Last week, we went on a long beach vacation to our favorite place in the world, the quaint little Island of Little Gasparilla. I wrote about it in our food memoir We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook (in stores next week.) It’s where Jared and I got married, where we took Jackson for his first beach experience, and where Jared’s family has been vacationing for twenty years. To put it mildly, it’s a special place for our family.
We took along the Mimi because we love her and Jackson loves her…and well, we knew it was the only way we’d get any alone time. Thanks to her, Jared and I enjoyed an amazing all vegan dinner at Vino Loco Tapas and Wine Bar one night to celebrate our sixth anniversary. We were the only diners (it’s off season right now), and we got special treatment from the chef, who hand delivered each organic, well-thought out plate to our table. Simple flavorful food made with quality organic ingredients that let the veggies be the star. My kind of food! And then there was vegan gelato made out of almond milk. Oh my. The gelato was so amazing, we swung by on our way home to get more for the long road home…and to share with Jackson and Mimi who missed out the first time. I ate my scoop with one of Jackson’s leftover chocolate birthday cupcakes. I can’t remember the last time I had cake and ice cream. It was like a party in my mouth.
Did I say chocolate cupcakes up there? Oh yes! My sweet Jackson turned two on Saturday….and my usually healthy little eater has a dark secret. He loves nothing more than chocolate cupcakes. I used my go-to Chocolate Cupcake Recipe from Chow.com. They are quick and easy and don’t call for any weird ingredients. I subbed almond milk, whole wheat flour, and coconut oil this time (working with our limited pantry on the island). They didn’t rise quite as much as the first time I made them with canola and white flour, but they were still fluffy and delicious…and healthier. 🙂 We skipped icing in lieu of a dusting of powdered sugar. We aren’t much of an icing family…and it’s usually just fat and sugar anyway. We let him blow the powdered sugar on his cupcake instead of blowing out a candle. He thought that was WAY fun!
Happy Birthday Jackson! I have a feeling we have an adventurous year ahead! Twos = double the fun, right?
In honor of Jackson turning two, we’re giving away TWO early release copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook! Jackson just so happens to be a pretty big star in the book….so it seems fitting. To enter the giveaway, simply like our facebook page and leave us a comment HERE ON THE BLOG telling us you’ve done so. A birthday wish to Jackson would be like powdered sugar on the cupcake though. 🙂 Be sure to include the name that you use on Facebook so we can verify your entry and fill in the email section of our contact form so we can contact you if you are a winner.
Giveaway ends on at midnight central time Friday, August 2nd, We’ll pick the winners using a random number generator. Winners will have 24 hours to contact us before we choose another name.
(Note from Mama Becky: A departure from our regular humor-recipe-based food blog today, in light of the recent events in Colorado and my ten days away. A little long, but there’s a lot in and on my heart.)
It was good to touch down in beautiful Colorado tonight, after ten days of vacation in the Great Northwest. Thank you to all who have prayed for those who’ve suffered so much of late in our beloved state. Not only do the victims of wildfire and random violence need tenderness, kindness and love to help heal the shock, pain and loss; but I really do believe that we, as friends and family and strangers, are also in great need of TLC in the aftermath of ongoing traumatic news. Tragedy like this takes its toll on an entire community’s psyche.
There’s something healing in spending time with each other, in the basic acts of cooking beautiful meals from fresh ingredients or lingering over a dinner at a restaurant as couples, family, friends. When I heard of Friday’s sorrow in Aurora, after prayers and connecting with friends and family, tears shed for the victims, I returned again and again in my mind to this scene: me in an apron, in my own kitchen, cooking something for people I love. One of my first responses when hearing of someone’s suffering is to cook something comforting, stabilizing and warm.
In her beautiful memoir, Keeping the Feast, the journalist and author Paula Butturini writes about the healing powers of cooking and sharing simple meals with friends in Italy, following a tragedy (her husband was nearly fatally shot by a sniper’s bullet) and its lingering trauma.
She writes, “I may write about the smell of asparagus, the color of polenta, or the taste of figs still warm from the sun, but all of it is a personal shorthand for weighing love and hunger, health and nourishment, secrets and revelations, illness and survival, comfort and celebration, and perhaps most of all, the joy and gift of being alive.”
Like tears – cooking, serving, and eating together is a language without words that hearts understand. Food with love is a powerful healing force in a hurting world.
I had a tough time getting to sleep Friday night, but woke to a picture-postcard perfect day in Oregon on Saturday, the day my husband and I planned to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
We drove from our little beach hideaway (that had been filled to the brim with relatives) in Neskowin, Oregon, and spent the day alone, driving through green and gold patchworks, hillside wine orchards that seemed, in my mind, exactly as Butturini described Italy. We were celebrating eight years of wedded bliss in every happy sense of that word. Ours is a marriage of passion and compatibility, easy love and great fun. Some couples forget to be grateful, take each other for granted. Somehow, we do not. We know too well the fragility of life and the rare gift it is to love and be cherished in return.
As we entered Portland, one of the well-known foodie meccas of the world, Greg said, “I want you to get to enjoy everything your heart desires today.” Because Greg’s palette craves simplicity over complicated layers of flavor, and he prefers reliable favorites over the risk involved in curiosity and surprise, this was a true gift of the heart. I jumped at the offer.
First stop: Salt & Straw for crazy ice cream.
Lines wind around the block with folks waiting for buttery ice cream with flavors like Cherry and Bone Marrow (Alas they were out, it is a wintry ice cream. Who knew?), Pear and Blue Cheese, and Strawberry Balsamic with Pepper. (I sampled both. Two thumbs up.)
My choice was the seasonal special:
I loved every drippy sweet-spicy-savory bite, and Greg could tell it by the huge purple Marionberry stains on my white shirt.
Last night, we went to Yakuzas. The reviews showcased mouth-watering Chef designed entrees and appetizers, and since their one and only burger was voted the best in town, I knew Greg would be happy with something semi-familiar and filling. When we arrived the sun was just beginning to dip, the night temperature was windless and pure perfection. The entire restaurant was open without any walls at all, to the street and the patio out back.
“Do you have reservations?” the young woman asked. I had not thought to do this, but immediately wished I had, as every seat in the house was full. Luckily, a table vacated within minutes of our arrival.
We began by sharing an avocado and cucumber sesame salad. It was a simple salad: chunks of avocado and cucumber, tossed in sesame oil and sesame seeds. What made it over the top was the sprinkling of flaky, kosher sea salt.
This was followed by three little straw purses of divine yumminess: phyllo dough somehow made into thread-like strips, wrapped around three huge sea scallops and twisted so that the straw “hair” stuck straight up in pony tail fashion. They were sitting on a dollop of some sort of rich sauce – perhaps a cocktail sauce blended with heavy cream and a squeeze of fresh lime? Greg looked dubious. Then he tried a bite, and smiled, rolling his eyes heavenward. My meat and potatoes man was, at long last, being seduced by foodie fare.
The arrival of the hamburger sealed the deal. We were told that the meat was from pampered Kobe cows. To our shock, the chef only cooked it one way: rare. We are not rare meat eaters, but the waitress assured us this was unlike any rare burger we’ve ever had. The chef grills it and then covers it to let it sit for 20 minutes. This renders the beef pink-ish red but has no blood, no raw taste. It is served with a local chevre, crispy straw potatoes doused in truffle oil, and sesame brioche buns. We closed our eyes to the color of the meat, took one bite and both grinned like idiots, eyes rolling again. Seriously the best burger I’ve ever tasted and Greg would agree.
After dinner, we walked in the summer evening air the few blocks to our car, and I felt nourished in every sense of the word. Thankful for the privilege of being alive in this moment, in my husband’s kind presence, in the afterglow of an unforgettably good meal, and surrounded by the eclectic funky beauty of Portland.
When life gets harsh, when it hurts and confuses and wounds, it is these things that soothe and re-balance us: gratitude, love, kindness, food, and beauty. May these be yours in abundance today. And may they grace especially our beloved Colorado and her people.
“….we were longing for those comforts that blend of light, warmth, food, beauty and friends – the very elixir that had nourished and protected us before…” Paula Butturini
“Everything that brings light in this dark world is of and from God, the Father of Lights.” My pastor, Hugh Halter