I've been thinking a lot about writing lately. How much I love it. How much I (sometimes) hate it. Why I sometimes can't get all the ideas swirling in my head out onto the page. How I need to do it more often.
I've been reflecting back on my high school and college days when writing was a way of life for me; when it was something I did every day. Sure, it was for homework and tests, and sometimes it was boring drudgery, but the act of writing became a part of who I was and I liked that. I miss that feeling.
There are days where I will do anything to avoid sitting down to write a blog post. I have become quite the Master Procrastinator. I have written about my love-hate relationship with writing here and here and here. Writing is a solitary act. It's just you and your thoughts. It can often get lonely. You can start to feel as though you are the only one who is struggling to get the words out. But then I read this post by Molly Wizenberg. It turns out one of the best food bloggers and writers of my generation feels the same way from time to time.
Molly's blog post prompted me to order Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird. I just got it in the mail yesterday and although I've only read the introduction and part of the first chapter, her words are already resonating with me. She has been able to articulate what I feel about the writing process but haven't been able to put into words for myself. It's like she's in my head. I'm reading it with a highlighter.
I've known all along how to get that writing-is-a-part-of-me feeling back. I need to practice it every day, something I have not been disciplined about doing. I want to become a much better food writer, but I also want to do some writing for myself. Writing that no one else may ever see. Not fiction, though. Truth. Observations. My own story. I want to see what I'm capable of writing after not practicing it regularly for so many years. I've realized that I have a lot to say and Anne's book has come at the right time in my life where I have been searching for some guidance on how to write it all down. How to say it all.
But here, this space on the Internet is reserved only for the food writing, which I am loving more and more every year, despite the occasional struggles and frustrations. It still feels foreign to me most days and I'm still not sufficiently comfortable with it, but those feelings only make me want to work harder at it. We're all our own worst critics and I'm no exception. I always think my food writing can use improvement. I'd like to eventually reach a place with my food writing skills where I feel confident about having nailed down "the basics", most of which I'm still learning.
Cooking has a set of basic techniques as well. Aglio e olio is one from the Italian kitchen. It's a simple and flavorful garlic and olive oil sauce typically used to prepare spaghetti or other long-stranded pasta, but it's equally successful with greens, in this case, Swiss chard, my favorite of all the greens. Aglio e olio sauce is one of the first cooking techniques I learned and it's one of the kitchen basics that I can do with confidence every time.
Swiss Chard Aglio e Olio
This is more of a list of ingredients than an exact recipe since the size of Swiss chard bunches and garlic cloves vary. Depending on how much Swiss chard you decide to prepare and how much garlic flavor you can tolerate, adjustments can be made to your liking when preparing this dish.
Be sure to wash the Swiss chard very well and in several changes of cold water to remove all the dirt and grit. Once washed, do not dry it--simply lay the wet leaves on clean cloth dishtowels or paper towels to absorb excess water, but leave the chard wet. The moisture on the leaves will create some steam and help the chard wilt and cook with the olive oil and garlic sauce.
3 bunches Swiss chard, washed and coarsely chopped (do not dry)
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
Wash and coarsely chop the Swiss chard and set aside.
Note: The midribs are edible--trim off the bottom (which can be fibrous and tough) and chop the midrib into small pieces so that they cook at the same rate as the leaves. Since the leaves tend to be large, they can be cut in half and then each half can be cut into smaller pieces.
Heat a 12" skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add in the olive oil and garlic and cook the garlic, stirring it occasionally, until it turns a light golden color, about 1 minute . Do not let the garlic burn. Adjust the heat accordingly if the garlic starts to brown too quickly or the oil starts to smoke. Add in the red pepper flakes and then add in the Swiss chard. Sprinke in the salt.
Gently toss the Swiss chard using tongs so that all of the leaves make contact with the bottom of the skillet and get coated with the olive oil. Keep the heat on a medium flame.
You can periodically place a lid on top of the chard for 1-2 minutes to allow the chard to wilt a little faster, but check it often so you can mix it to make sure all the chard cooks evenly.
Once the chard has wilted down and is tender (but still a vibrant green color), remove from the heat and serve.
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