The Shared Summer Picnic by Amy Cantu

I packed for efficiency and speed, with each item carefully curated: one carry-on suitcase filled with just enough clothes for the number of days I would be away on my girls' trip, no liquids in bottles over four ounces (so as to not anger the TSA gods,) slip-on shoes for the security line, boarding pass pre-printed and tucked neatly into the front pocket of my small travel purse, (no kids = no giant tote bag masquerading as a purse to hold the ten snacks, extra diaper, wipes, and water bottles). I tapped my foot nervously. I have not been away from the kids for five days EVER. I both wanted to bolt out the door and also start feigning illness to get out of going. Of course in this moment, their cherub faces were adorable and their good-bye hugs tugged at my heart strings. Can I do this? Can I be someone other than "mom" for the next five days? Yes. Yes, I can. I gathered up my littles for one last squeeze and pulled the door shut behind me. I could hear them wailing on the other side of the door, and my husband holding them back. "Maaaamaaaaa! MAMA!" I flinched and kept on walking. Five days. Five days of feeling like an individual again, releasing myself from the worry, guilt, and refereeing of small children . . . and also missing those same small children like crazy.

What does a getaway girls' trip have to do with a shared summer picnic? It's all about balance - in cooking and in life. If there's one thing that I've learned (and continue to learn), it's that too much of anything is just that: too much. I felt torn as I left for that trip, but when I returned, I felt renewed and ready to wrestle with the boys and cook for everyone again. This summer picnic is a metaphor for that revelation - a vibrant salad filled with summer vegetables and protein-packed beans balanced with a luscious, rich chocolate pudding. It's a picnic that is both nourishing for the body and nourishing for the soul because really, we all need a little of both to center ourselves in a world that too often feels so one-sided and stressful. When Cynthia and I shared this meal with each other, I just thought, how lucky are we to be able to balance our mom-lives with the love and passion we have for sharing food. I hope this Bean Salad and Easy Chocolate Pudding bring some much needed harmony into your lives too.

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Two Bean Summer Salad

Easy Chocolate Pudding

The Shared Craving by Cynthia Raub

My family has been on a homemade Pizza Night kick for the past few weeks. This entails my husband making the dough, then prepping the toppings with our daughters, all while I impatiently sit on the couch on my phone waiting for dinner to just be DONE. I know they would appreciate my hovering, unrelaxed presence in the kitchen, but most of the time I let the three of them enjoy the relaxing and fun project together. Anyway, there's really only room for three people to crouch in front of the oven, to watch the pizza crust expand and brown while the cheese melts.

Amy has made Pizza Two Ways before and I wanted to try my hand at making a homemade dough. I wanted to make the dough without the watchful eye of my chef husband, and I didn't feel like getting the kids involved because I'm just not a very fun parent. I was craving Chicken Shawarma and after telling Amy I needed the chicken in my life, she admitted to craving eggplant and then all we could talk about was how we REALLY wanted to eat our ideas. (This is why we are friends!) I'm not sure how it happened, but I think I bamboozled her into developing the unctuous and delicious recipe for Eggplant Dip with Caramelized Onions and Tahini to marry the pizza/flatbread and chicken together. I don't think she's put out though, since it turned out to be a tasty and fun afternoon that satisfied both of our cravings.

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Flatbread with Chicken Shawarma, Eggplant, and Caramelized Onions

Chicken Shawarma

Eggplant Dip with Caramelized Onions and Tahini

The Shared Labor of Love by Amy Cantu

Six and a half years ago, I called a huddle in the middle of my friend's kitchen with my bridesmaids. Our task: make 102 small jars of raspberry jam as favors for my upcoming wedding. The crazy voice in my head said, "This is noooooo problem. This is a completely reasonable task for your bridesmaids. Bridesmaids are just indentured servants right??? When else, (besides your wedding,) do you test the limits of your friendships?!" Yes, my inner-cuckoo was strong that day. Cartons upon cartons of raspberries were stacked up precariously around us, threatening to tumble down and bury us at any moment. I had never made jam before, let alone for 102 people, nor had I ever scaled a recipe to yield so many servings. What I did have were friends who clearly loved me enough to slave over a hot stove on a hot summer day to help me figure it all out. We churned out batch after batch of sweet, sticky, bright pink raspberry jam - each jar topped with a small square of floral fabric and painstakingly tied with a bit of ribbon. In that moment, I had never felt so loved by this group of friends who stood by me through all of my food-related (and non-food-related) drama, and again to bear witness to the love and happiness on my wedding day - the jam was truly a labor of love.

Once more, I found myself stirring together a big pot of jam, but this time with the help of much smaller hands. One of my besties had her seven year-old niece, Aaliyah, over for a visit, so together with my four year-old, Alex, we all gathered in the kitchen with a flat of peaches and a couple cartons of raspberries to make a yummy gift that Aaliyah could take home to her family. Raspberry Peach Jam and Buttermilk Biscuits! The kids couldn't wait to cover their hands in fruity goo! Their faces were wrought with deep concentration, as their little fingers nimbly peeled the skin from the peaches and scooped the flesh into a giant bowl. They giggled as the peach juices dribbled down their hands and arms and onto the counter. Again, my heart swelled with love, but this time because I was witnessing two small children learn the rewards of sharing and giving food with the generosity of their hearts.

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Raspberry Peach Jam

Easy Buttermilk Biscuits

The Shared Japanese Fried Pork by Cynthia Raub

When I was a young child, my newly emigrated, single-Korean mom worked in a Japanese restaurant as a waitress. After a number of years, her entrepreneurial and fearless spirit lead her to open her own Japanese restaurant and karaoke bar, Tomiyoshi, in my hometown. I can still remember being driven to the back alley of her restaurant in our 1990 Toyota Camry, always double checking the locks before closing the car door, and then being hit with the funky odor of the alley, that only a Japanese restaurant, Mexican bakery and dollar store could make. I spent countless idle and restless hours waiting for the mid-day closing time, waiting for a ride, and/or waiting for a meal. In a day, I'd spend my time spinning around on the small parquet dance floor (that could only feasibly fit three enthusiastic dancers, one bored child, or a handful of slow-dancing lovers). Then I'd play in a dank closet "office", followed by whisking the teriyaki sauce as I'd walk by the low-lit burner. I might straighten up some place settings and push in a chair. Then, I'd tell my mom I was hungry and wait at the sushi bar for some food. These dishes, Tonkatsu and Katsudon are a couple of my favorite from that time and they bring back the best memories.

It's been nearly 20 (!!!) years since my carefree and hungry childhood at Tomiyoshi and less since my mom's Korean restaurant (which was much less carefree and much more laborious for me). The rewards of growing up in a restaurant are many, but mostly I am grateful for the early exposure to how delicious food and kind service can make people feel relaxed, happy, and satisfied. It's hard not to feel like the world is crumbling around us during these uneasy and volatile times, but I think that those fears and uncertainty can be quelled, even if momentarily, by a meal prepared with care and shared with those you love.

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The Shared Morning Pick-me-up by Amy Cantu

I always go a little crazy when I visit a farmer's market - three baskets of blueberries for a discount? OK! (For that matter, the same goes for Costco: I can totally use up the giant bag of carrots, no problem . . . or not.) I found myself lulled by all the fun produce recently, and with more blueberries than I could possibly expect my family to eat. Then I remembered that a friend had asked if we might post a recipe for blueberry muffins. My morning was instantly looking up! Even better? Cynthia had the brilliant idea to pair these bakery-worthy Blueberry Streusel Muffins with Cold Brew Coffee and Mint Syrup! Umm, yaaaas. If this doesn't solve that mid-morning slump, I don't know what will. (Dancing a sugar-fueled, caffeine-induced happy dance that thankfully no one can see but me! Weeeee!)

P.S. July 11th was National Blueberry Muffin Day, and in perfect mom-time, I missed it by one day. Still, I don't see why we can't celebrate Blueberry Muffin Day on July 12th or any other morning, where we might need a little goodie to make our day brighter! Happy Blueberry Muffin (every)Day!

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Blueberry Streusel Muffins

Cold Brew Coffee with Mint Syrup

The Shared BBQ Sides by Cynthia Raub

It's not summer until I've had my first bites of potato salad and cold pasta salad. Just like it's not Halloween, until I've had my yearly ration of a single Candy Corn (to remind myself that it's still not yummy). And just like it's not actually Thanksgiving, until I've had a slice of pumpkin pie and apple pie. The other week, I co-hosted a barbecue baby shower, and I made a tangy potato salad as a side. Amy helped me a ton by making a bright and fresh pasta for the mama-to-be and her 80 guests. I also served a classic cole slaw and featured a dessert table with an assortment of cookies! I used to be stumped with what to contribute to barbecues and summertime get togethers, but now I think I've got the formula down for a great party: something creamy (classic cole slaw), something with an abundance of fresh herbs (Amy's Pesto Pasta Salad) and something tangy and/or acidic (Mustardy Potato Salad). With fresh seasonal fruit, grilled meats, and a leafy salad, you've got the perfect menu for a delicious and thoughtful spread!

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Mustardy Potato Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes

The Shared Holiday Barbecue by Amy Cantu

It finally feels like summer, and we love nothing more than to share big platters of delicious food with our family and friends! When we thought about our tried and true favorites, Cynthia's Mediterranean Turkey Burger came to mind immediately. These are my favorite kind of burgers - the kind that are filled with little bits of treasure. Nestled in these turkey burgers are feta crumbles, morsels of sun-dried tomato, and (for good measure,) tender spinach; there's enough good stuff tucked in there for adults to find these burgers irresistible, and nutritious enough to feel good about feeding them to the kids, (plus my kids love anything in patty-form)! For dessert, I couldn't resist the appeal of a big dish filled to the brim with layers of Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Lemon, whipped mascarpone cream, and fresh berries - I feel happy just thinking about it. This Berry Trifle easily feeds a crowd and screams of summer parties on the patio, or even better, an Independence Day dessert, with its patriotic red, white, and blue hues.

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Mediterranean Turkey Burger 

Berry Trifle 

Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Lemon

The Shared Cookies by Cynthia Raub

One of my nearest and dearest friends is having a baby! YAY! YAYYYYY!! YAAAAAAAAAYY! To celebrate her and her highly anticipated bundle of joy, her sister-in-law, neighbor, and I threw her a BBQ baby shower for her and 80 friends and family. Mama-to-be loves sweets especially a variety of them, so that was an important aspect in planning for the shower. In addition to the sheet cake, Jell-O cups, brownie bites, palmiers, and beautiful fruit platters, we made cookies. There is no better dessert to follow a BBQ than cookies (except maybe popsicles . . . ) and with that many guests, I wanted to make sure we had a variety of sweets to suit everyone's tastes. Amy and I decided to make double batches of our two favorite cookies for the dessert table for this very special occasion.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies