Sunday, November 15, 2015

One Meal at a Time

Hello. It's been a while...

Five years, actually.

And sitting down to write this makes me realize how many things have changed in the time since I was last here. Shortly after my last post, the foundation of my life crumbled. For a good long while, it was like an earthquake that wouldn't stop long enough for me to get to a safe place and take cover. And when the shaking finally stopped, I wasn't in a hurry to climb out from under the rubble. The weight of the debris was less scary than what might await me when I finally climbed out.

It's impossible to sum up five years, but suffice it to say that about 17 people gave me copies of Eat, Pray, Love. I accepted each copy graciously, and with the warmth of each of the givers' good intentions, but I died a bit inside when I realized I already had an embarrassing number of copies on my bookshelf from the last time my life fell apart, about 4 years prior. This was not the first time my personal life had completely gone to shit. I'd already eaten, prayed and loved my way through one crisis, and here I was worse off than ever.

Life has a funny way of surprising you, right when you think things are going along as you'd like them to. It has sharp turns and sudden stops and starts - like a rusty old wooden roller coaster that jerks and whips you around in a way that isn't actually all that much fun, and leaves you dizzy and a little beat up as you try to pretend you're having a good time and do your best not to throw up all over everyone.

Things were bad there for a while.

I cried a lot.
I hid under the covers more days than I could ever admit.
I yo-yo'd between attacking the bad feelings with Very Healthy Decisions, and languishing in the bad feelings until I felt the relief of never having to get better.
I did yoga! I cleansed! I got deep into essential oils and homemade teas!
I sometimes drank too much wine. I got pneumonia twice. I had a hard time being still.

I learned what anxiety attacks are, and how stress impacts every aspect of your mind and body.

But also, this...

I have felt more gratitude and have been more present with my daughter and my loved ones than I ever would have been without all those hard parts.
I have learned who I am. (Who I am today, anyway.)
I have learned how I want to parent.
I have learned what not to worry about.
I have learned what makes me truly happy.
I have learned what doesn't make me happy, which is almost more important.
I have learned how to love, the right way, and with the right person.

And I've never, ever stopped cooking. And that is why I dusted off this old, abandoned blog and started it up again.

The title of this blog was never more real than in the five years I wasn't writing it: Cooking has been my therapy. It has saved me, continues to save me on a near daily basis.

The respite of walking into my kitchen, opening my refrigerator and pantry and making something delicious, my thoughts belonging only to me as I chop, mix, stir and meditate over flavors and colors and textures, it has kept me, well... me. As everything changed (divorcee, single mom, joint custody of my Reason-For-Living), it was this beating part of me that I could still nurture, that I could tap into, draw from, and sustain. On my worst days, I could climb out of bed and into the kitchen to make something delicious. It was One Meal at a Time for a while there.

Culinerapy, indeed.

And eventually, it was easier to get out of bed. I found my way back, not to what I was before, but back to the parts of me that mattered enough to take with me. And a lot of that was my own hard work, but a good deal of it was because of the people who loved me all the way through it.

I could tell I was doing better when I started regularly cooking for the people I love. Inviting people over for dinners, for brunches, for holiday gatherings. Dropping off baked goods, canned goods, infused spirits as thanks for infusing my spirit. It was this desire to share food with the people I love that told me I was going to be okay.

For the people who have nourished me, I will nourish you back. One meal at a time.

So, we'll start off simple, with something that you can make to nourish yourself, or, to share with the people you love.  It's a simple yellow tomato jam with basil, which is a heavenly mix of savory and sweet. Don't be scared of it. It's really, really good.

This jam is definitely sweet, but the basil and lemon and the fact that it's made from tomatoes lends it to some really spectacular uses. I recommend:

To nourish a crowd: On toasted or grilled bread (or crackers) spread with whipped ricotta, or even better, goat cheese. Or served as an accompaniment on a charcuterie and cheese platter.

To nourish yourself: Swirled in plain greek yogurt with granola sprinkled on top (this was my brilliant friend Lauren's creation, after I gifted her with a jar). Or spread with butter on a warm muffin (which is how my little Bailey likes it).

I made mine from home grown tomatoes and basil, which I planted and cultivated in our back yard garden with the two people I love most, and not at all coincidentally, whom I cook for the most.

Make a great big batch of this. Share it with the people you love, or keep some in your pantry for future emergencies. Life is bumpy, and knowing you have something good to serve up for yourself and for your favorite people sure does make the getting through it easier.

Yellow Tomato Basil Jam
Marisa McClellan/Food In Jars 
*If canning is not your thing, you can cut the ingredients in half, and keep the jam in a sealed container in your fridge for up to two weeks. 
Yield: Makes 3.5 pints or 7 half pints
  • 4 pounds Sungold or other yellow tomatoes
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • zest of two lemons, divided
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped basil



  1. Cut Sungold tomatoes in half, or, if using larger yellow tomatoes, chop them into smallish pieces.
  2. Combine chopped tomatoes with sugar in a large, non-reactive pot and stir. Let sit for at least one hour, or until the tomatoes release their juice.
  3. When ready to cook, prep canning pot and jars and place jam pot over high heat. Add lemon juice and bring to a boil.
  4. Cook at a boil for 30-35, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have softened and the syrup has gotten thick. Check set with plate test. Once you’re satisfied with the set, remove the pot from the heat and stir in half the lemon zest and chopped basil. Taste and add remaining lemon zest only if you feel the jam requires it.
  5. Pour jam into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
  6. When time is up, remove jars from pot and let them cool on a kitchen towel. When jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and test seals. Place any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use promptly. All sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Something Pretty

I thought I'd share something pretty.

Poppies. Lots and lots of poppies.

Fields as far as the eye can see, a swelling sea of orange.

And way off in the middle of it were some tables, just begging for a picnic.

If it weren't illegal, I would have run through these fields, barefoot.

Instead, Bailey and I parked ourselves on a path, and just enjoyed the view.

Well, I enjoyed the view, anyway. She had no idea she was there. Which is the same thing that happened when I took her to the beach.

Right now she's kind of like the traveling gnome in those pictures from all over the world. But next year she'll be able to enjoy it more... and maybe even join us at one of those tables for a picnic.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Making My Way Back

Bit by bit, I'm tip-toeing back into the kitchen.

Soft scrambled eggs when the morning is quiet, some grilled asparagus with lemon and parmigiano reggiano on a Sunday evening. A perfect steamed artichoke for lunch, and a slow pot of soup made from leftover veggies in the fridge.

These are not grand culinary accomplishments, by any means. But they are significant nonetheless. It's a sign. I'm making my way back.

I'm just surfacing from a six-week long immersion in this brand new world, and it's a little like waking from a long sleep -- a little stiff and bleary-eyed.

There have been days full of small miracles, and some long sleepless nights. Most of the time I feel completely natural and serene in motherhood, but here and there I second guess my decisions, and feel as though I'm stumbling around the nursery hopelessly. Every single day is new and huge and filled with epic explorations and discoveries. It's the best feeling I've ever felt, but it doesn't mean it's not a little unnerving every once in a while.

Which is why the small moments in the kitchen are so important. With all this newness, I crave the familiar feel of the wooden spoon in my hand, the sound of onions sizzling in olive oil, the predictable rhythm of my knife. I know these motions, these sights, these smells. I don't have to think too much, or try too hard. It's second nature. It's the old part of me, coming out to meet the new part of me.

Last week, as spring knocked us over the head in Southern California, I witnessed promises being made in my backyard.

There are infant pomegranates, probably born the same week as Bailey.

And grapes even smaller than her little toes.

There are more lemons than I know what to do with, growing in heavy clusters that beg to be turned into lemonade.

There are mango blossoms reaching to the sky.

The rosemary I planted and quickly forgot about has grown tall enough to get my attention.

And all of these promised me that I will be back to what I love, soon. I don't have anything to share with you yet, but I'm certain I will in the coming weeks. The recipes might be simpler, but fancy food was never what this was about, anyway.

And as for Bailey... she's started smiling now. There's an awful lot to smile about in this house.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bailey Louisa

It's a girl.

If I had words, I'd put them here. Every time I try, I start crying and my heart feels like it's going to burst through my chest. Because there are no words to describe this. But there are pictures.

Lots and lots of pictures.

I have a beautiful, healthy daughter. And I have more love than I possibly know what to do with.

And soon, I will have words, and maybe even simple recipes to share with you here.

Until then, I will be singing lullabies and staring at this breathing little miracle. And trying to find the words...

...and probably changing diapers.

(Welcome to the world, my Little Woman.)