In the Kitchen with Emily Nelson



Although I often share images or videos of our food and family table, I’m also curious how other families connect around the table. What are other kitchen spaces like and how do they include children in the process? Is there even a process? Wink. What type of meals  do other homes prefer and how do they make time together and experience food? This fall, I’m beginning a new series “In the Kitchen” where I plan to introduce other voices into this conversation on kitchen life and food. Each one will share something a bit different from the next, as location and homes and family life vary, but each will share a recipe or two, something to try in our own home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

To begin the series, I’m introducing Emily Nelson, a swoon-worthy food blogger at Gather&Dine and a mother of two in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a quiet soul with a broad palate and a penchant for whole foods, and I cannot wait to try her Caponata. Welcome, Emily!

in-the-kitchen-emily-nelson-2 in-the-kitchen-emily-nelson-1When we built our house five years ago, I knew I wanted the kitchen to be at the very center of our home since gathering, cooking, and eating together are such important parts of family life.   I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen, and both my children took a natural interest in working alongside me from a very early age.   Pouring, mixing, and kneading were all fun and relatively easy tasks for them when they were young, and I have fond memories of messy afternoon baking sessions together.  More recently we’ve been focusing a bit more on knife skills, and they have a great sense of accomplishment when they see a heaping bowl of vegetables they’ve chopped entirely on their own.  Working together in the kitchen has been a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with one another.  At the same time, the children build confidence and simultaneously acquire valuable skills to last their lifetimes.

Preparing food together also gives us opportunities to discuss healthy eating habits, which is especially helpful as the children become more independent and capable of making their own food choices.  As a family, we try to eat according to whatever is fresh and seasonal with an overall wholesome and natural approach to food.  While we do not adhere to a vegetarian diet, I do draw a lot of inspiration from various vegetarian cookbooks and blogs.  Both Deborah Madision’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food and have heavily influenced my way of cooking and have been invaluable resources.

in-the-kitchen-emily-nelson-4 in-the-kitchen-emily-nelson-5

Meal planning once a week helps me to stay organized and minimizes trips to the store.  I find cookbook perusing a delight rather than a chore, and I keep a running list of recipes I want to try.  With my ever-growing list of recipes, I’m never out of ideas when it comes time for my weekly meal planning.  I enjoy experimenting with food so there tends to be a lot of variety in our dinners, but I do try to incorporate at least one favorite and familiar meal on the menu every week.  This helps with building comfort around the table, and also lends to sense of family identity.  Sometimes the kids will join in helping to plan the meals, and Erin Gleeson’s Forest Feast for Kids has been a cookbook they have especially enjoyed.  

We are very intentional about prioritizing our family dinners together.  More and more as the kids have become older, I’m finding that there are numerous activities which can pull us apart at dinnertime.  We try to fight against this as best as we can, and only schedule extracurricular activities during the dinner hour when we absolutely have to.  It’s not easy, but guarding our mealtime together has been a priority nonetheless.  Cooking and eating together has deepened our connections and relationships with each other, and has overall helped us to be a close family.


This caponata is traditionally served along with some crusty bread, and I think it also goes particularly well with grilled rosemary chicken.   It’s a meal that can please both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, and is well suited for gatherings of all sorts.  The kids helped with everything from washing and chopping the vegetables to sautéing and garnishing, so this was a family meal in the truest sense.  


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound

1 red bell pepper

1 red onion

4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound

2 tablespoons capers, drained

¾ cup green olives, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted

chopped parsley to garnish

  1. Chop eggplant, red pepper, and onion into ¾-inch pieces.  
  2. Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add eggplant, pepper, and onions and cook until vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir for an additional minute.  
  3. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, vinegar, and salt.  Turn heat to low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.  We enjoy this when the vegetables are not overly soft, but if you prefer a softer caponata, simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
  4. Garnish with pine nuts and a generous handful of parsley.  Serve warm or at room temperature with grilled rosemary chicken and some crusty bread.  



4 chicken breasts, about 2 pounds

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

lemon wedges and rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

  1. Place chicken between 2 pieces of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to pound the chicken until it reaches an even 1/2 –inch thickness.  
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add chicken and toss to coat evenly.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat grill to medium high heat.  Grill chicken breasts for 3-5 minutes on each side.  Garnish with lemon wedges and rosemary along with an additional drizzle of olive oil.  

 All images by Emily Nelson for Cloistered Away. You can find more from Emily at Gather&Dine and also on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest

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  1. I just listened to your presentation from the wild+free conference in Long Beach and I had to tell you how much it spoke to me! I’m actually reading Outliers right now and have been pondering the different meanings of success besides those described in the book. I know I’m not a genius and I’m not seeking incredible wealth, so how can I relate this idea of 10,000 hours to my own life in a meaningful way? You hit it right on the head with your idea of our time around the family table. I even turned back to that chapter in the book and wrote in some quotes from your speech. Thank you for speaking at that conference! Even though I wasn’t there, I love that I had the chance to hear your words. You are truly a master speaker. Thank you!

  2. What a wonderful post Bethany. I also happen to adore Emily’s blog. I love the delicious, wholesome recipes she shares and always enjoy reading about her children and how they are involved with her in the kitchen. Caponata is one of my summer favorites, so I will definitely be giving Emily’s recipe a go. And it’s perfect with the rosemary chicken.

    1. Author

      I completely agree, Mary Ann, and thank you! I’m just wondering how to get those perfect grill marks on my chicken? ;)

  3. I love this concept. I look forward to learning more about other women and mothers at home. Seeing real life online is rather inspiring, although, my kitchen is rarely that spotless ;).

    1. Author

      My kitchen is rarely that spotless either, Rikki. It seems someone is always in there making or doing something. :)

  4. The food looks delicious and the kitchen looks amazing. Would you mind sharing what type of knives your kids use and at what age they began to cut? I have a 6 yo and 4 yo who do enjoy helping me cook.
    Thank you, Oksana (Maryland)

    1. Author

      Oksana, my youngest uses this set we gifted her last year for Christmas, and it’s wonderful. The peeler and the knife have little circles for proper finger placement and the knife is a little softer on the edge than a hard point. It also comes with a finger guard to protect the fingers on the non-chopping hand. It looks to me this may be the same set Emily’s children are using, although she may chime in differently. I hope this helps!

    2. Hi Oksana, we use the same knife set that Bethany uses and it’s just the right size for their hands. I started both of my children at a fairly young age, first slicing bananas and then gradually moving on to other fruits and vegetables as they felt comfortable. Encouraging them to prepare their own snacks (sliced bananas, kiwis, strawberries, cheese, etc.) is a wonderful way to work on their skills and independence in the kitchen.

      1. Thank you to both of you for the reply. I just need to convince my hubby to buy it now :) My 4 yo loves to cook so he would be excited. And thank you to both for all your posts!

  5. What a beautiful peek into another family’s kitchen! I think we’ll try the rosemary chicken recipe this week.

    1. Author

      I know! I’m adding the Caponata to next week’s meal plan. They both look so good.

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