They say love works in mysterious ways, and I know this to be true.
The love of my life woke me from my sleep last night. The alarm clock I usually keep next to my bed hasn’t been unpacked from our recent move, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it never will. So, I reached for my phone and squinted a little as its screen came to life. My husband stirred and rolled over in his sleep. The large glowing numbers read 3:25 AM and I sighed, quickly shutting it off. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and fumbled for the little brown notebook that I’ve taken to stashing under the mattress so my children’s little hands can’t find it. They find EVERYTHING. The moon last night was particularly bright, almost as if it was throwing me a bone in that otherwise tired and bumbling moment in which I’d found myself. Rubbing my eyes, I scribbled a few words inside the notebook, working with what little moonlight I could and hoping that I’d be able to make sense of it in the morning.
Compass directions. Exploration and discovery.
Satisfied, I got back in bed. I’d been laboring over the most deceptively simple question for the better part of a week and had begun to lose hope that I’d actually be able to find the right answer. A food blogger friend of mine, Valentina Solfrini (by way of equally friendly blogger Renee Byrd), challenged me recently to explain or at the very least, simply think about why I love food. Easy! I thought. This post will practically write itself. Right?
Wrong. In fact I’ll admit to never having had a tougher time composing a post here and I think that alone gives evidence to the significance of the question, at least for me. It’s a murky one, this question; its answer wholly unclear and far deeper than meets the eye. But I will try my best to answer it, as there is one thing I know for certain: I do love food. So far as non-human loves go, food is the greatest of them all – it is the love of my life.
I love it in the pure, unabashed, time-tested, born like this, wake-you-from-your-sleep (apparently) kind of way that definitely comprises a big part of who I am, and it always has … in one way or another. Professing that love is easy. I could do it Julie Andrews style from the top of the highest peak with a chorus of music playing all around me, the hills alive with the sound of it all. But trying to explain it – trying to sort out and define it – that’s another story entirely. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down, after all? So yes, the ways may be many – mysterious, strange, some obvious, some not – but there are plenty of them to go around, the ways in which my love for food works. Let me (see if I can) count them for you …
Elle brought me a compass yesterday. A pink, fat plastic one that she chose as her reward for completing a bunch of tasks and when I asked her why she was giving it to me she replied simply, “Because I thought you might need it. It will show you the way if you get lost.” I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and placed the compass on my bedside table, forgetting about it for the remainder of the day. It wasn’t until later that night as I was folding laundry that I noticed it again. Knocking it to the floor with my over-stuffed basket, I bent to pick it up and saw that the needle was broken; it just spun aimlessly around in its little plastic cage.
North. South. East. West. Apparently I was walking in circles right where I stood. I get it! I thought. I have no direction in life! Or maybe I have no sense of direction. Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
“Who are you talking to?” Lucas asked. “Oh, um, no one!” I replied, only mildly embarrassed that he’d caught me thinking out loud for what seemed like the millionth time. Maybe the compass was on to something, though, I thought as I begrudgingly worked my way to the bottom of the laundry basket. Maybe it held the answer to the question I’d been chewing on all week. Through all of the different directions my life has gone – all of the ups, downs, twists, and turns – my love of food and cooking has remained steadfast, never wavering in its ability to make me feel genuine happiness, passion, and inspiration. It was never a phase, not “just a hobby.” To me, it has always been more than that.
When I try to think about it all, the memories come rushing in like a flood.
There were the early days watching poorly produced cooking shows on public television with my Dad, all curled up on the couch glued to the screen in total fascination … There were all of the cherished afternoons I spent baking pies in the kitchen with my Grandma whenever she’d visit; a new flavor each time … As a kid, I’d pour over the back section of Southern Living magazine to memorize all of the recipes before the next month’s issue came along, trying to recreate the things that especially caught my eye … There was the intense but fleeting vegetarian phase in college that slowly but surely morphed its way into an eating disorder, one from which I recovered before graduating years later … There was the friend in college who must have thought I was crazy, because for a long stretch of time, whenever he’d come into my apartment I was roasting vegetables. Strange it may have seemed to him, but I was trying to perfect a technique – because that’s the kind of stuff I like to do in my spare time. There were the recipe contests I won in graduate school and the cookbook I wrote and published as little more than a way to procrastinate and distract myself from the graduate education that proved less than inspiring. And then there were the blogs.
So maybe the answer to the question isn’t singular – there wasn’t one specific incident or eureka moment in my life that birthed my love affair with food, that caused it to be my greatest source of inspiration. Maybe it’s all of it; all of the roads I’ve walked down, the countless paths I’ve taken in life, the thousands of people I’ve met, the many experiences shared and memories made that make up the reason why I love food so much. It’s the thing I do when I’m sad, just as much as it is the thing I do when I’m feeling inspired and happy. I show my love for others through food and I enjoy learning about different cultures by cooking and experiencing the foods they eat. In my life’s journey, food has been a part of the picture all along. The way I cook and eat and even write about it today reflects that journey too, I think. The stories and recipes I share are all over the map, both literally and figuratively, and I think that’s the most authentic, accurate way for me to represent myself.
In life we are so often uncertain of where we stand. Not knowing where we are going, which path is the right one to choose, or how our stories will unfold is part of the beauty of it all; life’s uncertainy being one of the only certainties we have. I began this food blog as a way to explore an undeniable love of mine and it has single-handedly helped to keep me sane and patient in my journeys as mother and wife and it has inspired me endlessly in my journey as a creative being. I have discovered passions and skills and aptitudes that I didn’t even know were there, and I have my love of food to thank for all of it.
So this brings me back to my bizarre nighttime journaling. I suppose I was dreaming in the half awake/half asleep la-la land that I know all too well when the concept of “true north” popped in my head … undoubtedly inspired by the little compass that was still perched on my night stand. That’s it! I thought. Even when using a compass, one cannot ever totally find their way without knowing how to locate where true north is. It is the anchor – a truth and a certainty that is always there, even if you’re a little lost yourself. My love for food is like that for me. It has shown me sides of myself that I may have never discovered otherwise. By trusting and exploring that passion, I’ve learned so much. And while I may not know where my life’s journey is going – or even this blog’s journey for that matter – I know that food and cooking will always be along for the ride. And I’m more than okay with that.
Fall Harvest Gallette with Squash, Apples, and Pumpkin Spice Bacon RECIPE
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Heavy cream as needed
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into smaller pieces
2 tsp cornmeal
7 oz canned pumpkin (unsweetened)
4 oz goat cheese
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Salt and pepper
1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 apple, sliced (cored)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced (you can use any onion, I just like the red for color here)
9 slices of center cut bacon
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
Canola oil or coconut oil cooking spray
for the pastry (adapted from NYT Cooking):
In a food processor (or in a large bowl), pulse (or mix together) the flour, sugar and salt. Lightly beat the egg in a measuring cup and then add enough cream to get to 1/3 cup. Lightly whisk together the egg and the cream.
Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse (or use a pastry cutter or fork or even your fingers, if working in a bowl) until the butter is broken up into small, pea-sized pieces. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour/butter mixture, up to 1/4 cup of it, and pulse until it just starts to come together but is still largely crumbs.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface/counter top and pat it together to make one uniform piece. Flatten into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill for at least one hour (or up to three days) before using.
Roll out the dough onto a floured surface until you have a 12-inch round (it can be uneven and jagged). Transfer the dough round to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and chill while you prepare the filling components.
for the bacon:
Place a baking rack over a foil-lined baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger in a small bowl. Coat each of the bacon slices with an even layer of this brown sugar mixture and place them onto the baking rack. Roast the bacon for 10 – 12 minutes, or until it is golden brown and done. Chop into small pieces (they will be gooey and caramelized). Set aside.
for the filling:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Split the spaghetti squash lengthwise down the middle, creating two halves. Set one half aside for a later use. Take the other half and scoop out the seeds (discard). Season it with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp each). Place the seasoned squash onto a baking sheet and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until easily shredded with a fork. Remove from the oven and cool until easily handled. Pull/scoop out the strands of squash into a bowl by scraping down the inside of the squash with a fork. Season the squash again with salt and pepper if needed. Set this aside.
Preheat your oven to 400°F.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the pumpkin, goat cheese and maple syrup. Stir to evenly mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle a thin layer of the cornmeal on the pastry (this helps absorb moisture from the filling as it cooks).
Spread an even layer of the pumpkin filling on the pastry, leaving a border of about 1.5 inches around the edge (this will be folded over). Top the filling with an even layer of the spiced bacon pieces (you won’t use them all here; save some for later/topping).
Top the bacon with about 3/4 cup – 1 cup of the roasted spaghetti squash, spreading it out evenly to cover the bacon. Top the squash with some of the apple slices, followed by some onion slices (you don’t need to use all of either ingredient).
Fold the edges of the pastry over the filling, creating a frame for the galette (as pictured). This in no way needs to be even or perfect, thus the appeal. Brush the remaining egg/cream mixture over the pastry and sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt, if desired. Spray an thin, even layer of cooking spray over the toppings to help the browning process.
Bake the galette for 40 – 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temp. I like to top mine with more of the bacon (this is pretty much the best part), and a very simple green salad, dressed with a tangy apple cider vinaigrette (or any vinaigrette). But this is optional as well. Enjoy!