Tuesday, July 27

Two Years and a Day Later

Yesterday was my two year wedding anniversary.  So much has happened in the last two years... backpacking Europe, moving across the country, a new highly anticipated member of the family (our dog, Ava Perry), this cookbook in the works and new jobs.  Quite possibly the best two years of my life so far.

I have so many amazing memories of our wedding day and besides marrying my best friend, who just so happens to be the sweetest, most thoughtful and honestly, funniest man alive (have you thrown up a little in your mouth yet?), the day was made even more unforgettable by our dear friends and family.

And because loved ones are the cornerstone of my book (alongside food, of course), I thought it might be fun to share a snippet of our big day which seems so very long ago.  Ironically enough, every time I hear that Johnny Cash train beat (Cash'd Out played our reception) and smell sweet barbecue in the air (yes, we served ribs at our wedding), I get nostalgic for our last summer in San Diego and would do anything to teleport back and experience it all over again.

Cheers to the celebration of love!

Thursday, July 22

Las Paletas Inspired Lemon Basil Popsicles

My biggest regret over the last year (bold statement I realize) is that I've missed out on countless excursions to a little slice of frozen heaven here in Nashville.  You see, my husband and I moved here a little over a year ago, and since arriving in the south we've been cornered several times by emphatic patrons of a local popsicle shop named Las Paletas.  Personally, I'm more of a “fro-yo” girl, so the whole popsicle phenomenon that made otherwise-normal people into stick-carrying apostles of frozen ice and cream, had not really spiked my curiosity…that’s until someone took a popsicle out of their mouth long enough to explain the flavor they had just purchased…"Chocolate-Wasabi."

Popsicles are usually too sugary and contain neon colors that frighten me, and it’s not that I need my frozen treats to be sophisticated, but how good can frozen juice on a stick be?  Las Paletas is located in the super cute, up and coming neighborhood of 12 South, tucked between Burger Up (a new sit-down that serves grass-fed beef, lamb and quinoa black bean burgers) and the GreenLight Market and Deli (an exact replica of my future dream business) that offers local organic produce and specialty items from local artisans.  If my husband finds me missing one day, he should probably start looking (he better start looking) in 12 South, because I've probably moved into the building that houses my 3 favorite new eateries.

Las Paletas serves only popsicles…but what they do, they do very well.  They have cream and fruit based selections that change on a daily basis depending on what's in season (probably my favorite part!) and the flavor combos are brilliant...Mango-Chili Pepper, Blackberry-Lime, Tamarind with Chili, Hot Chocolate with Peppers, Hibiscus, Strawberry-Coconut and my personal favorite, Basil!  Well, it was Basil until I tasted Rose Petal this week.  Yes, Rose Petal.  AND, the owners told us that come fall, they carry Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Paletas.  I'm a sucker for anything that is reminiscent of a season, so I guess it’s fairly obvious what my current obsession is...

It's in these moments of pure joy that I find inspiration.  I've been insisting on eating popsicles every night, and recently attempted my own healthier version of a Basil Paleta.  I used a killer popsicle mold made by Zoku that is perfect for instant gratification.  You simply freeze the Zoku mold for 24 hours, pour in your desired liquid and the popsicles will be frozen and ready to eat in 7 minutes flat.  Nothing short of perfection for a hot summer evening!

Lemon Basil Paletas
makes about 6 popsicles
1/3 cup agave nectar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup plain yogurt (whole fat retains all the good cultures and enzymes)
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves

In a small sauce pan, combine agave, water and lemon juice over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool, about 20 minutes.

In a blender, combine yogurt, basil, simple syrup and blend until smooth.  Taste and add milk if too sweet.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until ready.  Enjoy!

P.S...please beware of chopped basil getting completely stuck in your chompers...it's a horrifying sight, and slightly embarrassing if you run into friends without realizing your smile has turned dark green.

Saturday, July 17

CSA Boxes: Not just for Hippies

CSA shares, also referred to as “Hippie Boxes” by my loving husband, are exactly that…big ol’ boxes of organic fruits & veggies, harvested fresh by your local farmer and delivered to you that same morning. The idea is simple: support your local farmer by purchasing fresh, organic and seasonal veggies straight from the field; sharing in the risks (bad weather & insects) and rewards (boxes overflowing with veggies that taste way better than those available at the grocery store), all while you relish in the fact that you’re being health conscious, environmentally responsible and actually supporting your local community.

The Facts:
So, what’s “in it” for you?  Obviously the cost of joining a CSA can vary based on your location, but here in Nashville, a half share CSA membership from the farm of your choice will cost about $400 (which I think is a perfect amount for 2 people).  That breaks-down to about $27 for a half bushel (pictured below) of incredibly fresh organic vegetables delivered every two weeks throughout the season (typically late spring through early fall).  I realize $400 is a scary number at first, but trust me; the benefits of eating and cooking with nutritious, farm-fresh veggies will far out weigh the cost.

The Catch:
You get what you get.  You don’t get to choose what’s in your box, so when the strawberry fields quit producing huge red delicious berries, there are simply no more strawberries in your CSA box until next year.  Another catch is that some veggies seem to never stop producing…like say, kale.  Oh, kale.  You may or may not get really sick of kale. And that may or may not be because it tends to fill a portion of your box. Every. Single. Week.

The Downside:
You're committed. Bad weather can destroy crops and once you’ve joined a CSA, there are no refunds. For example, I felt confident that during our first year as a member of the Delvin Farms CSA, there was no way our farm would suffer a catastrophic event, because frankly, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen…right?  Enter Nashville’s 1,000-year flood. Just weeks after the first seedlings were planted, Nashville suffered a devastating flood that not only destroyed thousands of homes, swept away cars and buried entire schools; but also significantly damaged the crops at our beloved new farm.  Now, I have a confession.  My initial thought was, “Well, I guess we’ll get our money back.”  Then my conscience kicked in and I remembered that the Isaacson household made a commitment.  We wanted a real connection to our community and our food, and floods (whether we realized it or not) are part of the deal.  Luckily, Delvin Farms had seedlings saved in a greenhouse for this exact reason and they hardly missed a beat!  After a couple weeks of apparently invincible flood-resistant kale, we began to receive hippie boxes overflowing with veggies.

The Benefits:
The sweet life. Preserve the taste, complexity and (dare I say) sensuality of food, all while supporting your local community and getting back to the basics of life.  And if committing to a CSA seems too much, too expensive or you just don’t quite understand the point; I implore you to start small and spend a Saturday morning exploring your local Farmer’s Market.  I promise you’ll feel inspired in some way and maybe, just maybe, after trying a fresh-squeezed basil lemonade, grabbing a shitake mushroom log (who knew you could grow them yourself?) and shaking hands with the kind folks that actually nurture and harvest your food…you may just be inspired to walk away with a half-bushel of your very own hippie box.

If you’re interested in finding CSA shares in your community, go to LocalHarvest.org.  It’s a great resource on local artisans, farmer’s markets and specialty items in your area.

If you’re interested in learning more about Delvin Farms (our amazing CSA here in Nashville), visit them at DelvinFarms.com or on Facebook HERE.

I'm off to the farmer's market...have a beautiful weekend! x

Wednesday, July 7

Aglio e Olio

Aglio e Olio is a huge inspiration for my cookbook.  It’s an old Italian recipe that remains a Ruffo household staple on Sunday nights (Sunday nights are always pasta nights and Ruffo is my Family’s name).

Aglio e Olio is a modest dish based on the fusion of the two primary ingredients that make up its name, Garlic (Aglio) and Olive Oil (Olio).  It’s the ultimate comfort food, and while I wouldn’t necessarily put this one in the summer category of recipes, my favorite version (featured below) is churched-up with seasonal summer veggies, sauteed of course, in garlic and olive oil.  This week I was inspired by what arrived in my CSA box: zucchini, summer squash and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes (the best I’ve ever had by the way!).  The simplicity of this dish is the best part…it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not…

This understated recipe is sure to win major points among friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and the like (I wouldn’t recommend this for a first date though…the garlic breath is a little intense).  Keep in mind, measurements are approximate and it may take some trial and error.  The first few times I made it on my own I was frustrated that it tasted nothing like my Gram’s, but keep in mind, even the worst Aglio e Olio can handily beat a box of Mac & Cheese.  Taste test along the way and don’t be afraid to add more salt as it helps to enhance your prized ingredients.  And just wait until you eat the leftovers the next day…


1 pound vermicelli or linguine

8  cloves of garlic, minced (this makes for a strong dish, so do less if you’re afraid)

*1 pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, seasoned with salt n’ peppa and set aside (*or whatever is fresh and in season )

1/4 cup freshly chopped basil (about a handful)

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp dried basil or Italian seasonings

Red pepper flakes (lots if you like it hot!)

Sea Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup reserved pasta water or chicken stock

Parmigiano Reggiano


Bring pot of cold water to a boil; add pasta and lots of salt.  Cook al dente, typically 7 minutes; drain.  Reserve 3/4 cup pasta water.

While pasta is cooking, quickly saute garlic in olive oil.  Add dried basil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Remove from heat if necessary to prevent the garlic from burning.

Two minutes before pasta is finished cooking, add chopped tomatoes or other veggies, fresh parsley and basil to garlic and olive oil.  Add about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water.  Pour garlic and olive oil mixture over pasta, adding more reserved pasta water if dried out, being careful not to add too much as this can water down the flavors.

Top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper if necessary.


Friday, July 2

Mas Tacos Y'all

Last night I intended to make, photograph and post to the blog an Italian dish called Aglio e Olio (pronounced "ally-E-o"-"eh"-"olly-Oh").  It’s a simple to make, fresh and inexpensive common Italian dish and the perfect “first” recipe to share on The Local Olive.  Aglio e Olio is an Isaacson household staple and encompasses everything that inspired me to pursue my dream of creating a cookbook.  I can hardly wait to share it with you!  But alas, life happens…

I won’t lie to you, I was mentally prepared to make Aglio e Olio last night.  I was prepped and ready to begin cooking when my husband (another suspect character I’ve yet to introduce) suggested we attend the Thursday evening Supper & Song at Imogene + Willie citing my New Year's resolution #3, “Be More Spontaneous.”

In this scenario I had the perfect excuse: I have a previous commitment, The Local Olive requires my attention.  But then came the real firepower, “…Mas Tacos will be serving.”  Ugh, deal breaker.

So I made the rather-difficult decision to prove my man wrong and trade pasta for tacos...and while Aglio e Olio is the cornerstone of my new project, surely it can wait for another day.  So as a substitute, here is a quick peak at one of my favorite Nashville pastimes.

The thing about…

Supper & Song at Imogene + Willie:
It’s a free soiree (hang) that happens every Thursday evening in the front yard of the Nashville-based artisan clothing store Imogene + Willie, located in the “12 South” neighborhood of Nashville.  Every week features a musician (on this occasion, Madi Diaz) and food (Mas Tacos).  We love it…it’s a very Southern way to tease the coming weekend.

Mas Tacos:
Is a Taco Shop in an old Winnebago owned and operated by the self-proclaimed "Taco Lady" that Tweets her location everyday and serves items like soft corn tortilla fish tacos, cast-iron chicken, spicy dill yogurt, watermelon agua fresca, quinoa, fried avocado, Cokes imported from Mexico (real azucar), chorizo & cactus.  Mas Tacos is at times difficult to locate, always mouthwateringly delicious and truly a unique Nashville experience.  I’d invite you to join me there tomorrow, but I’m not sure where the Winnebago will be parked just yet... follow her on Twitter for details!

Imogene + Willie:
I+W is more then a shop, it’s an inspiring experience…the type of place that leaves you more fired up about life than the one of a kind, perfectly-fitting jeans you just purchased.  But honestly, I can’t do this shop justice and Gweneth Paltrow already said it best on her amazing blog GOOP, “I found one of the coolest stores I have ever been to, Imogene + Wille; read below - but wow, it's something special…” (click to read more at GOOP)
Imogene + Willie

And if even Gweneth can’t convince you, surely the video on the I+W homepage will!

A successful Nashville-based singer-songwriter with sweet vocals and a 70’s vibe, fresh off a performance at this year’s Bonnaroo Festival and a national tour opening for Landon Pigg.   Nashville’s music scene never ceases to amaze…

x - Spontaneous Amy