees, but I plan on feeding it pasta pretty soon to appease it).

A practice that I started one year when I wanted to make sure I posted at least once a week (heh – remember those days, some of you? Good times.) was Friday Five. I would choose five things I saw on the internet that week that made me think, made me believe in humanity a little bit more, or just gave me joy, and I would share them with my readers. To my delight, what I found is that the act of sharing these things was itself a joy. In sharing them, I got to relive them, and I got to imagine the happiness they might bring to other people.

So here is today’s Friday Five – five things I saw on the internet this week/month that I hope can give you a fun start to your weekend. And yes, to share some joy.

  1. For fans of Schitt’s Creek (and if you aren’t yet, Netflix binge it and become one and you’re welcome) – a little Christmas treat.
  2. This Twitter thread – spoiler alert, a lonely little girl finds out fairies are real and gets to meet one.
  3. Just in case you’re wondering how to wrap a goat for Christmas (you could be…I don’t know your life)…in related news, I am open to accepting gift-wrapped goats for Christmas.
  4. Tabitha Brown is a treasure. When she posts her videos, I feel like she understands my sadness and wants me to know that it’s ok to feel sad but I also sort of feel like she knows how to fix it and I would trust her to do so. I want to support everything she ever does.
  5. Jen Hatmaker making risotto is the recipe-writing style to which I aspire. Best line? “Have you ever thought, ‘This has too much butter and cheese in it?’ No you haven’t. Don’t get weird.”

Enjoy these posts and your weekend!

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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