Essay & Recipe

Take Me With You

Reneice Charles

“Take Me With You” was published in Active Cultures’ Digest, Issue 14, November 2022 (edited by Nneka Jackson).

Images:  All images courtesy of the artist.

Reneice Charles is a writer, home-taught cook, recipe developer, and food photographer in Los Angeles, CA. Like most Angeleno's she has a multi-hyphenate career. Reneice is Director of Communications at Level Ground, active Editor-In Chief of SKEW Magazine, and a freelance writer often speaking at the intersections of food and body politic. She is the author of the baking column Femme Brûlée on, and authored a mini e-cookbook, Cozy Holiday Plates, featuring small portion recipes for holiday favorites. She also has a virtual baking course on Quick-breads available online through the Mother Earth News-fair platform. Outside of the kitchen, Reneice is also a plus-size model and body liberation advocate.

Reneice is currently working away on two cookbook concepts, launching an independent site, and practicing rest as liberation. You can support her by joining on patreon ( and following her @reneicespieces on Instagram and twitter.

Feeding people and witnessing the joy that act elicits is one of my favorite life pleasures. I’m the type that watches in anticipation while loved ones take the first bite of a meal I’ve prepared. Searching their face for that initial emotion the food sparks thrills me. I wait to hear sounds of enjoyment escape from their lips between bites as their eyelids flutter closed. Or see them peek into pots making mental calculations of whether there’s enough to take more (the answer is always yes). Sometimes I know I've hit the spot when a quick shoulder jiggle breaks out, shifting side to side in glee. There is so much intimacy inherent in sharing a meal, and learning about someone through their love for food.

I find ways to weave these experiences into my world as often as possible. I make discreet notes when friends mention favorite foods, sudden deep cravings, or dishes they long for when they think of home and safety so that I can learn how to make them and host a meal. I’ve been spotted dancing in the grocery store while thinking of the bond I share with my guests,filling with excitement over surprising them with something beloved and delicious.

The roots of this joy pull from many sources. For one, I am the descendant of a particular southern culture. Raised in the cannon of “Don’t you leave my house empty handed! When was your last good home-cooked meal? You know you can’t turn down grandma’s potato salad. Eat, baby.” energy. A culture grounded in knowing that to feed is to love. To bring joy to the table is an honor. To offer sustenance through the work of your hands and the bounty life provides is to say, “I care about you, about your light continuing to shine, your energy being restored, your life force being supported in this world.” And so, in my kitchen, the joy of feeding is inseparable from the joy of cooking.


The roots also run through my view and belief that  food is a tool of community strength and social justice. Historically, meals were made for the entire family/village/tribe by many hands and shared in a common space. This is where the deepest bonds formed, and stories passed between generations, marrying the comfort of community to the taste of traditional dishes. Those that remember our favorite foods and hold the knowledge of how to make them are held dear. The vivid and eternal ribbons of memory wrap around them so that when it's hard to find the words through oceans of grief, a warm container of peanut stew or a steaming casserole of mac and cheese says “I love you. I’m here for you. I’m with you,” often better than words are able.

During the most difficult part of my Covid quarantine, I sent out an email to my closest friends asking for assistance by way of food. With the food, came memories. I couldn't physically be with them, but I could taste their laughter and hear their sweet tone as I ate one succulent sweet and spicy peanut chicken wing after another. I giggled remembering a stolen moment over pizza with another as I swirled crusty bread through the cheesy baked white beans she left at my door.  I was alone and afraid, but also assured that I was loved. And held. And would survive.

I couldn't wait to feed my friends again. In those moments of solitude, I began to reflect deeply on the magic/healing/gift in food made for a journey. Whether to be eaten together on the road or after a long separation, delivered in a period of sickness or grief, or passed hand to hand while wishing someone on their way. In a time of global instability, it is not easy  to move forward.  And yet, movement must happen. Movements are fueled by bodies, bodies are fueled by food. Like an umbilical cord, the act of feeding and being fed is integral to life. It is how days are distinguished and passed, how rituals and traditions are created; from stovetops, plates, and platters to to-go plates, lunch boxes, and brown bags on the way out into the world.

The recipes I’m sharing here were written with this in mind. They are favorites I turn to when times call for portable, reliable, shareable and thoughtful food. These are offerings flowing from the wellspring of love, meant to say I cannot go with you in body, but in spirit, in food, in memory, I can. I do. Take me with you.

A vibrant lunch of curried chickpeas held in succulent collard greens shared on the beach while wrapped in the arms of tender love, enveloped in the light of the sun, with waves breaking softly in the distance. They say, “It is a joy to be loved by you. “

A traveling charcuterie plate in tupperware slipped into a loved one’s bag before their flight as impatient drivers honk and airport personnel wave lingering cars on is hugs, kisses and sweet goodbye before their new start because the airport is the worst place to be hangry. It says, “It is a joy to wish you well on your journey.”

As a friend moved to a new destination, carrot cake muffins stood in as breakfast for the road. I handed over the box to say, “I will miss having extravagant meals and winding conversations with you on lazy Sundays and can't wait to gossip while your oven preheats in your new kitchen someday. It is a joy to be your friend, near or far,” as my eyes welled up and a lump gathered in my throat.

A jar of jam says, “Thank you for the way you show up in our moments of connection and our shared community; for breathing life into weary hearts and restless bodies. The fruit of this season looks good on you. It is a joy to experience your light.”

These are recipes for demonstrating care and blessing a journey.  They are for traveling through time and easing discomfort. The instructions I have enclosed and the food they create answer the question, “What is the taste of joy?”


Sweet & Spicy Pickled Carrots


2 cups grated carrots
3 shallots, sliced
½ cup brown Sugar
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 star anise
2 strips orange zest

1. Combine carrots, shallots, jalapeno, crushed red pepper flakes, star anise, and orange zest strips in a large bowl.

2. In a small saucepan, bring brown sugar, rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar to a boil, then pour over the carrot mixture and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

3. Store in the fridge, preferably in a glass jar.

Collard Green Curry Chickpea Wraps


4 medium or 2 large collard green leaves, washed and stems trimmed
1 15oz can chickpeas, drained
¼ cup vegan yogurt (I use forager cashew yogurt) (3 tablespoons)
¼ Teaspoon turmeric
½ Tablespoon curry powder
¼ tsp ground chili
½ teaspoon mustard powder
1 shallot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 cup fresh spinach leaves

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, and fill a large bowl with very cold water.

2. Once the water is boiling, immerse the collard greens and allow to cook for 20-30 seconds.

3. Remove and place immediately into the cold water for another 30 seconds, then dry with paper towels and set aside.

4. Combine remaining ingredients aside from the spinach leaves in a bowl and stir until well combined.

5. Mash about ⅓ of the mixture with a fork.

6. Lay collard green leaves on a cutting board with the smaller end closest to you.

7. Layer spinach leaves, curried chickpeas, and pickled carrots about ⅓ of the way up the leaves.

8. To wrap, pull end of the leaf closest to you over the filling and then roll upward, tucking in the edges as you go.

9. Slice in half, and then serve.

Plum Jam


2 lbs plums, pitted and quartered
½ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
2 tbs bourbon or brandy

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan on high heat and stir until boiling.

2. Once boiled, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until fruit is broken down and the jam is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

3. Spoon into jars and refrigerate.

Carrot Cake Muffins

Crumb topping

½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup (4 tbs) unsalted butter, cubed


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
½ cup melted butter
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups grated carrots, drained

Cream Cheese Drizzle

3 oz cream cheese room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat oven to 425°F

2. Prepare a standard 12 cup muffin tin by either placing in muffin liners, or generously buttering each cup. Set aside.

For the crumble topping:
In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients with your hands until it clumps together like wet sand. Set aside.

For the muffins:
1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. .

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, melted butter, granulated sugar,  brown sugar and vanilla extract until completely smooth and glossy.

3. Next,  whisk in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

4. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined and no dry pockets of flour remain.

5. Gently fold the grated carrots into the batter until evenly distributed, taking care not to over stir.

6. Scoop the batter evenly into your prepared muffin tin, and top each muffin with the reserved crumb topping.

7. Bake at 425°F for  8 minutes

8. Reduce the heat  to 375°F and bake for another 6-8 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

9. When the muffins are done, allow to cool in the muffin tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

10. While the muffins are cooling, make the cream cheese drizzle by whisking together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

11. Once cool, use a spoon to apply the cream cheese drizzle, and enjoy!

Active Cultures is a cultural organization that explores the convergence of food and art in contemporary life.