Beautiful Strength

20120630-213848.jpg

Tonight I am blissfully tired and my living room smells of peonies. It has been a crazy week full of much hard work and punctuated by good food and time among friends.

On Friday night a few of us threw a baby shower for a good friend of ours. We sat around the back yard, surrounded by paper lanterns and candlelight falling on mismatched china, filling ourselves with sweet cake and nourishing conversation. At the end of the night, everyone pitched in to carry in the dishes, fold up the tablecloths and blow out the candles.

There is something so powerful about a group of women working together to accomplish something, no matter how common. As I watched one of my good friends at the end of a very long day, I was inspired by her inner strength, by the way she just does things, all the time. It doesn’t matter if it is hard, or if it is something she doesn’t want to do or something she doesn’t think she is good at. She does it. She makes things happen.

Nora Ephron died this week. Her films are among my favorites, classics each to their own decades and beautifully quotable. I have never read her essays, but after reading the remarkable obituary in The New York Times I feel I must.

I especially love the quote from Meryl Streep, who said, “She was an expert in all the departments of living well.” I get the feeling that Ms. Ephron—like my friend—was not one to just let things happen to her. She did things. She wrote and directed films because she knew she could tell her stories better than a man could interpret them. She wrote about women who did things, who stood up to the competition, who took on impossible tasks, who lived amazing stories.

I am surrounded by women living amazing stories. I cannot begin to list the ways that they lift one another up, nurture one another and love their families and friends to the nth degree. They are my inspiration, my go-to “experts” when I need a boost. Through them I realize how much I could do, and I want to go and do it. It’s an understated strength, and a wholly beautiful one.

P.S.: I also agree with Nora on the pie.

One SWEET Recipe Shortcut

Spoiler Alert: This “recipe” absolutely BLEW MY MIND! I can’t believe I didn’t know this before, and now I’m never going back.

I can really see this as the key to getting more of the all important dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin B6, which is apparently good for maintaining your sodium/potassium balance (who knew?), something I recently read is important in weight management.

It will also be the key to putting some more color on our dinner plates.

So here it is. You can bake sweet potatoes in your crock pot!!!

It’s so easy! And you can do about six at one time—enough for dinner and some lunches that week or to freeze. Continue reading

Mixing it Up in 2012

It’s odd, if you take a second to think about it, how much stock we put in the New Year. It’s just another month really, something that happens 11 other times every year, countless times in the course of a lifetime. But somehow this is special.

Maybe it’s because it comes just after the holidays when most of us have overdone and when there are so many new things. Maybe like all our other obsessions with time it’s about making the best of what we’re given or putting off the inevitable end. It’s odd that we have chosen this one time of year to be intentional, but I think it’s not a bad tradition, all in all.

We had a wonderful holiday. We got to spend some serious quality time with both of our families and with many friends whom we had not seen in quite a while. There is a lot to be thankful for, and we had many opportunities to look back on a fantastic 2011.

Highlights include:

  • Moving to a new home and making some tough decisions that will make a big difference in our futures.
  • Grabbing hold of opportunities to find mini-vacations, which took us to Chattanooga, Madison, Wisc., Myrtle Beach, and Chapel Hill, reconnected us with far away friends and brought us closer together.
  • Participating in a professional project that took me outside my comfort zone and gave me a real taste of what could be.
  • Writing a book. No really–I was a “winner” of National Novel Writing Month 2011, and writing 50,000 words in 30 days was an enlightening experience.

No blog post can really capture the meaning of a year or of a life. But if there’s one thing I did learn from NaNoWriMo, it’s that putting things in writing makes them real. That, and putting your goals out there in public is the only hope for accountability.

So here it is, some road signs, if you will, for making 2012 another excellent year. Continue reading

Summer Spaghetti Primavera

This quick and colorful dish became a regular appearance on the dinner table this summer. It’s full of healthy veggies and makes great use of those fresh CSA items that I didn’t always have a plan for.

Summer Spaghetti Primavera

  • 5 oz. uncooked spaghetti
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large handfuls green beans, rinsed and trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2-3 large summer squash, cut into 1/2 in. dice — I used a combo of yellow crookneck, zucchini and pattypan
  • 2 Tbsp. pesto
  • Parmesan cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions and drain. (I’m a huge fan of this energy-saving technique.) Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add green beans and garlic. Sauté 2-3 minutes. Add squash and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until squash has softened and is slightly golden. Toss spaghetti, vegetables and pesto together. Divide between two plates and top with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan.

Serves 2.

Curried Okra Fries


My husband is a great sport when it comes to what I do in the kitchen. He is willing to try anything I cook and he’s patient when I got on about improving something he finds already quite delicious. And he’s not a picky eater. Really there are only three things I cannot get him to eat: beets, eggplant, and okra.

Beets taste just a little bit too much like dirt for his preference (I even baked them into delicious cupcakes, with no success.) And eggplants and okra are slimy. And when okra isn’t slimy, it’s fuzzy. I get it, I do. But I also keep receiving these three vegetables in our CSA box in rather unavoidable quantities, which means I’m always having to come up with some way to cook or preserve them so that I can enjoy them all by myself before they go bad.

I’ve baked and pickled. (I’m quite excited to see how the pickled eggplant turns out!) And unfortunately I have composted as well. But today I wanted to try a little something different. Enter okra fries.

Continue reading

Big Ass Pancake

20110810-100727.jpg

So we just got back from vacation this week, and as my mother says, the first day back from vacation is always the hardest day of the year.

Because we had been out of town, I hadn’t been to the grocery store in a while, and I wasn’t about to go on that first day back. So dinner was going to have to come out of whatever odds and ends we had in the pantry. Enter the Big Ass Pancake.

The original recipe just refers to it as Big Pancake (also often known as the Dutch Baby), but I prefer the added word, partly in homage to hilarious local blogger and artist Robin, who paints this great, and aptly named, piece here. I have recently become quite enamored with my cast iron skillet—so it’s role in this recipe was the first selling point. The second was that I had almost everything it called for. I say almost because I had to make “milk” out of fat free half & half and some water.

Nevertheless, the Big Ass Pancake turned out delicious in a big ass way. I halved the recipe to make just one pan, and my husband and I split it, topped it with some homemade applesauce, powdered sugar and a few drops of lemon juice. The resulting dish was somewhat like a cross between pancakes and french toast—and my husband said it reminded him of croissants.  But it was good; and I will make it again. Probably this weekend.

P.S.: If you’re curious about cooking with cast iron but worried about the maintenance, check out this article for a super-easy way to keep up the best pan you’ll ever own.