Friday, July 2, 2010

Fridays, Feasting With Friends- Featuring Jess Penick

"One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating.  And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends."
~Laurie Colwin 'Home Cooking'

Jess Penick
Jess and her husband Curtis

It is almost like Jess and I were just meant to meet and become friends.  A few years back (pre Jackson!) Jess and I both worked at Anthropologie together.  I wasn't there very long, it was just a little part time job for me, more for the great discount at my favorite store then anything else.  I left before I really had an opportunity to get to know anyone all that well.  Fast forward a few years, now married and a mother to a little boy and who do I come into contact with yet once again, and also slightly randomly- Jess!  Scott and her husband Curtis both work together and became pretty good friends.  It came up that both of their wives worked at Anthropologie, and did we happen to know each other.  Small world, huh?!  The friendship didn't happen the first time around knowing each other, so maybe God gave us a second chance...  We started hanging out as couples and I am so glad that we did!  She is a friend I feel blessed to have be a part of my life!

Jess and Curtis are just beginning on an incredible journey of adopting a little boy from Ethiopia!  What an exciting time in their life!  I am so thrilled I can witness this amazing blessing from God.

Jess is a kindred spirit.  She is a beautiful writer, and fellow blogger.  Her blogs, My Own Bell Jar, Worth Repeating, and A Single Sentence are such a joy to read.  They are full of heart, soul and everything else that matters.  She opens herself up in a way that I admire so much.  This girl has a love for books and the written word, always reading, learning and gaining new insight in the world around her.  She is a stunner, but also incredibly modest.  I love the quiet calm about her that can so quickly turn into complete silliness.  So do you want to meet her yet?!  You should- she is worth every minute of your time.  So for todays Fridays, Feasting with Friends I am happy to introduce you to my lovely friend, Jess.

What is your favorite thing to cook? I love cooking Mexican – anything Mexican. Beef tacos, chicken or shrimp fajitas, enchiladas – I even started making huevos con chorizo (eggs & spiced Mexican sausage that you fill into tortillas) because my husband loves it so much.

How about your least favorite thing to cook? I honestly don’t have a least favorite thing to cook. If I don’t want to make it, I won’t – but I’ll give you this – I hate cake (I know, I know – weird) but since I don’t like to eat it, I don’t make it – I made my first cake last year…not sure how it turned out because I didn’t taste it!

What is your favorite local restaurant and what is one you are dying to try out? Along with my Mexican theme, I LOVE Lopez on Lee, in the Heights (East side). It’s kind of on the pricey side but for great margaritas and trendy Mexican food with a modern twist nothing beats it. And they have a great patio – all lit up with twinkling white lights and cute mosaic tabletops. We love it so much we even had our wedding rehearsal dinner there! The one restaurant I’m dying to try out is The Greenhouse Tavern. We have heard excellent reviews about it and are just waiting for a special occasion to splurge.

Music and food go together so beautifully. You are hosting a dinner party, what would be on your playlist? I’m so bad about remembering to put on music at parties – I’m one of those people that often prefers driving my car in silence instead of turning on the radio. For music selections, I usually leave it to my husband. He’s far superior to me in terms of music choices, hooking up the speakers and stuff.

What would you choose to be your last meal on earth? Wow – that’s a hard one! I guess it depends on the season. If I’m dying in the summer I think I’d want chips, salsa and a big peach margarita, if I’m dying in the winter I think I’d want my mom’s homemade matzo ball soup!

What are you currently reading? Oh man, what am I not reading! I used to have a rule – one book at a time (not including the Bible) but that went by the wayside when we decided to adopt. Right now I’m reading a book called There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene – a true story about a woman in Ethiopia that goes on a mission to save all the orphans of Africa. I also just started a novel called Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It came highly recommended - so far so good. I’m also in the middle of a marriage book called Love and War by John and Stasi Eldredge – a friend and I are reading it together – but only because we got copies free because we promised to blog a book review when we finished – it’s not that good, but I feel like I owe it to them to read it since they gave it to me free. I could go on and on and list off all the books on my nightstand that I’ve started and not finished yet, but I’ll spare you. I love books – way more than I love food actually – maybe I should just eat a book for my last meal on earth!

What is your favorite Kitchen Gadget? Ugh. I’m not a huge fan of kitchen gadgets in general. I have a lot of them – a great blender/food processor, a kitchen aide mixer…blah blah blah – but I’d choose my big butcher knife over all of them without a doubt.

Do you have a signature go-to dish? I really don’t have one – just depends what I’m in the mood for. Lately I’m all about funky homemade salsas – my two faves right now are a fresh cucumber and peach one, or a fresh cut corn and black bean one. They’re good with chips, on salads, fish, tacos – I told you I love anything that even resembles Mexican.

What is your favorite thing about the Cleveland area? My family definitely beats out all the great restaurants, theatres, and all the other good stuff that this city has. I’m from the East side and love that most of my immediate and extended family all live in the area. Nothing’s better than deciding I don’t want to cook one night and inviting myself over to my mom’s house for dinner. I don’t think she’s ever turned me away!

Do you have a favorite meal from your childhood and do you cook it today? Hmmm, that’s a hard one. I credit all of my cooking skills to my mom. She’s a great cook and always had dinner on the table growing up at 6 o’clock on the dot. And now, even just the two of us, if we’re home together at night, we always try to eat dinner together – at the table if we can. It’s a great tradition I especially hope to carry on as our family grows. But, as I mentioned before, I LOVE my mom’s matzo ball soup – and she’s not even Jewish. She learned how to make it from my dad’s mom and a couple years ago taught me how to make it. I must say – homemade stock is the secret. Oh man – it’s 75 degrees outside and now I want matzo ball soup!

Top 3 Movies of all time? Wow. I’ll give you two – Life is Beautiful and Once. Everything else comes after these two.

What was your happiest moment in life? Sounds trite but my wedding day was amazing! I wasn’t stressed, nervous or anxious. I seriously had the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. But, I think we’ll be coming up on moment number two in the next year or so – when we go pick up our son from Ethiopia. I can only imagine how the moment we get to meet him will change our lives forever.
The beautiful couple on their wedding day

Where do you do your grocery shopping? Well, I’d like to say I head down to the west side market every week for fresh produce and stuff but the truth is my husband’s never even been there. I’m all about convenience at this stage in my life, as “career woman” (I use that term VERY loosely) I’m often at work or commuting to and from work from 7:30am to 6pm, so I stop at Giant Eagle on my way home. On the weekends I go to my local Zagarra’s marketplace (nice local chain) or stock up on frozen stuff and canned goods at Target (their generic brand is actually pretty tasty!)

What is your favorite guilty pleasure when it comes to food? Hmmm, well, for the most part I’m a salty girl (if I had to choose between salty and sweet) but since it’s gotten hot all I’ve wanted is ICE CREAM! Keep it away!

Can you tell me about what you are most proud of? This is a hard one – seriously is. Proud is a funny word, because it implies I’m prideful about something good in my life, and I really try not to be. Right now I’m extremely happy with the fact that we’ve just begun this adoption journey but I can’t take the credit. We both really feel like we didn’t actually decide to do it on our own, but more so that we’ve been sent on a mission by God to take this giant leap. So, I can’t say I’m proud of it – but I’m so thankful and proud of my husband who has been remarkably awesome through the process so far! So I’m proud of my husband -- how ‘bout that?!

Do you have Culinary Resolutions that you would like to accomplish this year? Yeah, kind of – I’ve never made a loaf of bread (except for banana bread and that kind of thing, but that doesn’t really count) I don’t think this will be a summer task though – maybe fall or winter. I’m sure there are many more, but I’ve conquered a lot of my cooking fears over the last few years – roasting a chicken for example.

One word that best describes you is: maybe this is a question better put to my husband…(I asked him) he said it would be: Complicated. And I think he’s probably right.

As for a recipe – I don’t really cook using a lot of recipes. I think that’s why I don’t enjoy baking – I hate measuring. Whenever a friend asks for a recipe for something or other I’ve made I just have to sit down and think through what I did and what I used to try to replicate it.

Because I’ve already mentioned that I love making different kinds of salsas – here are my "recipes” for the two I mentioned earlier:

Cucumber Peach Salsa
Diced English/seedless cucumber (keep peel on – adds crunch)
Diced fresh peaches (I also kept the skin on – more because I was lazy)
Diced red onion
Zest and juice of one lime
Salt to taste

Corn & Black Bean Salsa
Fresh (or frozen) corn cut off the cob (great use of leftover corn on the cob)
Can of drained black beans
Can of diced jalapeño
Diced red onion
Diced colored peppers (it looks super pretty with a little of each color)
Zest & juice of one lime
Chopped fresh cilantro
Hot sauce to taste (I like it spicy!)
Salt & pepper to taste

Jess, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!  I loved reading it and now I have a whole slew of new stuff to get myself into; restaurants, books, and incredible sounding salsa!  Yay!  I absolutely can't wait to try the cucumber and peach salsa.  It is so different then anything else I have had before.  I am SO making it for this weekend!

(Be sure you come back next Friday for my interview with Dave from Live to Cook... At Home!)


  1. you really know how to make a girl feel loved! :)

  2. It's easy when it is all true :)

  3. She is as original and interesting as her salsas. My nephew is a lucky man! Can't wait to try the recipes! Always proud, Love & miss you!
    Aunt Shelley



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