the writing life

csa pints and quarts

What is it that keeps us from writing?

Dinner engagements, e-mails, a kitchenful of food needing preservation, a garden needing weeding, classes, chaplaincy, life.

Writer’s block has always seemed to me an affliction that strikes those trying to write. How can something be an obstacle if you’re not trying to move ahead?

tomato halves

A couple weeks back, a friend checked in on my writing life. “What have you been writing lately?”

Oh, a paper here and there. A sermon last month. A blog post. Not much.

slow-roasted tomatoes

He told me I sounded apologetic.

I told him he sounded reproachful.

I told him I was content with my writing lately. Sure, it’s not much, but I’ve been happy. (Happier, it seems, than I was at this time last year, when the darkness was swallowing me whole.)

oven-dried tomatoes

It’s true, I haven’t been writing apart from what’s required of me. I’ve been slow-roasting tomatoes, sampling goat cheese and meeting the goats, finishing The Remains of the Day (thanks, Mary!) and starting Refuge, cheering for my brother- and sister-in-law as they kick the Chicago Marathon’s butt, trying to like rutabaga by slathering it in mustard and roasting it, coaxing new fronds out of a fern past its prime, going to bed at a reasonable hour.

la mancha goat at evergreen lane farm

And I’ve been content.

But when my friend asked and I sounded apologetic and he told me not to, that he just wanted to encourage me to keep writing, I started to feel conflicted. I had thought I was satisfied, but then I thought maybe I ought to be writing. Maybe I owe it to the world. That’s more or less what my friend said: if I don’t write, the world will be less than it could be.

chicken at fernwood farm

Well, see now why I was feeling apologetic? Forgive me, world.

I haven’t been blocked from writing; I’ve just not been writing. Even though that’s been okay with me, maybe that right there is the problem. I’ve become comfortable with not writing. I’ve let the part of me that doesn’t want to write absorb the part that does. The part that doesn’t didn’t even put up a fight.

So I’m writing, and registering its effect on my soul: writing this brought delight. Maybe I’ll do it again.

In the meantime—here, world. Go make these delicious stuffed peppers.

Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers

inspired by our glut of CSA tomatoes, these tomatoes at Food in Jars, the recipe on the side of the quinoa box that Annie passed along, and most amazingly, my own brain

If you know me, you’ll know I stick pree-tty closely to recipes. I’m terrible at seasoning things, so if the recipe doesn’t provide adequate seasoning instructions, prepare yourself for a bland meal. But I MADE THIS MYSELF! Please just rejoice with me for a minute. I had made the tomatoes a few nights before, and from there, everything called out to each other and fell together themselves. I’m still bad at seasoning, but slow-roasted tomatoes and olives and roasted garlic are pretty good at it.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

lots of tomatoes, but not enough to make sauce-making worth your while
olive oil

Turn the oven to 200ºF. Cover two baking sheets with foil.

Slice all the tomatoes you have in half and set them, cut side up, on the baking sheets. Drizzle them generously with olive oil and sprinkle with plenty of kosher salt.

Leave them in the oven for 8 to 10 hours or more, checking periodically. I find that smaller tomatoes (romas) are done between 8 and 10 hours, and big heirlooms can take up to 24. You can remove ones that finish earlier and keep the others in.

While you’re at it, cut the top off a bulb of garlic, douse it with olive oil, and wrap it up in foil. Stick that on the corner of a pan. I’ve only done this at high heat (400ºF), but you could try it with the tomatoes to make the most of your oven’s heat.

When the tomatoes have collapsed into themselves and look chewy and dark, let them cool. Then put the whole pan into the freezer. Once they’re frozen, drop them into freezer bags for storage.

Stuffed Peppers

1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups liquid (any combination of tomato sauce, vegetable broth, olive brine, water)
6 peppers
1 can green olives, pitted but not stuffed
6 slow-roasted tomato halves (can also use sun-dried tomatoes)
few cloves roasted garlic
good pinch of salt
1-2 cups fontina and parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Strain the olives and save their brine to cook the quinoa in. Finely dice the tomatoes and throw them, along with the brine and the rest of the cooking liquid, into a pot. Rinse the quinoa, drain, and stir it into the pot. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to medium-low and let simmer for 20 or so minutes, until the quinoa is translucent and the liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, slice the peppers in half lengthwise (stem to bottom), remove the seeds, and steam or boil for a few minutes, just to make them tender. Place them on a cutting board to cool.

Dice the olives and grate the cheese.

When the quinoa is finished cooking, toss it with the diced olives and squeeze a few cloves of roasted garlic over the top. Stir together and add salt to taste.

Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Pack each half-pepper with about 1/12 of the mixture and lay them in the pan. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over each pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese has melted and begun to bubble and bronze. Serve immediately.


5 thoughts on “the writing life

  1. Grace, welcome back! I have missed your voice. As an encouragement: I was always a wannabe writer. It wasn’t until I had written my 100th blog (no close to 150) that I realized that I have created a habit. What Adam said is really true – the more you write the more you want to write and the more you have to write about.

  2. Grace, I am so glad to hear that you are so content and doing well. 🙂 And I love the pictures. You are both a gifted writer and photographer. I pray writing continues to be a delight for you!

  3. You really made me smile today, Grace! Thanks for just listening to your heart and for being the type of person who moves forward into life with intention. You are an inspiration! Like proverbs says, “there is nothing better than to eat and drink and enjoy your work.” I love you, friend!

  4. “Sassy” is right, and “lovable” is too. I esp like: “Inspired by…most amazingly, my own brain.” (Erik would say it was the protein powder you were force-fed prenatally!) Nice work on the lovely slow-roasted tomatoes. They are beautiful.

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