Thursday, September 27, 2012

Good-bye for Now

Long Shadow in Afternoon Sun

Dear friends and readers,

My heart has been heavy for a long time now, but these last few weeks have been especially hard.  I guess I had hoped that with the resolution of things between Matt and me, I would be feeling better now—eager and willing to start a new chapter in my life, a chapter in which Matt’s presence recedes into the background.  Instead, I find myself lonely, sad, and lost.  I feel his absence more strongly than ever before; his silence speaks volumes to me.  Though we have done our best not to destroy our friendship, the loss of intimacy between us is almost more than I can bear.

Our break-up began in January this year, and we dragged it out for six long months.  It was a test of compassion and love, and I tried to keep my heart open while Matt began dismantling his life.  I didn’t stand in his way; I didn’t try to convince him to change his mind.  I just listened and tried to offer what little comfort I could.  When he finally decided to end our romance, it took all my strength to keep going with my own life.  I literally went through the motions, figuring that if I kept going, a sense of normalcy would return.  Besides, I had worked too hard to let his madness derail me—I wasn’t the one who wanted out of my own life.  Before our break-up began and besides the uncertainty of my position at work, I was happy with my life.  I was happy with Matt.

But I’m finding now, more than two months after our break-up, that it’s not enough to just keep going.  I have never loved someone like I loved him.  We connected so deeply and so intensely that losing our romance really feels like something inside of me has died.  The urge to tell him about my day and my adventures is still there.  I miss the safety of our private conversations, that space where I could tell someone how I feel with full honesty and no fear.  I miss having someone in my life who knows me so well that it feels like having a soul mate.  I don’t really buy into the spiritual explanation of soul mates, but it’s a useful metaphor.

Matt and I began our romance in 2007, just a few months after I started writing this blog.  He was, I believe, my first reader, and as with all my endeavors, he has been my biggest cheerleader.  His confidence in me has been boundless and unshakeable.  In my mind, he is larger than life, despite his small stature.  I was so amazed by the way our affections for one another exploded when we started dating that I couldn’t resist writing about him here.  In a lot of ways, this blog became the story of us: our weekends together, what we did, what we cooked and ate together, our travels, and most importantly, how we felt about each other.  Matt has always been very generous in letting me write about him; hopefully he’ll forgive me for this post, too.  Loving Matt was easy, and writing about him was a pleasure.  He was my companion and my muse.  All the blog posts I wrote about us are now memories tinged with bittersweetness.

I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: I regret nothing about my relationship with Matt.  We made mistakes along the way, of course, and ours was not a perfect romance.  I learned so much from our time together, and in the wake of our break-up, I’m still learning, still processing things.  I can’t write about those things in this space; I believe some intimate matters are far too precious to share on the internet.  In my life on- and offline, I have tried to strike a balance between honesty and privacy.  I tend toward oversharing, and I’m an openly emotional person (and even more so since falling in love with Matt).  But it has never been my intention to make my blog a space where I rant about my private life or air my dirty laundry.  I wanted my blog to be a refuge from the sadness and the sorrow that we all encounter.  I wanted it to be a pretty space, filled with inspiration, good food, and good conversation.

The truth is that in dealing with my own sadness and sorrow, I can’t write the kind of blog that this one used to be.  I don’t feel like myself, and the joy I used to feel, pre-breakup, has been replaced by a kind of gritty attitude of survival.  I am a person who takes great pride in her ability to listen and empathize, to take joy in other people’s happiness, to love and be loved.  I feel so far from that version of myself that I’m not even sure how to find her again.  I think that being with Matt brought out the best in me, and our break-up has been bringing out the worst in me.  That’s not the person I want to be.  It’s not enough any more to keep going through the motions when my heart isn’t in it.

I’m taking a month off from this blog.  I’m going to take that time to let myself feel whatever comes up.  I don’t want to be eaten alive by my anger and sorrow; I don’t want to become numb or bitter either.  I just want some space to be alone and contemplative.  I do hope to return eventually, perhaps within the first week of November I’ll feel ready to write again.  I can’t make any promises.  Until then, I thought I’d leave you with one of my favorite songs, “The Christians and the Outlaws,” sung by Sam Pacetti.  Apparently the original song is “I’ll Come Back Again” by Verlon Thompson; you can listen to either version on youtube (and I’ve provided the links for your listening pleasure).  I love this song and its theme of death and rebirth.  I loved it so much, in fact, that I remember sitting Matt down to listen to it with me.  The line about the summer wind and the cool rain makes me think of him.

So good-bye for now, and as the song goes, “Like the singer to the chorus, I will come back again.”  Thank you for everything.

Monday, September 24, 2012

When Autumn Arrives

Last Gasp of Summer

Fall_Texas Style

Take Flight

Darkness Falls Across Campus

It’s been a long, sad summer, and I for one am ready to turn over a new leaf. 

Happy Fall, everyone.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Foodie Confessional…because we’ve all got secrets.

First things first: I’m writing shorter posts lately!  This is quite an accomplishment for me, because I do go on and on…but do you like shorter posts?  Yes?  No?  Don’t care?  I happen to like posts of all shapes and sizes—so much depends on the content.  I do like the idea of posting something short and sweet every day, but I also know that posting every day is not sustainable for me.  And sometimes the content is better suited for a longer post.  I say: let our posts run wild!

And now, onto the confessions. 

* I adore a good meatball.  There, I said it!  I’m a vegetarian who likes meatballs.  They fall into my 1% category, as in I eat meat 1% of the time.  My love for meatballs has resulted in a somewhat lazy search for a good recipe for vegetarian meatballs, but so far, I haven’t tried anything worth writing home about.

* I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Except I use jam, and I especially love them on toasted bread.  Mmm, crunchy.

* I used to never drink alone, and now I drink alone more often than not.  I’ve decided there’s nothing wrong with this.

* I love my knife collection.

* I think Anthony Bourdain is arrogant, sexy, and wrong about vegetarians.  Talk about tension!

* And a non-foodie confessional just for fun: I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but I read stories about hoarding and purging with great fascination.  I think “obsession” is too strong a word, but for someone without that problem, I’m awfully interested in the stories.  We have a hoarder in my family, so maybe that has something to do with it?  (And here’s a fun story about the benefits of not hoarding clothes!)

Okay, I’m listening: what are your foodie confessions, dear readers?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Lines that Haunt Us

  Sunflower in September

Recently I listened to Gretchen Rubin talk about koans, which are nonsensical sayings that are intended for meditation.  Because a koan defies rational thought, it’s a little like giving your rational thoughts a bone to distract them while you become aware of more transcendent feelings.  Gretchen talked about her own koans, the lines of prose and poetry that haunted her, and as she described it, I knew exactly what she meant.  I too have lines that haunt me, remembered phrases that pop into my head.  These lines remind me of my intentions, of the paradoxes of this world, and the uncertainty inherent in what I do. 

* to love and be loved (Molly Wizenberg, bell hooks, probably countless others)

* the blossom and the wilt (Iron and Wine, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me”)

* Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.  Do something, anything. (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

* And finally, some Walt Whitman.  To be honest, lines from “Whoever You are, Holding Me Now in Hand” drift through my mind as wispy memory of a poem.  I don’t tend to recall full lines so much as the feeling of certain lines, such as, “The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive.”  I love the whole passage in which that line is contained:

The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon'd,
Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go
your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down and depart on your way.

It reminds me of the beauty and the challenge of becoming a PhD-level scientist.  The way is suspicious, the result uncertain.

* * *

Although a koan is verbal in form, I find sunflowers very haunting.  They grow strong and wild in ugly places like construction sites—their showoffy beauty seems almost rebellious against the bulldozed landscape.  Because sunflowers are magical to me, I thought they seemed like appropriate images for this post.

Sunflowers Going to Seed in September

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tiny Wonders

New Blossoms

I’ve been growing a patio garden this year.  It’s a small affair, just a handful of plants.  My tomato plant has struggled for most of the summer, but this week, I spotted the first blossoms.  They’re tiny and perfect, and I have all the pride of a new mother.  Only time will tell if my plant yields any fruit before the end of the year, but for now, those blossoms are tiny wonders to me.  They are enough for me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

These Boots are Made for Walking Kindly

Oh Hey

Oh, hey!  Let’s talk about boots.  Dear readers, I did it: I found, admired, test-drove, and purchased a pair of brown boots.  And to the best of my knowledge, no cows were harmed at any point in this process.

In recent years, my favorite on-line discovery has been the fashion and style blogs.  I love them for the eye candy, the inspiration, the advice, and the friendliness.  I love how style blogs have given me the chance to peruse my fashion options in the comfort of my own home, with non-models wearing the clothes and offering their opinions about everything from hip-length sweaters to mixing black and brown.  I think what I’m trying to say is that style bloggers are like the super-stylish, generous female friends I wish I had*.

Brown boots have been on my wishlist forever, but I wasn’t feeling rushed about buying them until those gorgeous Frye boots pinged my radar.  Oh, how I love those boots, so much so that I did a search for “Frye Vera Slouch” on Already Pretty just so I could look at pictures of the boots with fun outfits.

I’m sure you know how it goes: a wishlist item becomes an obsession, and thus begins your mission.  Except that as far as obsessions go, this one was easily satisfied: I found some doppelganger boots at Kohl’s on Saturday, tried them on, let the idea of purchasing them percolate overnight, and I returned on Sunday to buy the boots.  On Monday morning, I walked out the door with new boots on my feet.

 New Boots!

See?  New boots!

When I found these boots at Kohl’s, I was actually afraid to look at the information about which materials were used to make them because I liked them immediately.  No, they’re not identical to the Vera Slouches, but they’re quite similar, just a tad shorter.  They’ve still got that gorgeous brown color and the buckles I like so much, and they’re pretty flat, which makes my feet happy.  Since I was on a quest to buy leather-free boots, I did not want to know if my doppelgangers were also made with leather, but fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, they are made with “man-made materials” and “textiles,” as the inside of the boots informs me.  I wish I knew more specifically what the materials are, but so it goes.

Serendipity struck again when cooler weather coincided with the purchase of these boots.  It’s actually been cool enough to wear the boots comfortably, and the outfit I’m wearing here was built around the boots and a fall color scheme.  I feel like blue and orange are a nice palette for fall—perhaps the blue for blue skies and the orange for the changing leaves?  The pink lace skirt has become a wardrobe staple for me, one which I wear as a neutral piece onto which I can layer other colors and patterns.

And now, having embarrassed myself thoroughly with my vanity, I’m going to hide. 


From the Top

* Hmm.  Have I just insulted my female friends?  If so, I’m sorry!  We don’t tend to talk about style much, and I think it’s actually the discussions about style that are most lacking.  While I have several particularly stylish friends, we rarely talk about clothes and whatnot.

*** UPDATE!  EXCITEMENT! ***  This morning I was contacted by Julia, who is working with Kohl’s to manage their on-line PR.  Via Julia (and me!), here are a few resources: Kohl’s on-line boot store is here, and I think these are the boots I bought.  And on-line, you can get them at an even better price than what I paid in the store!  As if that weren’t enough, Julia offered me the following code for 10% off between now and October 24: UBLOGTENTheir shipping prices are pretty reasonable too.

You are welcome.  And no, I was not paid to advertise for Kohl’s here, but I am impressed with both their boots and their classy response to my post.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Leather or Not

I recently fell in love with these boots.

Frye Vera Slouch

{Image via  I hope they won’t mind.}

(Here’s an even better photo of them from Already Pretty.)

They are made of leather.  And they cost $358.  But hey, at least shipping is free from Zappos!

What I love about these boots: the rich brown color, the low heel, the cute-but-rugged buckle details, the height.  What I don’t love about these boots: they are made of leather.  The price tag inhibits me too, but I think it’s the combination of leather plus price tag that really inhibits me.

It’s funny to me that after all I’ve written about vegetarianism on this blog, I have yet to tell you my own story about becoming vegetarian.  I should fix that.  But the short story is that I am a vegetarian for environmental reasons.  I think the factory-farming of animals is incredibly wasteful of resources, and I don’t want to be a part of it.  Giving up meat was a gradual process for me, at first motivated by health reasons, but the environmental concerns weighed heavily on my mind.  That concern was the final push for me—I gave up eating chicken, and that was the end of my meat-eating.  (And who needs chicken when you’ve got land scallops*?!)

I’ve never worried too much about my consumption of animal products off the plate.  Why?  I suppose out of laziness and a sense of exasperation: I’ve already given up eating cows, chickens, pigs, tuna fish—anything with a backbone, really—and isn’t that enough?  I mean, seriously!  I’m not out to make myself a martyr or anything.  In addition, I try really hard to get maximum wear out of my wearables.  I wear out shoes, jeans, and shirts.  I have a belt I bought in high school, and it’s starting to fall apart, but I don’t care: it’s my favorite black belt.  I had a pair of boots whose life expectancy I extended by taking them to the cobbler to be repaired.  I take really good care of my clothing—that’s how I get my money’s worth out of it.  So when it came to leather, my reasoning was that if my leather consumption was pretty minimal and I wore my leather stuff to shreds, then that seems like good stewardship.  I’ll give myself an “A” for green living.

But then I listened to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast episode entitled “Leather: Not an Innocent Byproduct.”  What a title!  Ka-pow!  Talk about myth-busting from the get-go.  The episode is very compelling, and I urge you to listen to it (it’s free!).  The takehome message that stopped me in my tracks is that the meat industry requires the leather industry in order to stay profitable.  Animal agriculture and industrial slaughter is so resource-intensive (and thus expensive) that if the skins and hair of these animals could not be sold at a profit, the meat industry would not be financially sustainable.  (Not that it is now, since the government subsidizes many aspects of it, but that’s another story.)

In other words, if and when I choose to buy leather goods, I am giving profits to the very industry that fills me with anger and righteous indignation: conventional animal agriculture.  To say that this makes me unhappy is a severe understatement.

And yet…those boots!  So beautiful!  And why do vegetarians have to say no not only to meat but also cute boots?  I admit, I have moments when I feel resentful of my own ethics.  Here in Texas, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples called Meatless Monday “a slap in the face” because “last I checked, USDA had a very specific duty to promote and champion American agriculture.  Imagine Ford or Chevy discouraging the purchase of their pickup trucks.  Anyone else see the absurdity? How about the betrayal?”

Pardon the profanity, but oh my fucking god.  You have got to be kidding me!  But my heart was lifted by the comment from Darryl A. Baker, who wrote, “Nope.  I am a meat eater and I have been doing meatless monday for almost 2 years now.  Nothing whatsoever wrong with foregoing meat just one day a week.  Get a clue and get over it, dude.  You are wrong on this.”

Bless you, Darryl A. Baker.  Bless you.

My point is that the meat-eating culture is so deeply entrenched here that the agriculture commissioner thinks it makes perfect sense to protest Meatless Mondays, as though someone is trying to make it mandatory for all Americans.  Last I checked, nobody is being arrested for eating meat on Mondays.  So while Todd Staples is up in arms about one day without meat, I am deeply torn about buying a pair of leather boots which will probably last me through years of wear.  Years of wear—that seems like a good return on investment.

But I still don’t feel right about it.  Oh, leather, I hate you for being so beautiful—a lovely thing that is the product of too much cruelty to contemplate.

Stay tuned for Part Two…did I buy the boots?  Did I stage a protest outside of Todd Staples’s house?  Did I send letters to the USDA asking them to support Veggie Tuesday or Fruity Friday?   

* Land scallops, aka tofu.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Birthday Girl

On September 14, 2006, the lovely Lydia Rose was born.  She enchanted us all with her big cheeks and baby mohawk.  (A mohawk!  So subversive for such a small child.) 

Birthday Girl with a Baby Mohawk

I was smitten with her adorable little self from the moment we met.  We’ve been pals ever since, playing together, ice skating, bike riding, and trying on shoes.  We like to bake and hang out in kitchens together.  We especially like eating dessert.  My favorite time with Lydia is mornings, when she and I are awake together and the house is still quiet.  We snuggle, watch one of her shows (I’m especially fond of Handy Manny after my last visit), and eat breakfast.  I like our routine and the peacefulness of morning.

Yesterday, she turned six years old.  I have always wanted to be an auntie, and becoming Lydia’s auntie was a dream come true for me.  Some women can’t wait to become mothers; I couldn’t wait for my brother and his wife to have a child.  Six years with Lydia has shown me that it just keeps getting better and better.  I may miss that baby mohawk and our younger years, but as Lydia grows older and more sophisticated, our relationship deepens.  I love Lydia for who she is now and who I imagine she’ll become.  It’s hard not to look at a child and see enormous potential.  I just hope that I am part of nurturing that potential.  It can be intimidating to think of oneself as a role model.  Who among us doesn’t have flaws?  Who among us doesn’t behave badly sometimes?  With Lydia and her little brother, I hope that they’ll learn from the best of what we have to offer and forgive us our mistakes.

Most of all, I hope Lydia will grow up knowing that she is loved so very, very much.  Happy birthday, little pumpkin.  You’re getting so big, but you’ll always be my pumpkin.

  Lydia on a Summer Morning

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Required Reading

After our discussion this week about dating (or not), I wanted to share a few links that my friend Courtney shared with me.  I’ve been trying to unpack my feelings about dating, creepy men, and how to navigate that tricky just-getting-to-know-you stage of a new friendship, and Courtney, with her wise words, taught me that:

1)  yes, there really are creepy men out there, and

2)  I’m entitled to my feelings.  If I think someone is creepy, then that’s good enough.  For me.  I don’t have to be nice to them, or be friends with them, or tolerate their creepy behavior.  I’m still not brave enough to call men out on their creepy behavior, but I might get there, some day.

The following pieces are really fantastic—excellent reading for anyone who is dating or thinking about dating.  Men should read them, too, so they can ask themselves if they are perhaps scaring or upsetting the women they are trying to date.  I suspect I am not alone when I confess that if a man’s behavior is creepy, I am far more likely to avoid him than (god forbid) tell him that he’s being creepy.  Maybe that’s unfair, but women are socialized to be nice and not upset anyone, and that socialization runs deep in my veins.  It takes an enormous amount of courage for me to have uncomfortable conversations with people I love.  With people I don’t love (and don’t encounter regularly at work and whatnot), it’s just easier to avoid them.  So men, read these pieces!

Okay, onto the links!

* Schroedinger’s Rapist: Or a Guy’s Guide to Approaching Strange Women Without Being Maced

* Captain Awkward #322 and #323: “My friend group has a case of the Creepy Dude.  How can we clear that up?”

Carry on, friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dating or Not in College Station

I think I’ve finally found the word to put my dating experience into the right context.


Yes, I am a prude, at least by today’s standards.  I looked up “prude” on and absolutely loved the old definition:

“French prude a prude (noun), prudish (adj.), short for prudefemme, Old French prodefeme worthy or respectable woman.”  (Bold added by me.)

We should also consider the modern definition of prude:

“prude (noun): a person who affects or shows an excessively modest, prim, or proper attitude, esp regarding sex”

I’ve been called prim before, and while I know it is not a compliment, I have a hard time arguing with it.  I like my world to be orderly and logical, but I don’t like feeling restricted.  When it comes to dating, my prudishness is hard to ignore, because I know it’s best for me if I can trust and respect someone before I shed my prudish exterior.

I don’t mean for this to sound too judgmental or too old-fartsy, but I do believe that in today’s dating scene, hooking up tends to precede courting or romance.  Courting!  How very quaint of me to use such a word!  But it seems like the right word to use: people are much more interested in getting it on than they are in getting to know each other.  For me, that’s a problem because it’s the wrong order of events.  I have to know someone pretty well before I can reveal that I’m not really a prude, at least not in a way that leads to dissatisfaction.  Matt found it endlessly amusing to remind me that I self-categorize as Not a Fun Girl.  I still do, because I think I take life a little too seriously to ever be considered a Fun Girl.  I’m also too much of a control freak to be carefree.

I have a theory about people who are dating primarily as a means to sex.  They fall into two categories: those who are open and straightforward about wanting sex as soon as possible, and those who hide beneath a cover of romance.  The former group is self-explanatory: they will tell you that they are interested in having sex with you right away.  I’m not sure if I’d take them up on their offer, but I do appreciate their honesty.  It’s refreshing to hear someone put their desires on the table up front.  I like that.  The latter group is more difficult because they are actually deceiving themselves and you.  For this group, their romantic feelings toward you are a way of soothing cognitive dissonance: they view sex without warm-fuzzy feelings as wrong, so they conjure up some fake warm-fuzzy feelings for you while trying to usher you into bed as soon as possible.  They may lack patience to get to know you outside of bed, they may lack the ability to ask you out on a real date (I love real dates), they may not even see you as a person.  You are an object, and the person they are really romancing is themselves.

Okay, to be fair, I came up with this archetype based on my experience with one person and a conversation with a wise friend.  I could be wrong.  Most people probably fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  My point is that I’m weary of people who lack some patience and self-restraint when it comes to dating.  A relationship must move at the pace that’s right for both people, and that pace is the slower of the two.

Now that I know I’m a prude, I’m trying to embrace it, to go with the flow rather than fighting my need for courtliness.  If it means I don’t go out on very many dates, that’s okay with me.  The truth is that I don’t have a lot of time for dating right now.  Between my work, my cooking, and my running, much of my time is already spoken for, and I’m not willing to sacrifice anything right now for romance.  Then there’s the concern about whether or not I’m ready to date.  Is it too soon after the end of my last romance?  Maybe.  I still love Matt and will likely harbor romantic feelings toward him for a long, long time.  Our friendship is deep and complex, built over the course of years and many conversations.  A new person can’t possibly compete with that, so I’m trying to put dating into a category separate from Matt.  I’m trying to be open to dating while acknowledging my limitations.

I think that’s all I can do.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Do They Make Vaccines for Desserts?

I made another batch of my favorite cookies, and this time, I upped the ante by rolling them in cinnamon sugar.  Of course, being the good hippie that I am, I used turbinado sugar and ended up with cookies that look like they have the pox.  See?

Another Cookie

Okay, small pox is no joke, and I apologize.  As a side note, did you know that historically, small pox got its name because another disease, syphilis, causes large pox on the skin of its victims?

The good news is that despite their rather sketchy appearance, these cookies were totally delicious.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: ugly food is good food.  If you want to make a good cookie into a really great cookie, roll it in sugar.  Ta-da!

Happy Sunday, everyone.  I am super busy this month but have tons of ideas for blog posts, so hopefully I’ll have enough time to check in once or twice a week.  I’ve got some recipes, a rant or two, some thoughts on dating(!), and perhaps even a series about some of my favorite products I’ve discovered.  I may be short on time now, but I am long on ideas and affection for all of you.  Until next time, be well and happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Words of Wisdom

I’m feeling a little down today—perhaps too much brooding about things that are beyond my control—but I found some words of wisdom in a podcast episode that turned out to be surprisingly uplifting, despite the title: “’Vegans are Like Hitler’ and Other Logical Fallacies.”

“I learned that community is fantastic, but a sense of self is everything.”  Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

I hope your day is treating you well.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Take a Look at My Stack!

No, not my rack, my stack.  Take a look at my stack of cookbooks!

Quite a Stack_Eh

These are the books that are inspiring me lately.  I’m eyeing the onion tart from How to Eat and a strawberry rhubarb pudding cake from Gourmet Today.  (Pudding cake!  Can you imagine a more heavenly sounding pair of words?  Perhaps strawberry rhubarb?  I am excited.)  Oh, and I’m plotting to make a homemade version of the amazing salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks that I drank last year in San Antonio.  Some things just stay in your memory.

Which cookbooks are inspiring you these days?

(PS  Did anyone click through on the link above?  Har har!  I love a good bike joke.  I hope you don’t mind my silliness.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Summer Kitchen MVPs

My kitchen has been good to me this summer.  There’s been a lot of tasty food on my table and a lot of new recipes settling into my repertoire.  Food and cooking have always been a source of pleasure and fun for me.  This year especially, they have kept me grounded and connected to something tangible and sustaining during a time when I needed to feel like something was solid and certain.  It seems that no matter how lost I feel, food is always the way back to myself.

This summer, there have been a few recipes I’ve reached for over and over again.  Three of them I’ve shared with you before, and the fourth I’ll share with you today.  These recipes are starting to feel like old friends to me, reliable favorites that never let me down.  So without further ado, my four summer kitchen MVPs, starting with the appetizer course.

Green Peach Salad

* Green peach salad.

Ciabatta with Cashew Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers

* Roasted red pepper strips (serve with bread and cheese, of course!).

Curried Tomato Soup

* Curried tomato soup with coconut milk (recipe below!).

Cookie Closeup

* Favorite small-batch peanut butter cookies.

Curried Tomato Soup with Coconut Milk

Adapted slightly from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

Serves 4-6

This is a lovely, lovely soup.  It tastes exactly as you’d expect—creamy and spicy—and the balance of seasonings is just perfect.  I crave this soup regularly and make it every other week, it seems.  And what’s really great about this recipe is that all the ingredients are good keepers in the pantry, so you can always have the supplies on hand to whip up a batch! 

I bet this soup would also freeze well, but I haven’t tried that yet.

2 tbsp. butter or Earth Balance non-dairy butter*

1 large onion (white, red, or yellow), thinly sliced

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 1/2 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

A pinch of chili powder

1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes (whole or diced—it doesn’t matter)

1 13.5-oz. can full-fat coconut milk

Chopped basil or cilantro for garnish, optional

1)  In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter or Earth Balance.  Add the onion, 1/2 tsp. salt, and cover the pot.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for about 15 minutes, until the onion is very tender.  Stir occasionally.

2)  Add the curry powder, coriander, cumin, and chili powder.  Stir and cook for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes (including their juice) and 4 cups of water.  Bring the pot to a bubble over medium-high heat, then simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered.

3)  Blend the soup to smoothness in a blender, working in batches as necessary.  Whisk in the coconut milk and the remaining 1 tsp. salt.  Serve hot or at room temperature as you like, garnished with chopped fresh herbs.

* I just have to mention that this soup is a delicious, creamy vegan soup when made with Earth Balance.  I made it several times during my month of veganism earlier this year, and it just hit the spot.

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It’s been a very Melissa Clark-inspired summer around here, with three out of these four recipes coming from just one of her books, Cook This Now.  And I suppose that title describes what is really the essence of summer cooking.  Summer’s produce comes at us fast and furious; spring’s strawberries bump into summer’s blueberries which taper into late summer’s peaches and plums.  Apple season is coming soon, and hot on its heels will be pumpkins and the bounty of the fall harvest.  What I really like about the peach salad and roasted red pepper strips above is that they are very easy recipes, and the preparation really lets the natural flavors of the produce shine.  That’s all I really want from my cooking most of the time—that things taste like themselves.