Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Murdo was my first serious boyfriend. The first guy I brought home to my parents. When he met them for the first time, over Christmas break nearly eight years ago, he had driven an hour and a half from his house to ours to take me out to dinner. "He must like her a lot," I remember hearing my dad say.

We started dating in college. I was at the University of Illinois, and he was finishing up classes at Illinois State. The first week we started dating, he sent me a card in the mail, after I had mentioned how I loved receiving mail but never got any. The card had a sepia-toned image on the front, an old-timey looking photo of a young girl wearing a white bonnet and dress, sitting on a donkey, staring straight ahead with a blank look on her face. The outside read, "Nothing much going on here..." Inside: "Just sitting on my ass, thinking of you."

On our first anniversary, he surprised me while I was at my part-time job at the physics building, setting up pulleys and ramps for undergrad-level labs. My boss let me leave early, and we went off to a fancy dinner, which he had been planning with the help of my roommate all week.

Our relationship was long-distant for the first three years. There were a lot of hours-long phone calls, emailed love letters, poems, long drives. There were small, dirty apartments with crazy neighbors, jobs we hated and jobs we couldn't get, weekdays apart, weekends together. We talked on the phone before bed and dreamed about the day we'd live together, and be able to kiss each other good night, every night.

He proposed on a spring day at the arboretum. The flowering trees were just starting to bloom, and we had followed a pretty bird to a hidden waterfall, where I stopped to take photos and he wandered toward a nearby willow tree. "Hey, come look at this," he said. I walked toward him suspiciously, and there, hidden among the roots of the tree, was the small box holding my engagement ring.

Two years ago today, I married him.

I think about marriage a lot -- about what it is, what it's supposed to be, or, rather, what we think it's supposed to be. Sometimes I get caught up in the "supposed to be," forgetting that every marriage is different, but at its core, I've been learning that it's about love and growth. Love that changes. That grows from first dates and butterflies in your stomach and looking into the other's eyes, afraid and excited at the same time, not knowing what he's thinking but knowing that you're happy. Into family. Sharing a home, sharing triumphs, big and small, and seeing the best and the worst and the every day. Being afraid, and happy, together. Being together through it all.

Last night, we made tacos together. I minced onion and cilantro and tomatoes, cooked ground beef for him and prepared a bowl of black beans for me. He grated the cheese, then sprinkled it onto tortillas and heated them on the griddle until the cheese was hot and melty. We ate in front of the TV, rewatching episodes of "The Wire," him sitting on the couch, me perched on a cushion on the floor. Scattered around us, second grade worksheets with questions about telling time and writing stories with a beginning, middle and end, waiting to be graded. A pile of clean laundry on one corner of the couch, and a cat napping on a chair. A box of unpacked picture frames on the floor, and the only decor in the room a collection of old cameras lining the mantle. It may not seem as romantic as a surprise dinner or a sparkling engagement ring, but it's where we are after two years. In our very first house, eating dinner that we both prepared. And it will only grow from here.

I don't have a recipe for tacos for you today, since you probably don't need one. I do have a recipe for baked sausages and potatoes, adapted from Jenny Rosenstrach's "Dinner: A Love Story." I thought it appropriate to share a recipe from this book on our wedding anniversary because it's more than just a cookbook. It's a story about being newlywed, being married, and building a family through dinners together. I love that. Also, this dish was recently approved for our regular dinner rotation, making it a small triumph (although I've only made it once so far, so hopefully this post doesn't jinx it). That's another thing about marriage -- among all the big stuff like new houses and new jobs, there are the little things, like a familiar meal at the dinner table, and a sink full of clean dishes, and quiet weeknights. Together.

Baked Sausage and Potatoes (adapted from Dinner: A Love Story)
The original recipe is called Baked Sausage with Apples, Potatoes and Onions,  but I knew Murdo wasn't going to be crazy about the apples. So I adjusted the dish to our tastes, adding green pepper and a small handful of grape tomatoes. Jenny suggests serving the sausage, potatoes and apples with a dollop of mustard, but Murdo ate his with warm tomato sauce, instead. 

4 cups baby red or gold potatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 large bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
4 to 5 sweet Italian pork sausages

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Combine first 6 ingredients in a large baking dish, mixing well to coat the vegetables with oil. Place the Italian sausage links on top of the vegetables. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, until sausage is brown on top. Using tongs, flip the sausages over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, until fully cooked through. (I pulled mine out after 10 minutes, cut each of the sausage links in half, and put back in the oven for the last 5 minutes.)

Top photo by Jen Badalamenti

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Anytime crustless spinach quiche.

There is a chill in the air this week, forcing us to shut the windows as the days grow shorter and pull sweaters from the top shelves of the closet. I consider turning on the heat in the car in the morning, then quickly tell myself not to give in. My morning commutes became longer and more congested once school started, so that by the time I'm almost at the office, I'm cursing and swerving and close to tears from frustration.

But yesterday, as I slowly approached a stoplight, on the road for just 10 minutes, there was this.

I thought about that image all day.

I've also been thinking about what I can say about this crustless spinach quiche, besides the fact that I've made it four times in the past three weeks, and that I found the recipe through Shanna, who has been posting some really heart-warming stories lately about family and friends and gathering around the table.

This quiche is perfect for gatherings: I made it for a bridal shower at work, and then again for Murdo to bring as an appetizer to a work lunch party. The leftovers keep well in the fridge, and are great for feeding a snack-hungry Mom, Dad and sister when they come over one Saturday to help paint the kitchen and pull weeds in the backyard and bring a pudgy little nephew for bouncing and playing.

I can also tell you that besides a snack, this quiche makes a fine breakfast, lunch or dinner. Cold, room temperature or heated. Plated with toast and jam on a Sunday morning, or eaten in a park out of a small Pyrex dish during lunch hour.

I figured I should tell you all this before it really started getting cold out there, and cravings started transitioning from light and simple to deep and rich. Although this crustless quiche is so easy and versatile that I bet it'll hold its own in the cold weather menu rotation, as well.

Crustless Spinach Quiche (adapted from AllRecipes, via Food Loves Writing)
The original recipe calls for Muenster cheese, but I've used mozzarella as well as cheddar with great results, while Shanna combined three different cheeses in one go. I've also cut down on the cheese, increased the spinach, added green onions. You can pretty much do anything with this recipe and it'll still be delicious.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8-10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (I thaw mine by running under water in a mesh strainer and pressing dry)
5 eggs, beaten with 1/2 cup milk
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook until excess moisture is evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine eggs, cheese, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add spinach mixture to bowl and stir to blend. Fold egg and spinach mixture into a 9-inch pie pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake 30 minutes, until eggs have set and edges begin turning golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Their wedding story.

I'm not a chatty person. Although I do love a good conversation, sometimes I just like to sit back and be quiet. Observe. This can often make people think I'm bored or, even worse, that I don't like them. Truth be told, I usually just don't have anything interesting left to say. I'm not bored; I'm just boring.

I think this is part of the reason I love being behind a camera. My camera allows me to step out and look in. I know this kind of sounds like I use my camera to avoid talking to people, but look, that's not how it goes (not most of the time, anyway). I'm just taking a break from the conversation to tell a story in a different way. Or at least try to.  

When Nick and Marli asked me to take photos at their wedding, they said they thought it would be something I'd have fun doing. 

Guys, I had so much fun. 

A wedding day is such a rush of emotion. As a former DIY bride (I feel like we should receive some sort of medal for surviving the wedding planning process), I can no longer attend a wedding without seeing all the work that goes into it, and paying close attention to the behind-the-scenes excitement going on among close family and friends who have been involved the last few days (weeks, months) of planning, making, organizing, stressing out. I felt honored that Nick and Marli invited me and Murdo (he was a groomsman) to be a part of it. 

Here is their wedding day story, as best as I can tell it.*

*All images in this post are digital. I took a couple of rolls of film that day but haven't gotten them developed yet! Stay tuned for the film shots...