cauliflower soup

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It’s chilly and crisp and autumnal and I love it. I love soup all times of the year, but particularly as the days get shorter and the air gets cooler. There’s a reason why you’re supposed to eat soup when you’re sick, or sad, or grieving. It is comfort food at its finest, literally imparting warmth and nourishment to the body to trickle out into the spirit.

I suppose I’m particularly nostalgic about soup at the moment because just a few days ago I watched a man wrap up my beloved Le Creuset in packing paper and tape and put it in a box to be shipped across the ocean. It was a weird feeling, to watch strangers handle all of my possessions and feel little to no attachment to them. Slowly but surely my house got emptier and emptier until there were only a few things left. The piano. The sofa. My Le Creuset. It was at this point that I started to get a little sad.

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Have I told you the story of the Le Creuset? It’s a good one. I’ve wanted a piece of the classic cookware for years. Years. I can’t even disintangle my thoughts to a time in which I didn’t feel that I would finally be a real cook once I had my own. I read Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, a beautiful memoir by Alexandra Fuller about coming back to her childhood home in Zimbabwe to deal with her aging parents and haunted memory, in which the author’s mother has a full set of Le Creuset cookware that makes its permanent home in their outdoor kitchen, the bright orange enamel glinting in the sun and unmarred by time.

But the price. Oh goodness. The Le Creuset French oven is an investment, a classic piece that will last a lifetime and then some, but STILL. There was no way I was going to get one of my own any time soon, nor would I be callous enough to ask for one as a wedding gift. And yet.

One day my industrious mother called me from a flea market, hardly able to contain her excitement. She had found a vintage Le Creuset oven in classic orange for less than $100 and had managed to talk the dealer down to almost half of that price, and she was bringing it to me that weekend. To give to me. For me to use forever and ever and ever.

And since then it has been my absolute favorite piece of kitchen equipment. It is a versatile workhorse: I’ve used it to make everything from homemade sourdough bread to every kind of soup and braised stew. It adds cheer to my stovetop, the pot’s permanent home, and every time I use it I think about how it came to me. Through patience and love and a whole lot of bargaining power, and it embues everything I cook in it with a little of that magic.

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Savory Cauliflower Soup

1 qt. homemade broth

1 large head of cauliflower

1 medium pattypan squash

1 large onion

2 Tbsp. coconut oil or lard

3-5 cloves garlic

2 tsp. salt

fresh black pepper

1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. coconut aminos

dash of smoked paprika for garnish

Melt the lard in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Meanwhile, slice the onion and crush the garlic; set aside. Once the fat has melted, add in the sliced onions and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes — this doesn’t caramelize the onions but it does get the process started and, thus, imparts more flavor. To this, add the crushed garlic, salt, pepper, coconut aminos and fish sauce. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.

Dice the pattypan squash and the cauliflower and add to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in homemade broth. Stir everything together and bring to a boil before covering and simmering until the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Remove the still-chunky soup from the stove to cool a bit before processing in a blender. The soup should be smooth and creamy, free of lumps, and still plenty hot. Return pot to heat if necessary. Serve with a pinch of smoked paprika and a garnish of fresh tarragon, parsley or whatever other herbs are handy.

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than to receive

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I mentioned earlier this week that over the weekend our neighbor left a big box of bread on our doorstep as a gift. I’ve been thinking about that gesture all week, what it meant for him, what it means for me, and what it means when I read “It is better to give than to receive.” 

Our neighbors aren’t wealthy, by any means. At any one time there are five to seven people living in that house, with two travel trailers parked in the back yard and at least eight dogs barking through the fence. There are a couple of decomposing vehicles, waiting for a little love and repair, sinking into the dust of the driveway. They buy their bread in bulk from the discount bakery and put most of it in a deep freezer to preserve throughout the month.

We aren’t wealthy, either. We’re living off of one paycheck, augmented by sporadic bursts of income from my [freelance] end of the deal. We shop at the commissary, we put money into savings as often as possible, we rarely go out and we buy secondhand. But we have no debt from school or car payments, no crushing loans or credit card responsibilities, and we live comfortably.

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Lately I’ve been thinking about our neighbors when I bring home a big bag of groceries or when I shop at the farmer’s market. The luxury of it all. How is it okay that I’m in my kitchen, cooking macadamia-encrusted cod, while less than fifteen feet away they’re waiting on this month’s disability check? How it it okay that I can choose not to eat grains and sugar and instead buy fresh veggies and some grass-fed meats and eggs from a farmer when they subsist on Subway and Stripes?

I’m living in my own little world and it is insular and protected against the reality of poverty, of hunger, of financial security. What am I doing to alleviate those pressures on the world around me?

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So much is going on in my head and my heart. I’m reading Acts and Galations. “Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.” (Gal. 5:14 MSG) My world is in a tailspin, thanks very much to Jen Hatmaker and her revolutionary book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. (More about this later.) I’m in the middle of inventory-ing our home to prepare for our move and I’m facing the sheer magnitude of how much stuff we have. All good, beautiful things that we need and use. And all of this to say — we have been given so much, and what are we giving in response?

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I’m thinking about the national socio-economic divide that is displayed in the microcosm of my little neighborhood, my home next to my neighbor’s, and how much that relates to Dr. King’s revolutionary “I Have A Dream” speech we celebrated yesterday. I’m thinking about radical generosity — I am not thinking about socialism or political reform — and how Jesus loved and gave to the least, how Paul worked for what he needed and lived with what he could carry.

I’m struggling to make sense of it all and how it works realistically in my life. How do I give and serve without perpetuating the endless cycle of poverty? It’s the same question I face every time a homeless person asks for spare change: How is this going to help you? Does it make any difference in the long run?

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Heavy stuff for a post about enchiladas. I made these with equal parts joy and creativity combined with a good dose of solemnity, with one eye out the kitchen window to where that little ramshackle house sat. I’m trying my hardest to figure out what place I have in this mess. How to start small but make a big difference. How to get out of my comfort zone. How to shake up my concepts of service and generosity and love.

So far I haven’t accomplished much by way of revelation, and so far these ramblings have very little direction, but I’m leaning into the tension and looking for opportunities to act. To show that I care enough. To give. For it is far better to do that than to receive.

All of this from a box of bread.

SONY DSCVegetable Enchiladas with Salsa Fresca

6-9 med. plantain tortillas (or corn tortillas if you’d prefer)

1 med. butternut squash

2 med. pattypan squash

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 Tbsp. lard or coconut oil

sea salt + black pepper

1 c. homemade broth

1/2 c. coconut milk

1 tsp. smoked paprika

pinch of cayenne

Incredibly, all of this produce came from my farmers market — except for the plantains, that is. Those were dirt cheap from our commissary. I don’t think anyone else knows what to do with them so I’m counting myself lucky that they even exist in west Texas. 

Begin by making your plantain tortillas or, if you’re short on time or prefer the flavor of masa harina, use small prepared corn tortillas. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. of lard. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash and dice into small cubes. This will go into the skillet first, with a generous pinch of salt, to brown and soften. Once squash is tender, remove half of the amount from the skillet and set aside for the sauce. Add in diced pattypan squash and crushed garlic, plus a little more salt and pepper. Saute until all is tender.

Meanwhile, make the enchilada sauce: in a food processor, combine reserved butternut squash, broth, paprika, cayenne and coconut milk. Blitz until smooth and season to taste.

Begin filling the tortillas with a scoop of the squash mixture and roll into little enchiladas. Fill a 9×11″ glass baking pan with the enchilada rolls — or, if you’re lazy like I was, layer the tortillas with the squash, stacking it up flat. Top with all of the enchilada sauce and bake until tortillas are starting to crisp and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Serve with a big scoop of this salsa fresca:

Pomegranate-Sungold Salsa Fresca

2 qt. sungold tomatoes

1 med. pink pomegranate, seeded

1 lg. bunch cilantro, chopped

1 lime, juiced

1/4 red onion, sliced thin

In a bowl, combine halved tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, cilantro, lime juice, and paper-thin red onion slices with a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and let marinate while the enchiladas are baking.

dreams, reality, and fruity cocktails

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My mind has been going every-which-way for the past few days. I’ll start making a to do list and then remember that I need to switch the calendar over to July in the kitchen, and on my way there I pick up some shoes to put away and decide I’m thirsty, so I’ll stop for some water at the fridge. Then I’ll remember to take my vitamins, and before I know it I’m at the table cutting up an apple for a snack. Sometime later I’ll remember my original task — lately, I’m in more of a “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” mood than anything else. 

You see, the reality of this life as a military spouse has finally hit me. Last week we found out our next assignment will be in Hawaii, and we’ll move there — from Texas, across the ocean, with all our belongings — in the fall. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that amazing? How is it even possible?? Those are some of the things my mind has been turning over and over. Moving to Hawaii is not “normal” or “common,” but hell if I want that kind of life anyway (see this beautiful reminder of the possibility that life affords). Right now I’m probably a little too focused on the little things, like how to even begin this process of shipping a car, storing our winter coats, scheduling a move and a flight or two. Sure, I’ve done a move before, but never like this. It all becomes a bit overwhelming once the details and the big picture intermingle.

A little over a year ago my husband and I were in Hawaii for our honeymoon. We visited Volcano National Park, toured Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day, cruised Waikiki beach with fruity cocktails and wore nothing but bathing suits and sandals. Had you asked me then to think about returning to live on the islands I would have brushed the suggestion off as an inconceivable dream.

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But it’s here — it is my new reality. And it’s fitting that the Equals Record published this essay of mine this week, even though I submitted it months ago. As with all things, the timing is perfect.

In the midst of all of this thinking and wondering and questioning, I’ve let go of my original sense of euphoria. I’m here to bring back the dreaming and keep the excitement for this next adventure alive, starting with a cocktail and a list — my two favorite forms of celebration.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to about island life:

learning to surf and paddleboard

hiking every weekend, to waterfalls and through rainforests and along towering cliffs overlooking the ocean

learning about a traditional culture and the amazing foods that go along with it

eating fresh coconut and pineapple

perfecting beach hair

hosting family vacations

running on the sand

making new friends

settling into a new house

dancing the hula and playing the ukelele

I’m excited to soak up every new flavor and texture, to embrace this new reality with an attitude of adventure and celebration. Another aspect of military life is what I like to call reinvention — every few years I get to pick up my roots with my family, clean out our belongings and start afresh somewhere new. I can inject a fresh perspective into myself, my home, my work, my experience.

So instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of my to do lists, I’m trying to remember that although small accomplishments like organizing one closet or taking a load to the thrift store can make me feel like I have control, truthfully I am not one step closer to controlling things than I was a few months ago. But, thankfully, what has turned into my reality is better than any dream I’ve had yet. Keep it coming, world.

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Watermelon Mint Mojito

flesh of half a small watermelon, seeds removed

handful of fresh mint, washed

4-8 oz. dark rum

6 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and combine until smooth and frothy. Serve with a watermelon wedge and a sprig of fresh mint to garnish.

I used a small “personal watermelon” but any kind will do. Play with the proportions to make a stronger drink or to increase the volume.This makes enough for 2 delicious drinks. I’m planning on triple-ing the recipe to make enough for the weekend — this will be perfect for watching fireworks with friends.

P.S. Happy Independence Day!

friendship and ice cream

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There’s a special kind of heartbreak that comes from saying goodbye to friends. There’s a restlessness, an emotional fragility, a quiet streak of rage twisted around a nagging headache, a fierce desire to run to exhaustion and simultaneously nap the afternoon away. Today I’m pulled between these extremes after hugging two of my close friends for the last time for a long time — yesterday morning, we met up for coffee at my kitchen table, and the night before we played board games and ate cake until it was late, and now they’re both leaving town and will leave the confines of the continental U.S. for a few years each.

This place that I have known within the safety of friendship is a little more empty now, but I have months and months of good memories and deep conversations and inside jokes for comfort until I too am off on the next stage of our adventure. This is just a part of military life, insomuch as making new friends is a part of it too.

I’m learning a lesson here. I’m learning that there is no benefit from trying to protecting myself from pain and sadness. Closing myself off to potential discomfort simultaneously cuts me off from potential joy. My naturally soft hearts become hard, not open, not warm, not of love. It’s all worth it in the end. Being willing to risk a little heartbreak for a lasting friendship, one that transcends time and distance for a lifetime, is always worth it in the end.

Earlier this week we three friends had a little of this homemade ice cream, and its sweetness was just the thing to take our minds off of the big changes ahead. For a moment, at least, life felt normal, like it wasn’t going anywhere and neither were were.

SONY DSCRoasted Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream

1 quart strawberries, washed and trimmed

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

1 can full-fat coconut milk

2 egg yolks

pinch of salt

dash of nutmeg, cinnamon

2 tsp. vanilla

¼ – ½ c. maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss strawberries in melted coconut oil and roast on a rimmed baking sheet for about 30 minutes, or until soft and jammy.

In a blender, puree the coconut milk, egg yolks, sweetener, salt, spices, and half the roasted strawberries until smooth. Stir in remaining strawberries and put in an ice cream maker for 20-30 minutes, until thick and creamy. Remove from machine and freeze for half an hour or so, until the ice cream sets. Serve with fresh strawberries, homemade whipped cream, shaved dark chocolate and a few friends.

a love language

SONY DSCBefore I got married I had different ideas about the ways I communicated love. I liked to give hugs, to really look at my friends when they spoke. To invite people over to my house to see where I lived and where I was the most me. To make something and give it to someone special to show them my affection.

When we were in our pre-marital counseling sessions we talked a little with our pastor about the ways in which we thought we communicated love to our partner, and as an exercise we ranked our top love languages and tried to pin down the love languages of the other. I remember feeling confident about my choices both for myself and for Andrew, but now I have a feeling I got it all wrong.

Or maybe the fact of the matter is that the very act of living in close quarters with another human, one that I love, has changed the way that I show love?

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In cleaning out a storage bin yesterday I came across a red folder marked “Memories,” in which were several small stacks of folded papers, receipts, index cards — all love notes from Andrew collected over our courtship. He once left me an Americano in my English classroom with a little inscription on the cardboard of the coffee cup sleeve. That was in the folder, along with a note scribbled onto a sheet of computer paper that I remember finding in the kitchen one morning after we were first married. Something about how he made the coffee for me, how he didn’t want to wake me quite yet.

My husband, whether he knew it or not then, was adept at expressing love through words, and at best in their written form. He is also, I know now, a man who shows love through the things that he does for me — like making coffee in the morning, for example, or building me a pair of deck chairs and going to the work of staining and sealing the pine. He started from square one using his brain and his heart and his hands in conjunction to fill our little space with love, while I was left floundering, trying to figure out how to best guide the love I felt out into the world in which I lived.

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In the angst of trying to “find” a love language I never stopped to examine how the ways in which I received love could be different from the ways in which I communicate it. Those acts of service that my husband initiates when he takes out the trash, makes the bed, fills up my car with gas? Those little gifts he brings me, those flowers “just because,” a pretty drink on a day I’m feeling frazzled? That’s when I feel the love, but those are not always the ways in which I necessarily give it.

Now I think I get it.

I’m by nature very good at being alone, but with those I love I crave quality time. An important discussion over a cup of tea or a heartfelt confession shared sitting on the asphalt in the parking lot. A morning spent laughing over shared waffles or mourning together with hands clasped. Those are little moments that connect me to others, moments in which I can be present and give attention and love.

(This has been on my mind lately. Read it. It is powerful.)

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I’m also pretty into making sure that my loved ones are well nourished. I like to craft something delicious and give it to somebody to enjoy — note that this is a far cry from my days of failed DIY projects as presents. This is taking my gift, my joy, and channeling it into a form to be enjoyed by my family, my friends, my coworkers. To me, there’s something so primally satisfying as a woman to feed those around me and nurture their bodies as well as their souls. A few friends around the dinner table, a few hands grabbing for homemade cookies in a classroom: by eating my food you are letting me love you.

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And so it is in recognizing my strengths, my gifts, my joys, that I give power and meaning to my love language. Because what is an avenue for love if the love itself is not graciously given?

“We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.”

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Easy Pecan Turtles

1 can dulce de leche

1/2 lb. shelled whole pecans

1 bar good quality dark chocolate

sea salt, if desired

Notice the nutrition label — I was pleasantly surprised at the relative purity of ingredients in this dulce de leche. The homemade caramel recipe I had previously decided to use called for all sorts of processed stuff, and so from that revelation this recipe was born. If you can even call it a recipe…

Begin melting chocolate over a double boiler. Meanwhile, toss whole pecans in a frying pan over medium heat until the kitchen starts to smell toasty. Remove and cool.

Arrange 2-3 pecans in small piles on a lined baking sheet. Scoop a spoonful of dulce de leche over each small pile, and then drizzle with chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt and place in freezer to harden.

Do not drive to Dallas with these all in the same baggie unless you want to present one giant malformed turtle to your giftee instead of several dozen neatly decorated individual turtles. Experience is the best teacher.

a little love from Eat Boutique

SONY DSCThe folks over at Eat Boutique were kind enough to feature my recipe for cardamom mint sweet iced tea on their blog this week, along with a roundup of several other yummy hot-weather beverages. Pay them a visit and pass the link along to anyone looking for thirst-quenchers this summer!

to my father, one of the best

SONY DSCThis is a photo from Father’s Day last year — my father on the left, and his grandfather, my great-grandfather, on the right. We all met up for lunch of chicken fried steak and pie and then went driving the backroads looking for the perfect swimming hole that Sunday afternoon. My great-grandfather just turned 98 last week, and I’m hoping with all my heart that my dad inherited his longevity. I know for certain he inherited his stubbornness.

And from my dad, who I have so much to thank for, I have learned so much: how to properly smoke a cigar and shoot a pistol, how to choose a strong scotch and drive a tractor. How to put family first and include loyal pups in what we call “family,” too. How to tell a good story (although I still haven’t mastered that one), and how to drink my coffee black. How the disciplined pursuit of truth — an hour each morning before sunup, for as long as I can remember — can develop into a gentle, sturdy faith. How to balance reading five books at a time and how to strike up conversation with strangers. For all this and more, Daddy, I’m so grateful. Happy Father’s Day to you this year and for many more to come.