Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I've moved!

Please find me at jenniferjustuswrites.com.

See you there. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Under Construction!

I'm happy to report this blog will soon roll into a new site to be launched the first week of October.

More coming soon!


Monday, April 8, 2013

Food Bloggers Against Hunger

The trouble with writing about hunger is I’ve never felt it. Ever.

Yeah, I’ve skipped meals and dieted. I’ve lived on just juice for a couple of days. 

But I’ve always known that the next meal could happen whenever I wanted. To be truly hungry is something I’ve never known.

Maybe that’s part of why it’s hard to get our attention on hunger and food insecurity issues. It’s something that feels too far away, and it's something we can compartmentalize to the weekly free meals for the homeless down at the church. Someone else is taking care of it, right?

But when I saw “A Place at the Table” at The Belcourt, it got my attention, it made me cry, and then it made me angry.

It has all the stats – 1 out of every 2 kids in the United States will at some point be on food assistance, 50 million Americans rely on charitable food programs, we’re making more food than ever, but people are obese and hungry.

But it also puts a face on hunger by following three families dealing with food insecurity. Rosie, a fifth grader from Colorado, for example, can’t concentrate in school sometimes because her "stomach is hurting." Here's the trailer:

It’s a face I’ve seen here in Nashville while writing a story about the awesome work of The Nashville Food Project. I watched hungry people fill plates, but I also saw a woman who looked to be about my age pick up a yellow squash from Nashville Food Project’s garden. “I don’t know what to do with this,” she said.

My parents live in a small North Georgia town near the bottom of the Appalachian Trail. As teachers for many years, they’ve seen poverty in ways I haven’t. My father found a student at the technical college where he worked sleeping in his car. Another couple in the cosmetology program had been buying crackers and other snack foods in large quantities at the bookstore using their leftover Pell grant funds. The store manager asked them what they were doing with all of it. “We’re feeding our family,” the man said.

The day after I saw "A Place at the Table," I learned about Food Bloggers Against Hunger, which is why I’m posting today. Several other bloggers in town will post today along with about 200 bloggers nationwide for the project.

A few of us decided locally to also hold an event to screen the film again in Nashville on Monday, April 29. Since it’s a film that makes you want to take action, we’re following it with a food advocacy fair. Attendees can immediately check out ways to get involved from helping kids learn to grow and prepare fresh vegetables on Hands on Nashville’s Urban Farm to learning more about how to protect SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with Community Food Advocates.

In thinking about a recipe to share, I remembered my parents again and how we often made a meal of just white beans (“soup beans” as they called them) and cornbread. It’s something that became an occasion. We would visit my grandparents just to eat this meal.

To step it up, I followed a version by Frank Stitt in the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook that adds onion, garlic, bacon and a healthy serving of collard greens. To keep costs low, I also had to omit a few items such as the Parmesan cheese, and I chose a cornbread mix, which costs less than buying buttermilk and eggs.

The average daily allotment for a person on food assistance is about $4. But this simple meal -- with ingredients omitted -- cost me more than twice that much. It makes it easy to see how $4 a day is not nearly enough. 

I’ve never known hunger, but a film like "A Place at the Table" helped me feel it through its stories. And when we can feel it, I hope we’ll all be moved to do something about it.

Get involved:

1. Join us to watch “A Place at the Table” at Downtown Presbyterian Church on Monday, April 29 at 6 p.m. The film also can be watched on demand at iTunes.

2. Send a letter to Congress to help protect funding for federal nutrition programs. It just takes a second.

3. Follow #takeyourplace hashtag on Twitter.

Collard Greens and White Beans

Makes about 8 servings

3 cups white beans, ½ cup cooking liquid reserved
1 pound collard greens, tough ribs removed and cut into pieces
Vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup bacon, cooked and crumbled

1. Prepare the beans and set aside.

2. In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water, then heat and boil until tender about 30 minutes. Drain.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the collard greens and stir to coat. Add the bacon, adjust seasoning and serve warm with cornbread.

Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook (University of Georgia Press, 2010)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

a post roast ramble

Here’s a goal I have for 2013: Find the perfect roast chicken.

And by the perfect roast chicken, I mean the version of roast chicken that I can truss up with my eyes closed and consistently please a small gathering of people with a juicy, flavorful bird.

I’m sort of embarrassed that I don’t already have a go-to version. I think I’ve been overwhelmed by all the "best" ways. I've read that Thomas Keller likes to roast his on a bed of root vegetables. Alice Waters goes with olive oil and herbs. Edna Lewis uses only butter. So many more!

I will give a few variations a spin, but I based the following experiment on this Birmingham blogger’s recipe. Her goth pic helped sell me. 

I roasted this chicken over the weekend while hanging out with my best friends. We brought it to room temp before roasting, but we didn’t have time to let it sit with the herbs. We also omitted the marjoram and lavender due to availability and roasted it in a deep skillet over a bed of vegetables as roasting rack.

It might be hard for me to beat this one.

I also hope to find my groove in biscuit-making and pie crusts this year (earlier efforts have had my grandmother rolling in her  

As for last year, I’m extremely grateful. But it also has been one of the wildest years for me so far. I’m glad to move into the next phase, and this year I’m hoping to follow Leonard Cohen's advice about becoming the sea rather than letting it make me so seasick. I've definitely had a few green moments hanging over the rail. 

But here are some things I loved learning about and writing down in journals last year. It’s not a “best of” list –- just a few things I liked thinking about.

-- Is it possible to "find" inspiration? Thomas Keller said it's just about staying aware, so that we can recognize the good ideas when they come. And then later I read this quote on one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings: "Inspiration is for amateurs -- the rest of us just show up and get to work." -Chuck Close

-- There's this: 

-- “I cannot say this too strongly: Do not compare yourselves to others. Be true to who you are and continue to learn with all your might.” – Daisaku Ikeda

-- “Gotta have more 'want to' than 'don’t want to.'” - my friend Kevin’s dad

-- I also still love Cat Power:


-- “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” – Dalai Lama

-- I can’t name my favorite meal of the year, but my favorite drink came from La Condesa in Austin (thanks to Lindsay Taub for turning me on to it). It’s the manliest tasting, sexiest cocktail I have ever tasted.

El Cubico = Whole leaf tobacco-infused cazadores reposado, vanilla infused brandy, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mescal essence, volcanic-saffron-infused salt rim

-- "...it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer. By which I mean not a 'good' writer or a 'bad' writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." -Joan Didion (also from Brain Pickings)

-- “To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

-- “Sometimes you need to just step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.” - anonymous

-- I went to Marfa, Texas this year.  

So odd and sparse. I loved it. 

-- I can see the draw for minimalist Donald Judd here, but I loved learning about John Chamberlain's art and hearing how he learned about the importance of selectivity, working quickly and trusting intuition from studying poetry in North Carolina.

-- I also loved the dust devils in West Texas. I had never seen these spontaneous mini-tornados, and I love how they just kick up in a swirl out of nowhere giving you something to look at on the horizon and making the wind real. I didn’t catch a dust devil on video, but I do have some of this West Texas eeriness. It's the Museum of Electronic Wonders and Latenight Grilled Cheese Parlour.

-- This annual trip to Mississippi never fails to guide me back toward the tracks:

-- Lastly, thanks to an Allison Glock essay in Southern Living, I loved learning that Dolly Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You" for Porter Wagoner. She turned down Elvis Presley’s request to record the song because he wanted half the rights. In an act of confidence, she trusted her instincts giving us a beautiful example of believing in self and going with the gut.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making a list

Well I've been inspired by an ice cream sandwich.

And Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury would have turned 92 last week. But when he died earlier this year, I had just finished reading Zen and The Art of Writing.

In one of the essays, he encourages readers to keep lists of things we really love as well as things we really hate. Bring the former to life by writing about it, he says, and extinguish the later also by writing about it. Write it to life — and to death.

But I like that he’s not just talking peace and poverty. He’s talking about how a single caper can pack so much punch or how a scratchy sweater can wreck a workday.

So with Bradbury in mind, here's a list of loves:


The way chocolate wafer sticks to you fingers when eating an ice cream sandwich.

Actually saving room for dessert.

The bonus fry on your plate when you didn’t order them.

Coming back to the table to find your food has just arrived.

The first pointy bite of a slice of pizza.

The middle bite of a cinnamon roll.

The last bite of a hot dog.

The five second rule.

Wooden spoons.

The rhythm in chopping (when you’re not in a rush).

When you get an extra gumball from the machine.

When you get your favorite color gumball from the machine.

Having a favorite color gumball.

When you accidentally leave your leftovers, and the server runs them out to you.

Removing the cage from a bottle of champagne.

Pretty much everything about champagne actually.

Cracking through the sugar glass on crème brulee.

Crackers in soup at the perfect place between crispy and soggy.

Knowing when something's done by the way the house smells.

Starting with a cocktail (just one).

Ending with port (but only sometimes).

The anticipation and payoff in foods that require a little effort (peel-and-eat shrimp, crab legs, oranges, 
pistachios, fondue, s’mores).

Making space for a dish at the potluck.

Making lists of things to love.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Oh hell-o, Jell-o

When I go home to Georgia, it just takes about 20 minutes before mom starts pushing the congealed salad.

“You want some?” she said with her hand on the fridge door at half past midnight. I had just made the five-hour drive from Nashville.

Then the next morning for breakfast she asked again: “You want some congealed salad?”

Though she calls it salad, other people might call it dessert. It’s made from seafoam green gelatin with tiny lumps of creamed cheese, celery, canned pineapple, and nuts. Jiggly and loaded with kooky texture, it’s a food that manages to feel like the future and the past. It’s outer spacey, yet it’s like those green lunchroom cafeteria trays or the mints at wedding receptions in church Fellowship Halls.

Mom makes it because my grandmother made it. And it’s the food that everyone spends the first several years of life totally hating. So part of the appeal, I believe, lies in bonding over the fact that we went from being grossed out by it to loving it. We showed our version off to my boyfriend by slicing up big squares of it and raving. “Let me get you a Ritz cracker to go with it,” Mom said to him, because that’s a normal breakfast combo. And then Dad took it to the next level by plopping a dollop of Miracle Whip on top. That’s how Mema used to do it!

Mom says she can’t remember a time when my grandmother didn’t make congealed salad – mostly for church potlucks. My grandparents owned a small lumber and hardware business, and with two children they stayed busy. She could make congealed salad quickly by dumping a few things into a casserole dish and sticking it in the fridge. Mom also remembers a pivotal moment around age 8 when she realized that she liked it, and she ate it for three days straight with a friend who was staying over the weekend.

After my square for breakfast, I asked for the recipe for the first time. But when I got back to Nashville, I realized that it’s not the congealed salad I want in my house. I want congealed salad at my mom’s house. Plus, I feel like it’s her time to make it like it was my grandmother’s time before her. Someday I figure I’ll make it too. Just not yet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Just a little hair piece

My hairstylist told me once that she could create an entire blog of the photos that clients take from her chair.

She also said that we rarely take a seat without making an apology for how we look.

I believe it. I have done both of those things many times, and I find the latter to be kind of sad yet fascinating.

It’s part of why Cali DeVaney's chair at Parlour & Juke is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only does she make me feel better about myself in a outward way, she’s always teaching me something new – from philosophical reasons why it’s weird to look into a mirror for a solid hour to her thoughts on music, books and documentaries.

So I was flattered when she asked me to write a guest post for the salon’s blog about being a redhead. Here’s what I came up with: (click here)