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Loving pumpkin

Pumpkin-250Maybe no flavor says autumn quite like pumpkin. And these days it’s in everything from frothy coffee drinks and vodka to ravioli and soups.

But what exactly does pumpkin taste like? The answer is whatever you pair with it.

Pumpkin is a fairly neutral flavor, slightly earthy, mildly sweet. It plays as well in desserts as it does in savory dishes. The problem is cooks too often rely on sweet. Too many pumpkin soups taste like pumpkin pie filling: sweet and heavily spiced. Yes, it’s a flavor of fall; it just doesn’t belong in a soup bowl.

For savory pumpkin dishes, keep to savory flavorings such as garlic and sage, maybe even curry powder.

And for sweet pumpkin dishes, relegate them to dessert. The following recipe is one of my favorites, a mildly sweet, slightly spiced pumpkin cupcake with plenty of luscious chocolate frosting. Chocolate balances the earthy qualities of…

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The Art of Spiritual Writing

ArtSpiritualWriting_BlogTour-socialEveryone has a story inside them. But taking it from personal writing to a published book is a journey. And one you shouldn’t make alone.

Writers need good editors, someone they trust to make the story better. When I wrote my latest book, Recipe For Joy, I had a terrific editor in Vinita Hampton Wright at Loyola Press. Any change that was made to the manuscript, from the structure of a sentence to the expansion or consolidation of an entire section, I ultimately believed in.

Now anyone looking to write a spiritual story can have Wright’s insights with her new book, The Art of Spiritual Writing. In it, she stresses the importance of crafting readable prose, making a story accessible to many readers, not just family and friends, and being authentic. She writes about finding your voice and how to let God come through, too.

This book is a practical manual, with steps that carry a writer through the whole process. And it’s written by someone who has worked in publishing for many years as both a writer and an editor.

Those who are ready to take off on a spiritual writing project should take Wright along as their copilot.

Food and Faith

FoodFaithtop-right-moduleMy friends at Loyola Press are doing a series on food and faith, exploring how people nourish their faith through the culinary arts. Anyone who knows me knows it’s a subject near to my heart. After all, in my latest book, Recipe For Joy, I explored how I used food as a way to draw my new family together and found my faith at the same table.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the one of the loaves and fishes, in which Jesus takes fives loaves of bread and two small fish and miraculously feeds the five thousand people who had followed him to a deserted place to hear his teachings. There is more than enough for the five thousand — and there would have been enough if there were five hundred thousand that day. Because Jesus isn’t just feeding them food; he’s feeding them love.

As Thanksgiving draws near, I think the same about my holiday table. We have a large gathering each year with the blending of three families, usually between 20 and 30 people. We’ve never said no to anyone. We’ve never thought we’d run out of food, though I don’t make much more for 30 people than for 20. There’s always enough. Everyone brings something whether it’s a bottle of wine or rolls or a beloved Jell-O salad.

But the most important thing each person brings to that table is themselves. Around that table each year, a miracle happens. We have more than enough. We are fed physically, and our souls overflow with the love of this family community. And isn’t that what God intended?

I’m looking forward to the food and faith series from Loyola Press because I love to hear how others have found the love of God around their table.

Where I’ll be

Ascension Hall at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

Ascension Hall at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

I jumped.

I talked to those close to me and prayed. I weighed all sides, and finally took a drive in the country.

Then I jumped.

Today was my last day as the food editor at the Columbus Dispatch. On Monday, I start as the senior writer and editor at Kenyon College.

I have loved the work I’ve done for the last 11 years at the Dispatch. I met amazing people including chefs, farmers and colleagues. I thrived on the challenges — and they have been many and great, including shrinking space and resources.

But it was time for a change.

In the end, it came down to this: I’m a storyteller. I’ve told food stories for the last 20 years and enjoyed every one.

I told my own story in Recipe For Joy, published in March.

There are more stories to tell, and I want to be the one to tell them — in long form, short form and other artistic forms that I would likely never be able to use at a daily newspaper.

I’m not running away from food writing or journalism. I did all that I wanted, perhaps all that I could. And I’m not giving up food writing entirely. I have a new blog to launch in October (www.foodcookeat.com) and will continue to teach cooking classes and demonstrations, and maybe write a freelance food story here and there.

But I have experience with shaking things up a bit. I switched careers to food in my mid-20s. I trekked to the middle of the country without a job more than a decade ago (I wrote about it recently for CNN.).

I’ve come to know when there’s a restlessness within me, it’s something to pay attention to.

When I’m still, really still, I can listen to my soul, and it tells me where to go. I became still enough to hear my soul, my faith, on that drive a month ago to bucolic Gambier, Ohio — to Kenyon College.

“Here,” it whispered.

So “here” at Kenyon College is where I’ll be.

Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

Foodie friends: Anyone headed to the Caesar’s Entertainment Fifth Annual Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival? The four-day festival starts tomorrow and will feature lots of food stars including Rocco DiSpirito and Robert Irvine.

Of course, attendees will enjoy tons of food at The Grand Market, an eclectic tasting village, a gospel brunch and an island luau. 

Details here for those of you in the area: http://atlanticcityblog.caesars.com/press-releases/caesars-entertainment-celebrates-fifth-annual-atlantic-city-food-and-wine-festival/#.UfBeVb_mJhN.

If you go, let me know what you think.

Cups and bowls

DWWant a little insight into what’s going on in our lives? Look in the dishwasher.

For the first eight years of marriage and stepmotherhood, things were pretty even. The top rack filled with cups about the same rate the bottom rack filled with plates, bowls and silverware.

Then about six months ago, I noticed a strange thing. I wasn’t running the dishwasher as often, which was to be expected — all three kids were now in college. But more odd to me was what was in the machine: Just coffee cups and cereal bowls. In fact, I often ran the machine when it was only half full because we were out of cups and bowls.

When I looked at our lives, I realized I’d stopped cooking. Not completely, of course, but certainly not with the fervent regularity I did when the kids still in middle and high school.

My husband and I still had our mornings at home, me with my coffee and him with his Life cereal. But more often than not, when it came to dinner, I just took a pass. We’d meet for a bite at a restaurant after work, or we’d be going different directions — to teach a religious education class or to a late night meeting or work assignment. It just didn’t seem as important to squeeze in dinner together for just the two of us as it had when all five of us had been home.

I’ve had readers tell me for years that cooking for two is harder than cooking for a family, but I never really believed them. Now I’m starting to realize that it’s not necessarily harder — two chicken breasts are no more difficult to cook than five — but there seems to be less motivation.

And I’m surprised at that.


83fff236ce4111e2b78a22000a9f193c_7I’m a cheater.

A grilling cheater.

For the last 10 years, since I’ve had a home that allowed outdoor grilling, I’ve only used a gas grill. Once or twice we pulled out the mini Weber meant for camping and tailgates — usually when we were out of propane — but I’d always get frustrated and head back to the gas.

This year the gas grill died.

So, I was left with the decision: Would I remain a grilling cheater, relying on fast and easy gas for my summerlong grilling episodes? Or would I become a true griller, one that used charcoal or maybe even, down the road, hardwood?

I opted for charcoal. We bought a simple kettle grill, and I’m trying to stay faithful and grill as often as I would if I was using gas.

And therein lies the challenge.

I loved the convenience of gas. Turn a knob, press a button and voila! Ready to go.

With charcoal it takes a little more planning and a little patience. The briquettes have to be lit, then burn down to white ash. And there’s no turning the gas up or down to adjust the temperature. I have to arrange the hot coals before I put on the grate, then move the food to accommodate the flames.

But the flavor of charcoal-grilled foods really are superior — a point driven home as we ate the first things from the new grill over the last few nights: burgers, grilled shrimp, and tonight, grilled chicken.

So is it worth the extra effort? I tell myself yes. I like to watch the flames burn out before the coals start smoldering. I like how the grill is still hot after we eat so we can gather around to toast marshmallows if we want (admit it: no one ever does that on a gas grill).

But will I long for gas on a crazy weeknight when I need to get dinner on the table quickly? Will I grow tired of messy fingers from stacking the charcoal before lighting it? Will I abandon my new Weber and start looking at shiny propane grills?

Only time will tell.