In the year 2010 I was a senior studying philosophy at a small public college in Newport News, Virginia. I studied hard. I partied hard. I worked hard. I steamed milk for lattes at my coffee shop job, paying rent with tips. I wrote a lot of poetry. I wore my long hair in a bun all the time. I ate a lot of hummus.
I grew up in a Navy family. I’ve only ever lived near water. I’ve lived in California, Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia. Places where the feeling of water rolling over your ankles becomes ingrained into your feeling of sanity. Places where the salty fog softens mornings. Where hot sun makes infinite mirrors out of waves.
It’s not too surprising to me, looking back now, that I decided to go to a college edged by the James River. I could ride my bike from campus to swimming coves in 5 minutes. It was a 45 minute drive to the beach. I could dip my toe into wild newness of college life and still feel like I was home, the familiar coastal landscape wrapping around the perimeters of my life.
In college I tried a lot of new things. New diets, new boyfriends, new habits, new foods. I’d had hummus in high school, the packaged kind. But in college it reached new level of glamour. I had tasted a few bomb homemade hummuses over the years at my friends art potlucks (attended by some very talented chef-types). Eventually I made the calculation and figured out that homemade hummus was infinitely cheaper if you made it yourself. My life ran on sexy olive oil swirled pools of bean dip.
Our recipe today is a riff on hummus, a white bean dip blended with sweet roasted carrots. It’s creamy and smooth — all balanced out by lemon and garlic. It’s as simple as can be, and it comes together in a flash. Perfect for summer adventures of all sorts! The recipe is from my friend Shelley Westerhausen’s new book Vegetarian Heartland. I’m sure you all already know Shelley from her gorgeous blog Vegetarian Ventures. She’s a wicked talented blogger and her recipes are top-notch.
I’ve not spent much time in the midwest, save for a blogger retreat I went to last Summer (hosted by my friends Amanda and Sherrie). As a coastal gal, I admit I tend to think of the midwest as a giant flat prairie speckled with Stars Hollow-type towns, expansive ranches, farmland and cowboys. To me it’s always seemed to be more apple-pie-and-ice-cream than the coasts. More classic, more conservative, more old school. More into bake-offs and cheerleading squads and cow-tipping. More into cookie salad and jello-things and Jesus.
That blogger retreat taught me that the great lakes could easily take the place of an ocean (at least for me); that the cities are vibrant, progressive and host to some truly fabulous food culture; that effortless rippling expanse of grasslands and corn fields have their own oceanic beauty.
Vegetarian Heartland explores and celebrates midwestern life through Shelly’s adventurous vegetarian lens. It’s organized seasonally, but each seasonal section is as much about gathering together with your crew as it is about really good real food. It’s both about feeding yourself truly delicious veg eats as it is about feeding your friends, your family, your people. There’s fare for picnic days, cookouts, berry picking adventures, hiking excursions, snow days, holiday hosting and road trips.
True to midwestern style, Shelly doesn’t shy away from cheese, butter or eggs and there’s plenty of filling, hearty fare. But most of the dishes let plants shine as the star, and there are even a few plant based cheese recipes (I can’t wait to make her “macadamia ricotta” and “everything spiced ‘cheddar cheese’ ball”). There’s plenty of every day fare (kansas barbecue tempeh skewers! whipped goat cheese pistachio pesto dip!). And there’s a good mix of healthy and decadent treats, like crispy almond butter buckeyes and strawberry caramel chocolate cookie s’mores (!!!).
As a woman who’s chosen a small city as her home base, it’s heartening to see another blogger out there owning her “tightly-knit creative community” (aka Bloomington, Indiana) with so much pride. As she says in the intro to her book, while all of her friends were moving to the coasts after school, she and her boyfriend decided that nothing but their hometown really had everything they wanted and needed.
I know my landscape has shaped who I am. The water, the sun, the mountains, the pastel skies, the humidity, the softly waving trees of the forests. I feel that gentle Southernness tug at my lips as I say y’all and “thank yew.”
Although I’ve never spent time in Indiana, I can catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be whittled into a heartland human through Shelly’s vivid photographs depicting her life in the midwest. A life filled with Spring grill outs in green fields, Summer camping trips in the forest with friends and Autumn hiking excursions under burnished leaves.
More info about the book + buying options here!
p.s. Those flowers (nasturtium and borage) are from my garden! Woo!