A couple of weeks ago, back when we proposed this guest post contest, I made reference to the fact that writing — for most of us, at least — is hard. It takes time, of which most of us do not have an abundance. It takes an idea, which is the most elusive thing of all, the thing you try to write your way toward, only to realize — 500 words in — that it’s not so much of an idea at all. But, more than anything, it takes guts. Writing something and sending it to someone else is a lot like taking your clothes off and walking down the street — maybe not the most apt metaphor for a family blog, but I really believe it to be true. All of which is to say, Jenny and I weren’t sure what we were going to get when we proposed the contest. We knew it was a lot to ask and, if the shoe were on the other foot, we would probably not have taken the time, or mustered the nerve, to try. Would anyone submit anything? Would we have much to choose from? And the answer to both of those questions is: yes. We received over 40 entries, with recipes and photos, and every one of them was full of feeling and heart. So many good recipes, so many personal stories and careful turns of phrase. I want to list of a few of my favorites. Janet: “Also, I am all about quinoa.” Kathryn: “Margaret’s new skirt is missing a button, and if you give them hem the gentlest tug, it is likely to slip right down off her hips.” Lisa: “So far, my son has proved to be a man of diverse tastes.” Marcus: “You can’t throw around a term like ‘Texas Chili’ lightly.” Sarah: “My mother had an unexplainable penchant for pickled beets.” Tara: “The son of an Irish longshoreman, Dad grew up on simple, inexpensive fare. He made beef stew with a thick, flavorful broth and big wedges of floury-textured potato that I’m still trying to recreate.” Courtney: “I knew this was something I had to try, and hopefully my confidence in the kitchen would outshine any hesitation I have when it comes to my writing. But I have planned and made dinner for my family every night of the week for eight years and there is something to be said for that. So, let’s do this.”
You all did this, and we can’t thank you enough. Jenny compiled all the entries in a downloadable pdf — a mini-cookbook from the readers of DALS. And Molly, I can’t wait to try the sweet potato-and-chard gratin.
And now… [doing my best game show host voice]… the envelope please…
The winner of the Dinner: A Love Story Guest Post Contest is [dramatic pause]…..
…Hannah Heller from Inherit the Spoon!
I miss my mom every day. Every day. I wish I could call her, or stop by and see her at her office, or email her a photo from my phone. Little things. Mostly, they make me smile – I miss her, but I love her, and she would have loved my kids. But then on some days I catch a glimpse of the full scope of the loss – my Uncle Lance, who has lost both his parents, described it once as having the universe kind of opening up over your head, with nothing there to buffer you. You are exposed. And the chasm that yawns above you sometimes feels like it holds the entire world – family history, your own childhood stories, a parent’s unconditional love, a grandmother for your kids.
But then you remember something small – something like how much your mom loved lemon verbena. And it feels real and visceral and you can hear her voice — it is in your head of course, but you know just the inflection, the absolute exact way it would sound when she said smell this and smooshed it in her fingers. Or maybe you remember how, that last summer, when she couldn’t really eat anymore but she would still try, she asked you one warm Wednesday evening to go and pick up butternut squash ravioli in brown butter and sage sauce – from that place on College, the ones that were almost more dessert than dinner. And she managed a bite or two and you finished hers, and then threw yours away because you hadn’t been able to resist ordering two full meals, just in case.
You remember those things and then suddenly it is easier, and you can imagine how, if her grandkids had made her a card for Mother’s Day, she would have loved it. You can picture her face lighting up, her laughter, her sparkly green eyes. And you know she would have kept those cards her grandkids made – on her dresser, by her bed, and eventually in a box. You know this because you sorted through years and years of her files and found them – swirled in with receipts and letters, manifestos and prayers. Card after card after handmade card. I love you mom.
Lemon Verbena Shortbread
These recipes started life as Michael Ruhlman’s most basic cookie ratio in his instructive if dense book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. The original recipe makes a lovely, not-too-sweet shortbread style cookie. I have made it even less sweet, and then upped the flavor profile with the addition of herbs. It is a subtle cookie – what he perfectly describes as an “adult cookie” – and like all good shortbread it leans heavily on the butter flavor (use really good butter! Maybe even make your own). This makes a lot of cookies — 25+. But they are very small, and they will go very quickly.
8 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
15 or more lemon verbena leaves, chopped fine
1/2 cup all purpose flour (plus 2 tablespoons if needed)
1/2 cup spelt flour
Optional: additional sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
In a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until lightened and fluffy. Add the lemon verbena and mix until it is blended in. Add the both flours (not the extra tablespoons of all-purpose) and mix well until a dough forms. You should be able to form this into neat balls – if it is very sticky, add another tablespoon or two of flour.
Make small (teaspoons of dough) balls and flatten slightly on the cookie sheets. If you’d like, you can give them a little sugar dusting. Put the cookie sheets in the fridge, and let the shaped dough chill for a few minutes.
Bake for eight to ten minutes or until the bottoms are golden and the edges just barely turning. Cool on racks.