In December, Kara Poe Alexander finished listening to “For the Love of Food,” a five-episode podcast series produced by Austin writer Jen Hatmaker. Alexander then sent out this tweet:
“As a preacher’s wife, Baylor professor, home cook & food lover, I was inspired by the guests. I commit to having more people in my home, encouraging harder conversations around the table & loving better.”
In one of her podcasts, Hatmaker spoke with the founder of the Turquoise Table, a movement that began a few years ago in Austin. Kristin Schell purchased a picnic table, slapped on some turquoise paint and placed it in the front yard. When neighbors asked why there was a picnic table in the front yard and not in the backyard, where most families would have a picnic table, she replied: “To meet people like you.”
That turquoise table now hosts about 30 people each Friday for a family-friendly happy hour, and the idea has spread. More than 1,000 similar tables are in front yards across the United States and in several other countries.
“It just really made me think about being intentional with food and my family and my neighbors,” Alexander said.
Alexander and her husband, Shane, who is a minister at Robinson Church of Christ, share cooking duties at home. He “makes a really mean breakfast,” Kara said. He also packs lunches for the children and handles most of the grilling duties. Kara’s specialties include lots of soups, chicken — she’s not a big fan of red meat — and roasted vegetables. They team up when cooking Indian dishes like tikka masala or vindaloo, rice and naan.
Last summer Alexander, who is an associate professor of English and director of the Baylor University Writing Center, got her two older kids involved in the kitchen as well.
“Each of them had to plan once a week what they wanted to cook,” she said. “They would have to go with me to the grocery store, get the groceries and cook it, because I value that as a parent, time for us to be able to spend together.”
The Alexander family also hosts small groups from their church for meals at their house, and that’s when those meaningful conversations can take place and where relationships develop.
“I think that it’s important to have something people like and that’s healthy and that really feeds their body, while this whole other part is feeding their soul, and your soul,” she said.
Alexander said she and her family are committed to having others, those not in their church, around their table too.
“One of the ideas I like is getting different people from different walks of life,” she said. “I think it’s easy for us to find our group and just do things with those people. It’s the same perspective, same background. And so it’s having conversations about issues that are important — race or diversity or politics, whatever those hard conversations are — and really listening to people rather than judging them.”
Another podcast that Alexander enjoys is “Pantsuit Politics.” Two women — one from the left, one from the right — talk about politics and current events from their respective viewpoints.
“And I really like that, not necessarily believing or accepting everything but being open to having conversations where you’re really listening rather than trying to convince or persuade or change someone’s mind,” she said. “I teach rhetoric, and argument and writing, and once people feel heard and loved, they’re more open. And then you can have that sort of relationship. That’s what appealed to me about those front yard table conversations.”
This month’s recipes include a couple from our family and a couple from the Alexanders. The chicken and pasta dish is one of our favorites. The chicken is browned on top of the stove and finished in the oven, then served over a tangy lemon pasta and garnished with fresh herbs. And the Thai Coconut Soup was a big hit when we hosted Abby’s family for Christmas. Out of the three soups we made, we ran out of this one first.
The Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is from Shane Alexander, and it makes “the best cookies I’ve ever had,” Kara said. “They’re chocolate chip with lots of different varieties and flavors, but he’ll put amaretto in his cookies, so it gives a little extra pop. They’re very good.”
Shane also makes ice cream for his family, “and he’ll make random flavors that you’d never think of,” she said.
But avocado ice cream?
“It’s actually really good,” Alexander said, “because it’s very creamy. It’s very high in fat, but all ice cream is.”
Chicken Piccata with Lemon Pasta
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Wonder instant flour, for dredging
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, thyme or oregano, or any combination
Heat oven to 350 F.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to a sheet pan. If needed, add more butter and olive oil to the skillet. Add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides. Place chicken on the sheet pan and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is at 165 F on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove the skillet from the heat, add the wine and deglaze the skillet, scraping the brown bits from the bottom. Add lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to a boil. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and gently swirl until the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce.
Place chicken on top of Lemon Pasta (recipe follows), drizzle sauce over each plate and garnish with herbs.
Makes about 4 servings.
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, bring the water back to a boil, cover and remove the pot from the heat. Let stand for
Meanwhile, whisk together the oil, Parmesan, lemon juice and zest in a large bowl.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the lemon sauce and the reserved cooking liquid — if needed — adding 1/4 cup at a time as needed to moisten.
Thai Coconut Soup
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 white onion, sliced
- 1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1-2 jalapenos, sliced (remove the seeds for less heat)
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon chili paste
- 1 tablespoon red curry paste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 cups cooked chicken, diced
- Fresh cilantro, chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- Kosher salt
Pour the chicken stock into a large pot and place over medium-low heat. Add the onion, ginger, lemon zest and jalapeno. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add the coconut milk, chili paste, curry paste, fish sauce and chicken, and simmer for another 15 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender.
Add the cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste.
Makes about 4 servings.
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
- 2 ounces sugar
- 8 ounces light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 teaspoons amaretto
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pecan liqueur
- 12 ounces bread flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 16 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and brown sugar, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, amaretto and pecan liqueur. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
In another bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir flour mixture into the batter.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the chocolate chips. Chill the dough for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 350 F. Scoop the dough by the spoonful onto parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment with the cookies onto a cooling rack.
Makes about 24 cookies.
Avocado Ice Cream
- 3 medium avocados
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
Peel and pit the avocados. In a blender, puree the avocados, lemon juice and milk. Transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl, add the sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream and whisk to combine. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill overnight.
Process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. The mixture might set up quickly, so be careful not to overprocess. For soft ice cream, serve immediately. If desired, place in freezer for 3-4 hours for a firmer texture.
Makes about 1 quart.