Things I’ve learned lately: FOOD

Welcome to my table, I’ve saved you a seat. Throughout the many years of this space I keep on the internet, I have chronicled my love for cooking and feeding people with a reverence saved for church. It’s kneading the yeasted dough, the soft velvet belly of the Easter Challah that brings me to the cross every year. It’s watching my son’s soccer team devour the brown butter rice kripsie treats that knocks me over with joy. It’s being in the kitchen with my Grandma cooking for Sunday lunch that transports me back to safety, every single time. And it’s the conversations, fingers dipped in sauces, elbows out, glasses clinking that keeps me wanting more.

If I’m a writer, then food and the table are my ink. This is the one story I hope I never stop telling.

Over the years I’ve written many posts on menu planning and grocery shopping (there’s even a video, that I refuse to rewatch, but go for it if you dare) so I’ll leave the link to those posts here for you, if interested.

I’ll break down this post for easy reading like this: Cookbooks, Go-To Savory, Go-To Sweet, Drinks, Hostess Gifts.


From left to right: Grow Cook Eat, The Oh She Glows Cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Carla Hall’s Soul Food, Primal Gourmet, Weekday Vegetarians, Binder of recipes I’ve collected, Cookbook of favorites my mom gifted me before I was married, Lark Parties, Lark Cocktails, More with Less, Bread and Wine, Dinner: A Love Story, The Home Cook, Half Baked Harvest Cookbook, Half Baked Harvest Super Simple.

A few words on a couple of these: the most used cookbooks are Half Baked Harvest, the cookbook of favorites my mom gifted me, Mad Hungry (not pictured) and Dinner: A Love Story. And the trusty, but never rusty: Pinterest.

I’m a huge fan of Smitten Kitchen, also, but I don’t own her books. I am a regular visitor to her website, though. And I love her newsletters. She’s one of my favorite food writers. As is Shauna Neiquist (and Bread & Wine is the reason my friend started a cooking club that I got invited to and have been doing for 6? 7? years now) and Jenny Rosenstratch (Author of Dinner: A Love Story and Weekday Vegetarians). I read their cookbooks cover to cover.

Go-To Savory

Tacos (duh) – and we have no recipe. We make our meat and then assemble all our fixings onto a platter or small bowls and everyone builds their own. We fry corn tortilla’s sometimes (they’re not hard, just softer and warm) and it is so good. Always, always finish with the squeeze of a lime.

Taco salad, from my childhood favorites book. Chicken Tinga Tacos, from Half Baked Harvest.

Chicken and Rice Soup is in heavy rotation.

Galette’s are a busy evening go-to.

Chrissy Teigen’s chicken lettuce wraps.

Lark Parties: Jerusalem chicken.

I try most of the recipes I pin on Pinterest, and don’t keep the ones we don’t like. We’ve not been disappointed with either of the Half Baked Harvest cookbooks and make a lot of her recipes again and again and again.

And sauces and salads (dressings). I almost always have something to schmeer on a plate of eggs and have a herby, creamy dressing for salads. Like this, and this or this.

Go-To Sweet

Make this exact recipe for Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats, the only thing we do different is add sprinkles. You’re welcome. I have memorized this and it takes me less than 5 minutes from start to finish. They are a crowd pleaser and I want you to have this in your back pocket.

Also this recipe for Pumpkin Bars, which is in weekly rotation mid-September through early November.


Lark Cocktails is a FUN book to make drinks out of. We love the French Pear. We try to have one or two cocktails that we enjoy and know how to make that we keep the ingredients for on hand. Aaron is a stout lover and I enjoy wine (Malbec (red) or Sauv Blanc (white)).

Adult only staples: gin + tonic with lime, some kind of whiskey, dark rum for moscow mules or dark and stormy’s.

Hostess Gifts

I think homemade kitchen items are a lovely hostess staple. Canned veggies from your garden or cut flowers from your yard. You can distill homemade vanilla with only 2 ingredients, and it’s a lovely Christmas or Hostess gift. But here are a couple of the things I like to buy locally:

Fustini’s 12 Year Balsamic Vinegar: yummy on everything. Berries! Salads! Tomatoes! Eggs! It stands alone and is a great partner. You can’t go wrong here.

Michigan candle from The Blackbird. It’s the most amazing candle for a cozy Fall season. I buy one every year and burn it all.

Flaky Sea Salt. Not all salt is created equal. This (and vanilla bean paste) are some of my absolute favorite kitchen items to have on hand. They are so small, you need so little of them – and they make all the difference.

Cotton dish towels, I love this because I can buy a multi-pack and then use one to wrap a freshly baked bread or bottle of wine.

Wine to give: you can stick with something from your region, or a good red blend, which is a nice table wine or great for cooking. Aldi has a good selection of wines that don’t break the bank.

Books for hosting to give or keep: Savor, Wild At Home, Poetry of Place, Paradise Found and the Lark books.

I know this only scratches the surface for me, I had a hard time keeping this succinct. I get in a rut, just like you, with cooking all the time. Watching cooking shows is always a motivator for me. Or planning something to host, like a Fish Boil. I can wrap my head around the daily monotony of cooking if I also have something to look forward to. We used the hell out of our grill this summer, so I was big into marinating meats. And it’s true that if you’re really starved for ideas … just start with an onion. It’ll come together from there.

Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, often the best things we eat are the most simple. Invest in your staples and a good knife. You’ll want a heavy pot and pan. If you’re going to bake more than cook, get yourself the mixer of your dreams. If you’re going to cook constantly, buy the Staub pan and Japanese knives. You can buy one at a time for 10 years and build your kitchen little by little. It’s all an investment … but, listen. This investment; is in you. Your home, your community. It’s a hobby, a way of life and a literal necessity. You’re allowed to enjoy the chore of living well.

As always, sound off in the comments with more ideas or questions. See you back here later this week for more of what I’ve learned … this time about Self.



{How to} make Cinnamon Sugar Bread.

Printable Recipe

Cinnamon sugar bread. #Fall

Yum. I made this just for you.

You’ll need:

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

I’m still working on the lighting in the kitchen – it does not bode well for photographs. Artificial light and green floors – I battle the yellow 70’s glow in all food photos unless it’s 6pm and the door is wide open and things are just so and well … you get it. I’m working on it.

For this recipe you need Flour, Sugar, Oil, an Egg, Salt, Cinnamon/Sugar, Buttermilk (or milk and vinegar) and Baking Soda.

You start by mixing your Buttermilk with 1 tsp baking soda but if you’re like me and never have buttermilk in your house, you make some. Like this:

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Measure some milk (right now I have Almond milk) just shy of your 1 cup marker. Top it off with Vinegar and let sit for a minute or two.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

It curdles.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread


Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Now, add your 1 tsp baking soda and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Pour the milk mixture into your bowl and add the rest of your ingredients.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

1/2 Cup oil.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

One egg.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

1 Cup sugar.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

1/2 tsp salt.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Two Cups flour.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread


Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Prepare your loaf pan (or muffin tins). I had parchment paper so I used it, otherwise I just oil it.

Pour half the batter in your loaf pan and sprinkle a generous amount of your Cinnamon Sugar on top (1/2 C Sugar to 1 TSP cinnamon ratio). Use a clean knife to swirl around, top with other half of batter, sprinkle a bit more and swirl one last time.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Bake at 350 for 55 minutes to an hour.

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Try not to eat it all at once. šŸ˜‰

Cinnamon Sugar Bread


Printable Recipe.

In the water

I know of six new babies in the last couple months, all girls, and one of the best gifts I got after brining home babies from the hospital was the gift of food. Andrea at Simple Organized Living did a great post on The Gift Of Food that has me inspired. (Ok, honestly, every thing on her site is inspiring.)

For being someone who loves to cook for her own family I generally feel COMPLETELY stuck when asked to cook for someone else’s family. We eat some pretty “out there” stuff and my kids don’t bat an eyelash … so I’m not always sure that our tried and true favorites are going to be a blessing to a new mom. Especially when there are other children at home, too.

I used to try extravagant meals for the new mom, thinking I was pampering her when really it was just a difficult meal to prepare from home, enjoy or accept as a gift.

I try to stay away from Chicken dishes, but not everyone loves red meat … or meat free meals for that matter. And in general, I end up making a last minute decision.

Here are a few good tips and guidelines for bringing families a meal (that I need to remind myself of!):

Keep it simple, first and foremost. The most a new mom should have to do is re-heat or stick a pan (throw away pans) in the oven for a specified amount of time.


One dish meals are ok! But easy sides or a non-dinner add on (muffins, quick bread, brownies etc) are always lovely to have on hand for visitors or mornings when the milk has gone bad and you have no eggs in the house.

Brown butter cherry bars

Always include instructions, if needed. It should take only a few extra minutes to type up, print or hand write the recipe with instructions but if all you end up doing is scribbling down the temp, oven time and possible allergy-inducing foods (milk, nuts, even broccoli for new moms who breast-feed or spicy ingredients) that saves a WORLD of time when people are in and out of your house for a few weeks.

Mom brain lasts longer than pregnancy!

It’s always nice to ask the new mom if there are foods she knows bother the baby (if breast-feeding) or if she herself (or other family members) have sensitivities or allergies. For us, we try very hard to be a dairy free home because of allergies. Gluten is a culprit at times too – and knowing that before deciding to bring a family a meal is a great way of getting the awkward conversation over your dish out of the way before you’ve already prepared something to deliver.

Freezer foods are amazing!

Andrea’s Breakfast Burritos

Cheesy Garlic Bread – make a batch or two and before putting it in the oven, flash freeze for 10 minutes and then pack in ziplocs or plastic wrap. An easy, super yummy side dish that can be ready in minutes from the freezer.

Homemade pasta sauce stock their freezer with easy dinners, and gift them with a box or two of pasta for their pantry.

Granola bars perfect for the sleep deprived parents or those nursing hunger pangs. A homemade, delicious snack ready to eat.

More from my site:

Make a summer salad – salads are a great dinner for a busy family. Add meat on the side so the family can build their own plate at dinner time.

Curry and Rice Bring all the pre-cut fixing in baggies, some rice to re heat and a crock pot of the chicken curry gravy. Left overs are amazing.

Tuna Pasta Salad Cold salads with tuna, eggs or chicken are easy lunches when you’re busy. A great add on to any dinner or potluck as well.

Walking Tacos – For a family with older siblings this could be a super fun and hands on meal for them. Give more than the gift of food when you can prep for the older kids to get dinner on the table, Mom’s night off! Re-heat the taco meat and go!

Chicken Enchilada’s – There’s no photo but I assure you, if Chicken is the dish you want to bring … it should (at some point in time) be this one.

Spanish Rice short cuts for those of you who like a little spice in your dinner. **Double check with family on their tolerance of spicy food.

Ginger Chicken Stir-fry – a good hot meal. Bring this one ready to eat.

Desserts, Snacks and extra’s

Chocolate Chip Cookies! Having a dozen or two of these on hand … life savers.

Cold Press Coffee No longer need to restrict caffeine? Perhaps you haven’t slept in 4 days? GIVE THE GIFT OF ENERGY.

Garbanzo Bean Brownie A healthy chocolate treat. That is correct. Don’t even tell the kids … and frost them if you’d like. They will disappear.

No Bake Cliff Bars protein pack for nursing moms, mornings of running errands or kids who can’t make it from nap to dinner without a breakdown. **Contains nuts.

Chocolate Mararoons and Power Balls again, perfect snacks for nursing moms, new moms, old moms, kids, lunches, any time, before dinner, running errands … on and on. These are great.

6 Week Bran Muffins Bring the batter over with a gift of a muffin-tin (or make sure they have one) with the instructions attached. The gift of homemade, warm muffins every morning for up to 6 weeks. Yummy. (Batter keeps in fridge for 6 weeks.)

Peanut Butter Cup Bars … this just has to happen.

If you’re the one in charge of setting up meals for a family – Take Them a Meal is a great service for everyone involved. You can sign up and the family you’re bringing food can see what/who is coming that evening – has your contact information in case of changes and you no longer have to have 14 forwards going through your email with sign ups. It’s awesome.

If bringing a meal to a family isn’t an option for you – your work schedule gets in the way or you aren’t confident in the kitchen … there are still options for you to be a blessing to the prospective family.

Here are a couple of ideas:

Offer to take care of older children for a few hours a night or two. Whether or not the new parents get out of the house – some times peace and quiet or the option to catch up at home are priceless gifts.

Gift cards to their favorite take out. Been a long day and the freezer’s empty, no meals are being delivered, leftovers are moldly in the fridge. The baby spikes a temp and the toddler’s teething? CEREAL IT IS! This is a great time to have the option to pull out the stash of take out menus and have dinner paid for.

Gas Cards. For families whose babies are still in the hospital. Traveling back and forth can be trying on more than your emotions.

You can offer to pay for a couple months of a grocery/menu planning service like Oh! Dinner. My cousin just launched this (Hi Bonnie!) and I think it’s pretty cool. (I’m not being paid to tell you about it.) For a small monthly fee you get a weekly menu plan and a corresponding grocery list. Dinner, solved. I’d wait to offer this up until the new babe is at least a few months old – but letting the new mom/dad know about it so they can help you decide when a good time to begin is always a great idea.

I’m sure I missed something – leave your best tips and tricks (or go-to delivery dishes) in the comments!

{How to} Roast Asparagus

Asparagus!! I love this stuff. It’s easy, too.

Let’s roast some and retain all kinds of yummy nutrients that you lose when you boil them. Steaming is good too, but I enjoy a little crunch.

{how to} roast asparagus

You’ll Need:

# Asparagus
# Salt and pepper

Rinse the asparagus and cut the tips off.

{how to} roast asparagus

Drizzle with EVOO.

{how to} roast asparagus

{how to} roast asparagus

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

{how to} roast asparagus

Put in oven on broil for 5 minutes.

{how to} roast asparagus


Food and Money

We spend the most money on food. It’s kind of embarrassing.

So we’re out of our allotted food budget and pay day is still far away – we don’t have a fully stocked freezer of meat and I’m low on almost everything else.

Dinner tonight is kind of a mayhem mishap that smells delicious so far.


Here’s what we did:

I have a pound of breakfast sausage, onions, garlic, rice and eggs. We also have some jalepeno poppers in the fridge gifted to us by my mom – so we’ll throw those in the oven too.

I made 1 C of rice with some basil, curry and a bit of EVOO.

I’ll fry the onions in the leftover bacon grease and some extra butter, roast some of the garlic, fry the other with the onions and when they’re translucent I’ll add the sausage.

When the sausage is browned I’ll remove from heat and set aside. Fry up some eggs sunny side up and layer like …

Sausage, onions, garlic.

Roasted garlic and jalepeno poppers on the side. We can add a green salad as well if needed.


I spent $0 on dinner and we’ll have left overs for breakfast (the sausage). I incorporated garlic which I’m trying to do in every way possible right now because I’m battling a yeast overgrowth in my stomach. Which is why my eye’s aren’t getting any better and my sinuses are on strike.

Healthy for our wallets and our bellies! How do you guys do it? Last minute panic that you have dinner in an hour and nothing in the fridge? Or you’re just TIRED? Oh my word, that’s such a battle.