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Living Well: The Joy of Sharing Homemade Food Gifts

Food brings people together in so many wonderful ways. Sharing a meal allows us to connect on a deep level, nourish our bodies and souls, and celebrate life's simple pleasures. This is especially true in close-knit communities like ours here on Whidbey Island, where food and generosity go hand-in-hand.

My partner Jean-Michel and I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a vibrant community of food lovers, growers, producers, bakers, picklers, canners, and cooks who are always happy to share the bounty of their kitchens and gardens.

It all started when we first moved into our house and met our chicken-keeping neighbors, Donna and Lee. Very quickly, Jean-Michel began trading his incredible homemade sourdough loaves for the gorgeous, just-laid eggs from Donna's flock. We treasure those gifts, which never fail to inspire Jean-Michel to create something delicious like soft-boiled eggs with toast points, chocolate mousse, or a light-as-air cheese soufflé.

Ever since I discovered an apple tree in the backyard of my Seattle home over 20 years ago, I've loved canning and preserving. I vividly remember the first time my neighbor Mary invited me over to make plum jam using fruit just picked from Vashon Island orchards. The sweet perfume of simmering yellow plums and the gorgeous golden jelly we produced left me hooked. From then on, I made seasonal treats like apple butter in the fall and tangy apple chutney later in the winter to spread on scones hot from the oven.

When we moved to Whidbey, our new home came with mature pear and Italian plum trees, which provided an abundance of fruit for jams, chutneys, and more homemade gifts for friends. But what I've become best known for is my piquant red pepper jelly. I just adore the process of puréeing vibrant peppers then cooking them down into a shimmering ruby jam brimming with sweet and spicy flavor. Those jewel-toned jars fill me with satisfaction and delight. We always keep a stash on hand to serve alongside my take on Julia Child's luxurious chicken liver mousse—a pairing that's become a signature appetizer whenever we entertain.

Our friend Tommy, affectionately known as “Tommy the crab guy,” is another pillar of our community's food sharing culture. As his nickname suggests, during crab season Tommy can be found on his boat every day, returning home with buckets brimming with sweet Dungeness crab. He generously cooks up his catch for everyone to enjoy, happily accepting homemade gifts in return. From our kitchen, Tommy gets Jean-Michel’s crusty sourdough loaves, my savory South African-inspired sausage rolls, and of course, jars of red pepper jelly. He also loves indulging in our friend Jill's gooey brownies, Annette's buttery pecan sandies, and Carl's cheesy grits studded with hatch chiles.

Speaking of Carl's legendary grits, during a recent dinner party at our home with Carl, his wife, and Tommy, the conversation turned to favorite homemade foods. Carl's creamy, spicy grits were raved about by all. A few days later, Carl dropped off a batch for us and extra for Tommy. I have to confess, the moment Carl left I grabbed a spoon and sampled the grits straight from the bowl, and they were so unbelievably delicious there wasn't much left by the time Jean-Michel returned from his ski trip! When I met up with Tommy to deliver his portion, he gratefully handed me a bag of sweet mandarin oranges, a gift to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

One of the most generous friends I know is Kathleen, an avid gardener with a prolific vegetable patch in Coupeville. Late last summer she arrived with an overflowing box of juicy tomatoes, ripe cucumbers, and plump squash freshly picked from her garden. We enjoyed the bounty well into the fall. And when we invited her to our annual holiday open house, she showed up with several dishes to share, including her signature deviled eggs that are always a hit.

Whether it's Ulricke bringing over jars of velvety apricot jam, Tim gifting us with his flaky homemade puff pastry or Bob sharing his miraculously grown Kiwi fruit, we are constantly amazed and humbled by the delicious gifts made with love that people share. Food has a wonderful way of forging bonds, nourishing bodies and spirits, and bringing comfort.

My gift to you is a recipe for the luscious chicken liver mousse I like to make for gatherings. It's rich, smooth, and perfectly seasoned. I hope you'll try it and share it with others—after all, good food is always best when enjoyed together!

Chicken Liver Mousse

Adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Makes about 2 cups

I like to serve my mousse with cornichons, grainy mustard, pickled cherries, shaved fennel, and crackers.

What you need:

- 2 cups (about 1 lb) chicken livers, trimmed of fat and membranes

- 2 tbsp minced shallots

- 2 tbsp unsalted butter

- 1/3 cup cognac

- 1/4 cup heavy cream

- 1/2 tsp salt

- 1/8 tsp allspice

- 1/8 tsp black pepper

- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

- 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

How to make it:

Trim the chicken livers of any greenish or blackish spots. Cut into 1/2" pieces.

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until the foaming subsides. Add the shallots and chicken livers. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until livers are just stiffened but still rosy inside.

Remove any liquid from the pan. Scrape the liver mixture into a blender.

Pour the cognac into the sauté pan and rapidly boil until reduced to 3 tbsp. Scrape into the blender.

Add the cream, salt, allspice, pepper, and thyme to the blender. Purée on high speed for a few seconds until completely smooth.

With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the melted butter and blend for a few more seconds until fully incorporated.

Pass the mousse through a fine mesh sieve to remove any fibrous bits.

Transfer to a serving bowl or jars. Chill for 2-3 hours before serving to allow flavors to meld.

Garnish with flaky salt and cracked pepper. Enjoy!

The act of preparing food with care and sharing it with loved ones is one of life's great joys. I hope making and enjoying this luscious mousse brings you and your community together in celebration, health, and warmth. Bon appétit!


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