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28 February 2007

daily food photo: lentils

the lowly lentil

Everything fascinates, if you look closely enough at it.

Even the lowly lentil.

Moroccan Lentil Soup, adapted from Field of Greens

It fascinates me to find how much my tastes have changed in the past decade, but particularly in the last year. When I first found this soup in the Field of Greens cookbook, I was living on Vashon Island, I was a vegetarian, and I was very grateful for any recipe that had flavor. At the time, the idea of turmeric and coriander astonished me. How exotic! Making this soup felt like an afternoon-long affair. I was so proud.

Now, however, chopping and stirring and sauteeing feel like second nature to me. A decade later, I have eaten well, around the world. My tastes know more now. After I cut out gluten, I was surprised to find that everything sang out on my tongue, much more clearly, than it had in the dulled decades before it. And of course, after nearly a year of eating the Chef's cooking, I have learned how to really listen to my food.

He has taught me — oh, how he teaches me — to really pay attention to the ingredients. It's not the expensive bottle of truffle oil that makes great food. It's knowing when to add salt, and when to remove the skillet from the burner, and how to sense in the sizzle that something else is missing. It's how to be awake.

Several months ago, I made him this soup, according to the recipe. He liked it. He ate two bowls of it. But when I went to make it again, I asked him if he would do anything differently. More liquid. Not so much cayenne pepper. The ginger shouldn't be buried. Sautee half the onion first, and then put the lentils in.

This is his adaptation. He was right. It tasted better, in tiny ways. The original recipe was solid and smiling. This one is — dare I say it? — even better. For our tastes, this one dances. It makes me feel awake.

1 cup lentils
8 cups cold water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized yellow onion, fine diced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced small
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, fine diced
8 ounces tomatoes (at this time of year, buy canned San Marzano tomatoes), with juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt (with more, to taste, at the end)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and fine diced
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Mix the ground spices together in a small bowl. Set them aside.

Sauté half the onion with one clove of garlic on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the garlic to burn. When the onion and garlic have grown translucent, add half the spice mixture. Cook for one minute. Add the lentils and the water. When the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and allow this mixture to simmer until tender, which will take about twenty-five minutes or so.

Meanwhile, sauté the remaining portion of the onion and the remaining three cloves of garlic in a separate skillet, on medium heat. Again, do not allow the garlic to burn. When the onion and garlic smell heavenly and have grown soft, add the carrot and celery. Cook these for four to five minutes, or until the carrot and celery have started to soften. Add the red pepper pieces and cook for a remaining two to three minutes. At this point, add the remaining dried spices and cook the wonderful concoction for two minutes or so, or until it has all melded together into a redolent mess.

Put the sautéed vegetables and spices into the pot of tender lentils. Add in the tomatoes and their juices. Stir. Add the salt to the soup and stir it up. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another thirty minutes or so, or until the soup smells so good that you simply cannot wait another minute to eat it.

Just before serving the soup, stir in the fine-diced ginger and stir it in well. Cook for a few moments more. This will keep the taste of ginger bright. Taste the soup to see if you need more salt and pepper. Season to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a small dollop of sour cream and a bit of chopped cilantro.

Serves six.

27 February 2007


cheese delivery

As the Chef and I were rounding the corner, toward the restaurant, we were deep in conversation about a dear friend of ours. Serious and absorbed, we wondered why people grow jealous in relationships, and how our friend could best take care of herself. Is anyone surprised that this led us to sweetly cooing about our love? In the middle of murmuring to me, gushy and low in his throat, the Chef immediately bounded to ten-year-old kid, Christmas-morning excited: "The Peterson truck is here!"

He nearly jumped out of the car before I could bring it to a stop. "Go! Go!" I exhorted, my voice as raised and quavery as his.

Not much can interrupt us from our eyes-locked, in-love-with-each-other talking. But a giant semi-trailer truck full of cheese? That will do it every time. (That, and the perfectly placed smart-ass comment that cracks us both up.)

Oh god, I love cheese. Once, about a decade ago, I decided to give up cheese, in a misguided attempt to lose weight. Walking down the aisles of the grocery store, I felt a bit like a drug addict trying to be good, but desperate for a fix. Everything I wanted to eat contained cheese. I checked the labels of every food, just to see if I could eat it. (Actually, I realize now, that was pretty good preparation for going gluten-free. It was the first time I truly examined labels on food.) Six weeks later, I gave up. I shaved a small slice of Irish cheddar off a creamy white block, and I was done. I have never looked back.

What is life without cheese?

(I'm so sorry, those of you cannot eat dairy. Look away.)

Once every few weeks, the Chef orders wheels of cheese for the restaurant from Peterson's cheese, here in Seattle. One of the most delicious thrills of watching him plan a menu is listening to the various delectables he might order. Triple cream? Sheep's cheese from Spain? A Drunken goat?

Today, he pulled four surprises from the large box. A Saint Nectaire, cow's milk cheese made in the mountains of Auvergne, in France. The description? "...a wonderful combination of a summer pasture and sweet, fruity milk flavors." Valée d’Aspe, a goat cheese from the Basque area of the Pyrénées: "...fruity, tangy, a little salty...finishes with a wonderful caramelized nuttiness that makes you reach back for more." And a Brique Agour, a sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region of Spain, crumbly and nutty, with a rich flavor, which has been aged for at least four months before it is shipped to the United States.

I always think about that, when I look at food before me: how many hands have touched this before it reached mine? Where did this food begin? On a small farm in Spain? In the mountains of France? In the udders of a cow? Given from a goat? Every bite of food we eat comes with stories.

(Unfortunately, the fourth cheese he ordered was a blue from the Rogue River creamery. Their blue molds begin in bread, which makes their beautiful cheese forbidden to me. However, when I called their customer service number yesterday, to see if I could eat some, a lovely woman did inform me that strides are being made toward an artisanal mold that comes from something other than bread. As soon as it works, they will begin using it.)

We both sighed a little, as we looked at the cheese before us. And then we laughed, as I stood on a chair to do a photo shoot with the cheese.

Let me tell you, the Chef and I have no criminal tendencies. (Well, I may have borrowed a copy of Gourmet magazine from the dentist's office, recently.) But if we were to ever take up a life of crime? We would never, like Bonnie and Clyde, go on a fast ride through the United States, stylish and savvy, robbing banks. Instead, we'd be far more likely to hijack a Peterson's cheese truck, throw the driver a pound of Roquefort Vieux Berger, and ride off into the sunset, nibbling on goat cheese as we go.

26 February 2007

ten months

ten months — breakfast

Breakfast, at one pm.

"Love is reaching, reaching love....
Love is living, living love."

— John Lennon, "Love"

24 February 2007

sudden sunlight

mango-jicama salad

Sudden sunlight broke into the living room as I was writing. Furrowed into myself in front of the computer — busy stringing sentences together and trying to make them sing — I looked up for the first time in twenty minutes. The clouds had been nudged out of place by bright, blue-tinted light. Seattle light. Winter-slowly-coming-into spring light.

I stood up and looked out the window. A young father held the hand of his little boy as they crossed the street. I smiled, my face softening. Whenever the Chef sees that scene, he calls to me from the kitchen, "Come here! Look out the window!" Now, I was seeing it for him, the little red rain slicker, the tottering steps, the sure grip and vast expanse of crosswalk before the curb. I thought of John Lennon, his song "Beautiful Boy," the Caribbean steel drums. Always, I go back to the line in that song: "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

I lay aside the writing.

Hungering, I went into the kitchen. Jicama sat on the countertop, left over from a shopping trip during which I had plans. I had forgotten them. I picked them up again. Slowly, as slowly as I could with the hunger building inside me, I chopped up the jicama. I reached for the mango sitting beside it on the counter and started to slither off the peel, like remnant flesh of a snake's forgotten skin. Lemon — I could have used limes, but I had no limes. Fresh ginger. A soft avocado, squishy and probably a day past its prime. But there. It was all there. Golden balsamic vinegar. Salt that stuck to my still-wet fingers. Black pepper, settling onto all those colors.

When I looked at the red bowl, I saw its unexpected beauty. I could have cut the pieces smaller — next time. It might taste better with a pinch of nutmeg — we were out. If I had planned to take a photograph, I would have wiped off the edges of the bowl, just to make it look pretty.

But sunlight in Seattle, in February, fades fast. Imperfections are just as fleeting.

Sunlight on the red bowl, the edge facing west a golden illumination. For a moment, heartbreak. All this beauty.

23 February 2007

may you have thyme

may you have thyme

"Wait, wait, come here," I heard him say, his voice fast and excited, as he scurried around the corner into the kitchen.

Normally, when I drop off the Chef at the restaurant in the early afternoon, we have a definite routine. We have driven and talked, laughed and slapped each other on the arm, listened to the radio, and kissed. These past few days, there has been sunlight through the trees as we wind our way through the Arboretum. We hold hands as I drive us down Madison. As soon as we can see the lake, I know: he's leaving soon.

Not just because I'm going to be dropping him off for his work day, a solid ten hours of prepping and cooking and planning and dancing. But also because, as soon as we round that corner, and the restaurant is in sight, he's gone.

The man loves his job. He loves me more. But when it's time to work, it's time.

He clambers out of the car, grabs the boxes of fish from U Seafood, slings his backback on, and walks to the driver side. He leans in the window and kisses me, deeply. And then, he walks into the restaurant, doing his little Charlie Chaplin walk. (Sometimes, I comment on his physique, but we'll leave that alone.)

I drive toward the coffee shop, two blocks away. When it is sunny, I look for a parking spot and dawdle there and back. Inside, I wait, for the line to dissipate, so I can talk to Kristin. We chat and laugh, and then she reaches for the cup, automatically. A venti drip. At least three inches of room for milk. Every day, I walk to the bar with the sugar and milk. I pour in his milk and watch the creamy whiteness swirl into his cave-black coffee until it is the color of caramel. And then, slightly embarrassed, and hoping no one thinks this is my coffee, I pour in half a pound of sugar.

Okay, I might be exaggerating, a bit. But seriously — I have never met anyone who takes as much sugar in his coffee.

Then again, it always makes his lips sweet when he kisses me.

I wave goodbye to Kristin, and then I wander back to the restaurant. Before I met him, I had never been to this part of Seattle. Now, I walk the streets of this neighborhood every day. I know all the characters. Life's funny that way.

Sometimes, the light on the lake is glimmering, hindering me from reaching him, because I have to stop and stare.

And then I walk into the restaurant. I know he's back in the kitchen, and I don't want to scare him. So I shout, playfully, "Hey Chef!" (I really do call him Chef in that moment. He's in his kitchen. It's a sign of respect.)

He comes around the corner, and smiles. "Hey pumpkin." And he kisses me as he reaches for the coffee. But there's a tightness in his smile, a little tapping in his toes. He wants to talk. Or, rather, his entire body language communicates to me: he wishes that he wanted to talk. But he can't. He's in his domain. And from that moment until dinner service starts, he will be back there chopping and searing, starting stocks and reducing them, preparing apple crisps and cutting down lamb. He never takes a moment off. He has not a moment to waste.

And so, normally, I throw my arms around him, hold him close, kiss him on his now-sugary lips (after that first sip) and walk out the door, trailing "I love you," behind me. I drive away.

But yesterday, I was jolted out of my routine.

When I returned with his coffee, he bounded around the corner, his face open wide. No ripple of wishing that he could start cooking in his kitchen. "Look at this!" he sailed over to me. New celery roots — almost the size of a small child's head. Red potatoes. Chanterelle mushrooms he had started to dry, since they were still damp from the forest. The new order of pork belly.

I gawked at it all, grateful to see all his orders come in at once. I was tempted to take pictures, but normally, he needs his space. He went back to the kitchen, and I turned my feet toward the door to walk out. But he kept coming out. "Look!"

After awhile, I couldn't believe my luck. I could stay? I could revel in every vegetable with him? And then, he had me close my eyes.

Smell, he said. And so, I did.

I lowered my nose into a bed of green. It smelled like green fields, something slightly sweet, a faint tang of anise. "Tarragon?" I said.

Yes, he said, looking excited. Close your eyes.

Pungent, summer, the patch of grass behind John and Tita's door in July, we are shaking dew from leaves to take them inside to make pesto.... "Basil," I say. "I'd recognize that anywhere."

Grinning, he kisses my closed eyes. "Try this."

A sweet mustiness, something of Italy, a pasta, a slow simmering.... "Oregano?" I guess, about to open my eyes.

"Ah, ah, no. Keep them closed."

I lean my nose in again, deeper this time, the little leaves tickling my nose. I smell stews and pork loins and our plastic cutting board at midnight. I smell the Chef. "Thyme," I say, opening my eyes, because I know it, now. This is one of his favorite herbs.

He puts the thyme in his hands like a wedding bouquet and hands it to me. It is much greener, far deeper, closer to the ground than the thyme we buy in grocery stores. I didn't recognize it, for its health, at first.

"We have to plant some herbs," I say, breathless with the joy of this.

"Yes, please," he says, looking like he's six years old.

And with the sweet smell of sugary coffee and the mingled scents of fresh herbs between us, we hold each other, relaxed.

And then I walk out the door.

22 February 2007

the kiss of cinnamon

Saigon cinnamon

Going to the spice store with the Chef is one of the sensory highlights of my week.

"What do you need?" I ask him, hungrily anticipating the smells. Vanilla beans? Last week, they had in a fresh shipment — perhaps from Tahiti — and the beans were as fat and black as old-fashioned licorice. Madras curry powder? He buys the muddy yellow spice mix whole and grinds just the amount he needs for the restaurant. The curried carrot soup he created with it, spontaneously, was so richly flavored and unexpected that we made it three more times, and then wrote it up as a recipe for the book. Fennel seed? We could try those turkey burgers that Alfred Portale wrote about.

I never know what will greet us when we walk into the tiny shop on Western Avenue, curled under the Pike Place Market. When they are roasting spices on the spot, I walk in a daze through the store, my nose searching for the source of that smell. Tastes leap into my mind, and I want to try them all. Dukka — what could I do with that? Sometimes, I buy spices I have never heard of, in one-ounce portions, just to make myself experiment.

Their assam tea kicks ass, too.

My favorite moment at World Spice, however, arrived as a surpirse. Don't they always? The Chef called to me, from three feet away, and said, "Sweetie, try this." He dabbed his finger in the burnt sienna powder he had just purchased, and then put it on his lips. "Kiss me," he said. When I did, my lips danced, a wild sharpness and vivid sweetness mixing on my tongue to mingle and emerge, entirely unexpected. It tasted hauntingly familiar, but new. The sensation reminded me of when I was a kid, and I forced myself to walk around the house with my eyes closed, to imagine what it might be like to be blind. When I opened my eyes, everything gleamed, brightly, born again for a few seconds, new to my senses.

"What is that?" I asked him.
He turned the little glass jar and pointed to the label. "Saigon cinnamon."

Cinnamon harvested in Vietnam is actually called cassia. ("True" cinnamon is actually much milder than what we have grown accustomed to, in this country.) In small villages in Vietnam, people grind the older bark that is lower to the ground, rich in pungent oils and just more so than the branches above it. This ground cassia is shipped to Seattle, and sold to me at World Spice.

It sits now in our kitchen, a pinch ready to mingle amidst apples to make a truly extraordinary pie. If we need cinnamon, for Moroccan dishes, we use only this "Saigon cinnamon" from World Spice, now. The cinnamon I lived with for three decades before this feels flat and dulled on my tongue.

We try to buy it in tiny amounts, however — Saigon cinnamon is so strong that only 1/8 of a teaspoon spices an entire dish — so that we can have that experience, again and again, of returning to the spice store, together, to share new tastes.

21 February 2007

pickled cabbage = true love

pickled cabbage

I bet many of you expected to see a post about Valentine’s Day last week.

You might expect — given how happy, sappy, and saturated with love I am for the Chef — that I would have written a big Valentine's Day post. After all, this was my first Valentine’s Day with him. All those years of walking through the field of festooned hearts and pink things over the entire land, alone. He told me, a few months ago, that he always hated Valentine’s Day. All those happy couples (or people pretending to be) in his restaurant, while he stood in the kitchen alone, cooking for them. Both of us always felt a little tender melancholy around the day.

This year was the first time in our lives that we had a valentine who truly matters.

(Okay, I did cherish the crumpled valentine that Bobby Porras tossed onto my desk, its edges slightly grubby from his dirtied hands. I left it in my desk and peered at it for weeks, even though he had only scrawled his name. Oh, fifth-grade love.)

Frankly, after all those damned Valentine’s Days I had to endure alone, I probably had every right to be soppy and write a paean to the man on the day.

Why didn’t I?

Well, for one, we didn’t have time. We woke up, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, in Tucson, in a rented condo filled with family. The relaxed hush in the living room, with everyone reading parts of the newspaper or books about climbers in Nepal, felt far better than candy hearts. Breakfast meant gluten-free pancakes and bacon for eight. It wasn’t until we were on our way to the airport, late in the morning, before the Chef’s sister said, idly, “Oh that’s right, it’s Valentine’s Day.” There were men with pickup trucks on the side of the road, selling red roses from white buckets. That’s what reminded us. We talked about the artificiality of the day and went back to laughing about something else.

We hopped a plane and held each other’s hands throughout the flight, poking each other’s shoulders in excitement as we flew over the Grand Canyon. We talked about the family, and favorite memories, and the wedding, and new recipes to try. There was no talk of Cupid.

We rushed to the restaurant, straight from the airport, and he gave me a quick kiss, and then ran inside to start cooking. This is how I spent Valentine’s Day evening, at home, alone, eating asada tacos from the little stand down the street.

I think that’s what I did last Valentine’s Day too.

Every moment of that day made me wonderfully happy.

You see, I never did like Valentine’s Day. Too enforced, too obligatory. I’m a firm believer — anything done out of obligation is no damned good.

We didn’t buy each other cards or flowers or little gifts. Nothing. Not a thing.

As my dear friend Francoise told me last year, when she explained that she and her husband were doing nothing special: “Every day is Valentine’s Day for us.”

And now, for us, too.

When I was growing up, and sat under the spell of every sappy love song on the radio, I wondered. (You know those songs, like these.) I wanted it. Oh boy, did I long for that imagined love.

(Embarrassing admission: I remember a moment of deep keening, listing to Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu, while developing photographs in a darkroom with a boy I loved, at twelve.)

But could that imagined love be real?

Now, I know — none of them even comes close to capturing it. Every love song I play for him is just a finger pointing, guiding him toward my feelings. I will never capture it with these words. He always wants to dance. He holds me. He looks at me in a way I only dreamed possible.

For years, I lived a life bombarded with questions. (I have this image of a huge animation of hanging questions marks surrounding me like pockets of air.) Now, I've let go of the need for answers. I just breathe and bite and laugh and feel joy and take steps and kiss this man and watch the sky change colors in the late afternoon. All that time, I lived in my brain. I wanted answers, so my brain could be at rest. Now, I know that the path was to move into my body. The Chef? He has known this all along.

Every single conversation with him, every gap of silence, every song and sandwich, every revelation and response, feels like an enormous gift.

That’s what I never knew, when I was single and aching for a Valentine. It is never about the big occasions. It’s about the daily.

Like the morning, earlier this week, when he spontaneously mopped the floor before we left the house for the day, so I’d have a clean kitchen when I came home. Or that he washes my hair in the shower in the mornings, and I wash his. Because all I have to say to him is “Pile guy,” as we pass someone on the street, and he bursts out laughing. Or the fact that he kisses me, every day, at the stop light before we turn left into the Arboretum, because we always kiss there, and he doesn’t want to go a day without it. When he calls me, during dinner service, even though he is ridiculously busy, and he only has twenty seconds to talk, but he wants to say, “God, I miss you.” And when he eats the food I have made for him, when we are together at midnight, he nearly grunts with pleasure, and says, “Baby, this is good.”

That’s better than any damned Valentine card.

True love is pickled cabbage, brought home — magenta pink — in a Ziploc bag from the restaurant, late at night. He knows how much I love everything pickled. When I ask him how he made it, he can tell that I’m already going into work mode (I could put it on the blog!) before I have even tasted it. He puts his finger to his lips, and then to mine, and says, “Not now. Just eat it.” I take a bite, and sigh. Sweetly puckering at the lips and whispering of spices. Pepper? Bay leaves? Cloves. A touch of sugar. Vinegar? He nods. Champagne vinegar, it turns out, along with salt. After a few bites, I don’t ask him for the recipe. I simply settle into bed and lay my head upon his chest, feel his arm around my shoulder, and feed him pickled cabbage.

True love is a man lifting his head from the pillows to look at the clock. When he spies that it is after midnight, he kisses me, and says, “Happy Wednesday.” We met on a Wednesday, you see, and not one Wednesday has passed, since, without us wishing each other happiness on the day of our birth as a couple. Everyone is expected to celebrate Valentine’s. I can’t imagine that anyone else celebrates Wednesdays.

Happy Wednesday, honey. This one is for you.

20 February 2007

lunch by myself

lunch by myself

Eating lunch alone — somehow, for years, it felt like being at a long table in a cafeteria, in the corner. You remember those dreary junior high years, when the cool kids had the latest Vans shoes and the Farrah flip to their bangs? (Okay, I'm revealing my age here.) When you sidled past them, trying not to touch the table and spill their milk with your new, womanly hips? Somehow, klutzy as I was in seventh grade, I always seemed to jar one of those fold-up tables with the gun-metal legs. No one was more mortified than me.

I never did sit entirely alone in middle school. In fact, one of my best friends in junior high — ah, beautiful Mike Kelly — ate lunch with me most days. We had films to storyboard (we made mock-vaudeville dramas or endless takes of milk spitting out of our noses with the Super 8 camera) or Steve Martin routines to replay between us. He and a scrawny kid named Glen sat with me nearly every day, our shoulders hunched toward together, deep in conversation as we ate. The cute girls (remember, I looked a lot like Albert Brooks in those years) sneered at me. Mike Kelly was the Adonis of Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High. What was he doing with me?

Eating good food and laughing, mostly. I can still remember the feeling of late-spring days, when we spread our brown paper bags out on the grass in the math quad, laughing so hard about Steve Martin or Saturday Night Live that I lost my self-consciousness for a few moments. The sunlight broke through my reserves, and I was just there.

Now, I had no idea I was going to write about this. In fact, I haven't thought about those lunches in a long, long time. Right now, I have a stream of junior high school memories burbling in my head — Mrs. Scinto filing her nails during journalism class; the cute English teacher with the Beatles boots always slung up on his wooden desk while we took tests; the other English teacher, who must have been going through menopause because she opened and closed the tall windows with a wooden pole ten times in one class. And junior high memories? Sweetie, that's not a great place to stay.

Instead, I just want to show you my lunch.

Since I stopped teaching, I have been eating lunch alone. Breakfasts are lavish and relaxed around here. The Chef and I don't eat until 11, or sometimes near noon. Even though I could eat dinner before he returns home, I would miss that meal at midnight. Eating together is one of the kindest acts of connection. And so, I eat lunch about four or five, most days. And most of the time, I'm by myself.

With that in mind, it's too easy to simply forage all afternoon, nibbling and dabbling. A bit of popcorn, some crackers with peanut butter, a banana. I eat, but I don't really eat.

Today, however, I decided to feed myself.

After I finished a lovely conversation with Molly, about freelancing and writing and where we find ourselves in food, I arrived home to find the living room filled with sunlight. This is not a common occurrence in Seattle. We have been saturated in greys. Clouds hanging low, rain lashing down, winds whipping into our faces. There are harder places to be during the winter, but I am ready for spring. Now.

Sunlight on my fingers as I held the knife, I cut an avocado into tiny slices. We always have interesting leftovers in our refrigerator, so I pulled them out, one by one, and dropped a couple of spoonfuls onto the green plate. This was — for no reason whatsoever — an occasion.

It is too easy to forget the beauty of food. Even I find myself nibbling at almonds in the car, if I have gone too long without eating. But lately, now that the book is done, I find myself slowing down. And truly enjoying it.

Before I met the Chef, I didn't think that food had to look beautiful to taste wondrous. (Actually, I even said that in the Food Network segment that is still running today. And boy, do those fig cookies exemplify my point.) But he is changing me, in all the best ways. Watching the care with which he plates he food at the restaurant, or for photos I take there in the afternoon, I am learning to present the food more beautifully, even to myself.

Now, eating alone doesn't come wrapped in the stigmas of seventh grade. Instead, it is a luxurious choice — the chance to truly taste it.

If you want to know about the food in the photo, click on it. The composition is an homage to Molly, who specializes in photos like these.

18 February 2007

daily food photo: portobello mushrooms

portobello mushrooms

When I walked into the restaurant with the Chef's coffee warming my hand, I saw a case of these on the bar.

They gleamed.

"Sweetie, what are you doing with these?" I called out to him in the kitchen.

He came around the corner, wiping his hands, a gleeful grin on his face.

"Portobello vinaigrette, for the fish special."

I gave him a kiss, always amazed at how his mind works. Five minutes before, he had no idea what he would serve that night. He lives in the food moment. These had arrived. He found his idea.

Later, I asked him how he made it. But in that moment, I took out my camera instead. Seeing them in front of me, I was reminded of just how much the world offers.

"Wherever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things."

— Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"


17 February 2007

daily food photo: eggs


Eggs grown on the Skagit River Ranch, from Sedro-Woolley. Every week, we pass the stand in the summer, and see — sadly — that they sold out of their eggs by eight. No chance for us.

Today, langorously at one, we lingered in front. Eggs this time.

"...our laying hens really live on pasture and eat grass, insects and organic grains as they roam in the green fields all day long."

Five dollars for a dozen. Worth it.


16 February 2007

a sustained note of sweetness

Redbridge at the party

As we sat around the long, candle-flickering table — laden with prime rib, mashed potatoes, port-balsamic sauce, and mixed green salads with goat cheese — I couldn’t stop grinning.

Ten people had gathered together to eat. In the most primal, profound moments of life, there is food. Sensory pleasure, steam rising to warm the face, memories surging from the smells, mingled moments of anticipation and satisfaction — food gathers us. It did, that night.

For hours, the Chef had been cooking, in a capacious kitchen he only visits once or twice a year. Beside him, I had whirled together a simple vinaigrette in the blender and dabbed goat cheese onto the salads. Still, I had helped him, just as he had asked me, months before. We kissed in the kitchen, sometimes stopping when someone else came in. “Okay, you two, quit fooling around!” they shouted. But they were smiling behind the statement. We kept cooking.

Only scraps of food lay on the table. Bottles of wine had been drained. For hours, I had been listening, to stories and reminiscing. Henrietta Ziggadah from Cresco. That trip to Lake Powell. The old International. The time the Chef ran the Volvo into the curb near the Eisenhower tunnel and blamed a pack of wild dogs. No one made it home with his own suitcase but the blind man. Children flinging paper clips at some poor kid. Kevin making faces behind his dad’s back, which only made Kathy laugh harder. The deep-water harbor at Le Havre. The story Pat told at the goodbye party. Rafts on the pond. Shana Louise. Cooper’s birthday photo. Avalanche control in Breckenridge. A life, condensed into flashes and laughter, over the course of an evening.

I had been silent, happy just to listen. But in the midst of a long pause, toward the end of dinner, I looked up and raised my glass. “I have to tell you all, how honored I am to be here. When [the Chef] and I started dating, only a few weeks in, he sent me a text message: ‘Will you help me cook my dad’s birthday dinner in February?’ When I read that, I knew he meant it. And now, here we are. And the reality is so much better than the imagined ideal. Thank you, everyone, for allowing me to be here.” I looked across the table and saw the Chef smiling at me, tears on his cheeks. I looked down the table and saw his father, on his 80th birthday, dabbing at his eyes with the handkerchief he had pulled from his pocket. Between them sat the Chef’s brother and sisters (all of them but one had come, but he was remembered well), grinning and nodding, smiling and teary, all of them with their glasses raised.

So we toasted to GW's birthday, and to being there together. And then I drank a big gulp of my beer.

* * *

Beer? You may be wondering — how is it that this gluten-free girl was drinking beer at the Chef’s dad’s 80th birthday party, in Tucson, Arizona?


Two months ago, Anheuser Busch announced the sale of their gluten-free beer, Redbridge. In development for years, Redbridge is a response to the loud clamoring of those of who have to live gluten-free: we want beer! This company is smart — we are a growing consumer base, in business speak. Current statistics say that only 3% of the three million people living with celiac in this country are even diagnosed, but that is changing, on a daily basis. As awareness of the need to eat gluten-free grows (and I’m doing everything I can on that front), more products are emerging on the market.

Anheuser-Busch is the most mainstream company in America, so far, to acknowledge the gluten-free market. Beer. They made us beer.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Angie Mingis, product manager for Redbridge, and Kristi Zantop, head brewmaster for Redbridge. I’ll admit it — I had contacted Anheuser-Busch, looking for some free beer. As much as I had heard about the elixir, it hadn’t shown up in my stores yet. I wanted to try some and tell you about it. It turns out that Washington State law prevents anyone from sending beer through the mail. Hm. But, in the conversations, a lovely woman in customer service asked me if I would like to talk with this pair. Sure. Frankly, I loved the fact that I would be talking with an all-woman team.

The enthusiasm in their voices was unmistakable. One of them told me about a childhood friend who had recently been diagnosed with celiac, who was “…absolutely elated.” Another told me of a terrible irony — one of her brewing professors at UC Davis has been diagnosed. He is so happy about Redbridge that he wants to be their national spokesperson. These two women were proud of their work. They should be. Earlier versions of the beer — made with buckwheat — simply didn’t work. Even when they decided to switch to sorghum, the African grain that makes thousands of gallons of backyard beer on that continent, the earliest batches were too tart for their taste. “It was a challenge to have the perception of malted barley without barley,” Kristi told me. Of course. What they wanted to conceive — and we want to drink — is a beer that tastes like beer. Not a specialty item, or a slightly sweet substitute, but a beer.

I never was much of a beer drinker before I found out I have celiac. Whenever I drank a beer, I grew blotchy red and sleepy. Why did anyone like the stuff? But I have to admit, since I found my first six-pack at Whole Foods (a few hours after my phone interview), I have been drinking more than my fair share of Redbridge. Ay god, I love the stuff.

This is a full-bodied beer, with a little note of citrus in it. It is rich, without a hint of bitterness at the back of the throat. It flits through my taste buds. Kristi, the brewmaster, had other words to describe it: hopped; hearty; malted. I’m not enough of a beer aficionado to say what those mean. I only know this: every time I drink a Redbridge, I have a tickle at the back of my throat. It is part giggle and part disbelief. I’m drinking a beer.

When the Chef talked with his parents, the week before we came down to Tucson for the celebrations, his mother asked him what we needed. She had already purchased a flourless chocolate torte for the birthday dessert, in my honor. The Chef told her about this gluten-free beer. She bought two six-packs.

It's amazing the ways we can make each other feel loved.

* * *

When the Chef and I were on the plane going home the next day, we leaned into each other and whispered our memories of the past three days, our verbal montage of images. Hitting golf balls into a vast expanse of green, the Santa Catalina Mountains in the distance, his dad impressed. (I hit a 5-wood 220 yards.) Rain on the roof as we all read the newspaper around the table, the last morning. Walking through the desert museum with Kevin, Patty, and Coleen, watching for javelinas and marveling at the size of the cacti. Eating the game hen with currant sauce his mom prepared the first night we were there. Looking through boxes of his old photos — man, his hair was bad in high school. Talking with Kathy about the glories of Mark Twain, in impassioned sentences in the kitchen, half an hour after we had met, and I knew we would be friends.

You see, this was the first time I had met his brother, sister-in-law, and sisters. It could have been nerve-wracking, but they put me at my ease, immediately. They are people of clear passions, smart and strong-willed, close with each other, and utterly alive. I felt grateful, immediately, to know that I will know them, for a long time.

The Chef and I laughed, on the plane, about the moment Kathy said to me, “So, do you think you could like us?” We had only been together for fifteen minutes, and I already knew the answer. Yes. “Well, go get a drink and get drunk with us!” she mock-shouted at me. I ran back to the table and grabbed my Redbridge.

Laughing about that moment, and the quiet, kind moments with Kevin, the conversation about baking with Patty, the film and music and rapid-fire talks with Coleen, listening to his father’s stories about the war, and helping his mother ready the house before the big feast — the Chef and I both felt a little tender.

Leaning over to kiss me on the cheek, he whispered in my ear, “Welcome to the family, my love.”

This time, it was my time to smile up at him, tears on my cheeks.

beer-braised cabbage


Thank heavens, there are other gluten-free beers on the market, besides Redbridge. I'm also fond of the Bard's Tale beer, Dragon's Gold. Some people prefer its lager taste to Redbridge. Me? I'm just thrilled that we have a choice, now.

Good, gluten-free beer also opens the possibilities for cooking with beer. I have my mind on beer-battered fish and chips soon. But the first food I made with gluten-free beer was this braised cabbage. A couple of heads of cabbage, some slightly malty-sweet sauce to slurp it up with, and the satisfying crunch of carraway seeds. This is comfort food, with the sigh of relief, knowing I will be safe in eating it.

1 head green cabbage
1 head purple cabbage
2 bottles gluten-free beer
1 tablespoon carraway seeds
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Cut the heads of cabbage into quarters, leaving the core on. Place them in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven.

Mix together the beer, carraway seeds, butter, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Taste it to see if you need more sweetness or more beer. (I like this with a mild sweetness, to cut the acrid nature of the beer. Pour this liquid over the cabbage, allowing it to slither and fall to the bottom. Cover with a lid.

Braise the cabbage in the oven for twenty minutes to half an hour, or until it has grown soft without falling apart.

This dish goes well with roasted chicken, pheasant, pork chops, or even a beer-braised pork belly.

Serves four.

Labels: ,

15 February 2007

daily food photo: teff porridge

whole grain teff porridge

maple syrup, sliced almonds, sour cherries. sunlight.


08 February 2007

the way we eat, part two

My father loves to tell this story.

Apparently, when I was three years old, my father entered the living room, where he saw me sitting on the edge of the couch. He was horrified to see me clutching my head in my hands, firmly.
“Shauna, do you have a headache?” he quotes himself.
He swears that I looked up at him and said, “Does it ever stop?”
“Does what stop?” he asked me, confused.
“My brain. Does it ever stop working?”

Now, I don’t remember this, but it resonates. All my life, I’ve been thinking, hard, about everything that happens to me. Most of my life, I was over-thinking. Spinning, my friends and I call it, when ideas whirl around in there like a jangling top, threatening to topple over at any point. That thinking? Useless. After learning how to meditate — and particularly after falling in love with the Chef — I have found a stillness I didn’t know I was seeking.

Thinking, however? That still goes on all day long. And for the past few days, I have been thinking about a post I wrote last week. Innocuous and sweetly sly in the writing, this post took on a life of its own. Eventually, it reached its tentacles into the farthest reaches of my mind.

* * *

The personal attacks? I hadn’t expected them. I didn’t publish the worst of them, but they have tugged at my memory, of course. The internet seems to breed a certain pernicious malice — people feel they have the right to bash and smack and sadden the people who are trying to write their lives. And then they sneak away, safe under the moniker of “anonymous.” However hurtful the comments were, I tried to remember the paucity of life of anyone who writes long, vitriolic attacks on the mind and body of someone he has never met. This happens to everyone on the web. I set those aside.

The letters that poured in, urging to me to keep writing in spite of the nasty comments? Those were dear to me. They also surprised me. Stop writing? Banish the thought. No matter what happens, I’ll be writing here, in some form. Who knows what this website will contain a year from now? All I know is that it will remain here, steadfast.

One letter, in particular, however, moved me to tears. This is what I have been thinking about most, these past few days:

“I am not much of a cook but I have always had aspirations of at least improving upon my very basic skills. My boyfriend moved in with me, from out of state, a little over a year ago and I began to test new recipes. We were cooking together and experimenting with new vegetables and spices. I was eating less and less pre-packaged foods. I was beginning to really enjoy my time in the kitchen and was feeling healthier than I had felt in some time.

But the secret that I will share is that my boyfriend also spent that time battling (and succumbing to) his addiction to alcohol and drugs. He slid and slid until he became non-functional. So my kitchen time disappeared as I had to take a second job to support us both (plus the dog and two cats). And my food budget has gone from feeding us the healthiest foods possible to the cheapest foods possible. His family has very little to offer by means of financial (or emotional) support and I feel as though I've let my family down when I ask them for help.

I felt a need to send a reminder that "obesity in the United States is very much an economic issue.” (Dr. Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition in the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine) "It's a question of money," Drewnowski said. "The reason healthier diets are beyond the reach of many people is that such diets cost more. On a per calorie basis, diets composed of whole grains, fish, and fresh vegetables and fruit are far more expensive than refined grains, added sugars and added fats. It's not a question of being sensible or silly when it comes to food choices, it's about being limited to those foods that you can afford."

Thanks for letting me share my experience with you. I don't want you to stop your game. I love anything that brings a couple closer together. The only reason that I'm sharing this with you is because I need for you, or maybe I need the universe to know, that the food in my cart in no way reflects the person I am, or wish to become again. I am college educated, middle-class (or used to be), and very aware of what I need in order to live a healthy life. I also know that right now, I am just trying to live. But my, hopefully, brief "bout" with poverty has opened my eyes to the plight of the poor.

Best wishes to you, and the Chef!

(The above passage is quoted with the author’s permission.)

I have to admit this — since we read this letter, and discussed it for days, the Chef and I have not been able to look in other people’s carts and make disparaging comments.

* * *

I don’t know much, in the end. As compassionately as I try to behave in this world, I have never truly gone hungry.

Good food — sadly — is a class issue.

We try to buy organic, from small farms, free-range, cage-free, well-fed, local, fresh, in season, and consciously. As much as I believe that buying good food, in whole form, is cheaper than all those boxes, I may be wrong. I have never tried to live within the food budget of someone on welfare, for example.

If you read this story, which appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week, you might start thinking for days too. Read, particularly, about the woman who has diabetes, and knows how she should be eating. However, all she can afford are those tv dinners that cost 10 for $10.

How many kids with celiac are living on frozen fish sticks and remaining sick, because their parents cannot afford specialty gluten-free foods? Or even fresh fruit? (I won’t even go into the inequity in health care here.)

Not many people keeping a food blog, and very few who read them, lives below the poverty line.

As one of my friends wrote to me, after reading this piece: “It's easy to think that just by shopping smarter/healthier and eating less (as Pollan suggests) that you
can get by, but that comes from a pretty privileged point-of-view."

* * *

So many readers, last week, commented to me about my transparency, how much of myself I share here. Honestly, I don’t know how to write any differently now, as I wrote about in this post.

But I also realize it is a choice. I am choosing to write this, now, with the permission of the Chef, rather than penning something political and removed from myself.

You may believe, if you read this blog regularly, that the Chef and I live outrageously well. We do, in love and presence, but not in cash.

The fact is, we have decided to follow our grand passion. It so happens that good food is essential to us both, one of the fuels of our relationship, as well as one of the ways we connect best with the world. In order to eat as well — and play with our food the way we like — we have to make the conscious decision, every day, to spend most of our disposable income on good food.

And maybe we should. If those of us who can afford it insist upon the best food supply possible, maybe good food will become more ubiquitous, eventually.

However, we do choose, consciously. Some might call it sacrifices instead of choices. We buy all our clothes at Goodwill and Value Village. We drive a ten-year-old car, kindly donated to us by my parents as an engagement present, because the twenty-year-old car I was driving was pronounced a hazard to the road by the mechanics. We don’t go to the movies, even though we both adore them. Most months, we limit ourselves to the two-dvd maximum on Netflix. We rent, not own. We have little in savings. Whatever we do put aside at the end of the month goes toward future travel. Since we met, we haven’t bought any new electronic equipment or furniture. We allow ourselves one new book or cd a month. I haunt the libraries of Seattle for new favorite cookbooks. We only go out to eat about once a month, perhaps more if we are really feeling flush or celebrating. Almost all of our kitchen equipment has come through hand-me-downs or thrift store finds from Brandon.

And my beautiful engagement ring? I bought it for myself, a year before I met the Chef, at a thrift store. It called to me. It cost ten dollars. I hoped I would need it some day, because it looked like an engagement ring to me.

He was utterly thrilled that he didn’t have to buy me a diamond.

But I have been mystified by the numbers of female friends who have insisted that he should.

Don’t feel bad for us. That is not the point of this writing. We are gloriously happy. And we agree — we don’t need things to make us feel happy. We prefer to live more simply, as close to the ground as possible. A decent apartment, lots of light, a computer for me to write on, a camera to take photographs of the food we make, and each other. Mostly, each other.

And even though in archetypal American terms, we don’t have much, we know that we are blessed. Contrasted with a huge sector of this country, we live like kings. And in contrast with most of the rest of the world, we live embarrassingly well.

We are blessed. And even though I wrote about the little snarky habit we have, sometimes, of being horrified at processed food, most of the time we are counting our blessings. It’s hard to look down at our grocery cart full of food and not feel blessed.

* * *

In the end, it’s about bounty. How much we have been given, and how much we can give back.

potato leek soup


Living with the CFP in London taught me, most viscerally, how sickening too much money can be. They threw away their money in fistfuls, always demanding truffle oil and caviar flown in from Russia that morning. And yet, they were desperately unhappy. A little dead inside. Simply having the money — and the snottiness of a "foodie" — to buy the best food in the world did not nourish them.

One of the best foods I ate when I worked for them doesn't cost much to make. Christa, the cook in New York, made the best potato-leek soup I had ever eaten, up to that point in my life. Madame CFP thought it a bit dull — there was nothing in it that demonstrated she had money — but Mr. CFP couldn’t eat enough potatoes. He requested that Christa make a big pot of this every Saturday, so he could eat bowls of it on Sunday. Usually, there was just enough left for me.

This recipe is from the Chef. He makes it in his restaurant, where customers and wait staff alike moan a bit when they taste it. But look at the ingredients: it doesn't cost more than about $10 to feel like you are living in luxury.

¼ cup good-quality olive oil
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 leeks, white part only, cut in half lengthwise, rinsing in cold water
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Bring a large stockpot to heat on a burner of the stove. When a drop of water sizzles on the surface and evaporates, add the olive oil. When the olive oil runs around the bottom of the pot as easily as water, add the onions and garlic. Cook them for a moment, stirring occasionally to make sure they do not burn.

Drain the leeks, pat them dry, and chop them, roughly. Add the leeks to the onions and garlic cooking in the stockpot. Peel the potatoes, then quarter and chop them. When the onions and leeks are soft, add the fresh herbs to the mix. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes. Cover with cold water by one inch.

Cook on high heat until your paring knife will slide right through one of the potatoes, which might take about fifteen minutes. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches. Strain each batch and put it back in a pot. Repeat until you have pureed and strained all the soup.

Add the cream and butter to the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer the soup for ten to fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure that you stir the bottom of the pot, because that is where the soup will burn. When the soup has reduced to the point of being as thick as the soup you want to eat, take the soup off the burner and serve immediately.

Of course, it will taste even better the second day.

Serves six to eight.

06 February 2007

the deep thrill of lavender

chocolate lavender tart

“It’s so good to meet someone else with this,” she said to me, gratefully.
“I know!” I said. “I mean, with whom else could we talk about the state of our intestines on first meeting?”
Amal laughed across the table. She and I have been trading fart jokes for years. It seems to be the mark of a true friend — the one with whom you can discuss your inner workings without any hesitation.
My new friend — the one Amal brought to meet me on Friday night — is Anna. She was born in Trento, Italy, and she only found out that she has celiac disease four years ago. Part of our discussion on celiac and the pitfalls of living gluten-free was retracing our steps and discovering how sick we had actually been, before we knew.

When she was nine, she had stomach attacks and intestinal problems so bad that the doctors told her she had colitis.
When I was a kid, my mother had a bottle of worm medicine on the door of the refrigerator, perpetually.
When she grew sick as an adult, she drank barley coffee, a specialty of her area of Italy, thinking it would be better for her than regular coffee. Barley coffee!
When I was sick before being diagnosed, I lay on the couch and ate loaves of bread from Macrina Bakery down the street.
When she was diagnosed, she felt something lifting that had been on her shoulders, all her life.
When I was diagnosed, I finally felt free.

There’s something extraordinary about talking with someone else who has celiac. Of course, just because two people have celiac disease doesn’t mean they will like each other. But it’s common ground, a shared story. The gratitude at finding out we are not alone is enormous.

We were sitting in the Chef’s restaurant on a Friday night, laughing about our intestines and becoming friends.

She and Amal met in Kabul, when they both worked for the United Nations. Imagine trying to live gluten-free in Kabul. It makes the slight struggle of Seattle seem even less.

Strangely, however, it seems Anna struggles almost as much in her new home of Washington DC as she had in Kabul. Now, she works for the World Bank, and the massive cafeteria at her work cannot seem to serve her well. She has found, to her dismay, that when she asks if the food is free of wheat, she receives vigorous nods. When she asks if any flour lurks in there, she is told, “Oh yes. A little. But only a little.” She hasn’t been able to find the restaurants that can serve her safely, yet.

This is why she was so grateful to be sitting with us that night. When I first met her, she showed me an orange book, The Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide. She and Amal flipped, excitedly, to a bookmarked page, where the book had listed Impromptu as being gluten free: “Chef Dan is particularly friendly to gluten-free customers.” We all giggled. Anna felt like she was meeting someone famous.

So there we sat, eating roast chicken with braised cabbage, mashed potatoes, and an apple-cider sauce; sautéed escarole with a blood orange-butter sauce; seared albacore tuna with saffron lentils and a beet-horseradish vinaigrette. There were the remnants of a cheese plate and sprout salad in our minds. We laughed and talked with our hands and couldn’t believe our luck at being together, in this place.

Just as the evening began to come to its close, the Chef emerged from the kitchen, hiding something behind his back. From above our heads, he lowered the white plate to the table between us. We gasped, a little, and then smiled. Chocolate-lavender tart, with a gluten-free crust. We were silent. Amal was happy because it looked so damned good. But Anna and I had a different reason to feel grateful. Neither one of us, when we were diagnosed with celiac, ever expected to be sitting in a restaurant, eating this food.

Dark chocolate with a deep thrill of lavender, a tiny hint of that herbal note of spring. The crust tasted so flaky that no one could ever accuse it of being any less than superb. We tried to slow down, hover our forks over it in silence, but the tart was gone in a few moments.

After the bill was paid, there were hugs all around, especially for the Chef. Anna asked him for his autograph, in the book, which made him blush. Beaming at him, I knew what this meant for a man once shy, who no longer has a choice but to smile and talk to everyone that comes to meet him.

We were all connected, that evening, through food and friendship, sharing our stories.

CHOCOLATE LAVENDER TARTS, adapted from The Herbal Kitchen

This recipe is only slightly adapted from one of our favorite cookbooks at the moment, The Herbal Kitchen, by Jerry Traunfeld. Head chef of the famous Herbfarm, Traunfeld has a meticulous sense of fresh produce and how to combine fruits, vegetables, and herbs into something truly spectacular. The only downfall of the book in February is that all the sumptuous photographs were clearly shot in summer light, which makes some of the recipes seem improbable. This one, however, set the Chef thinking and creating, almost immediately.

The original recipe called for peppermint, rather than lavender. I’m certain that would be delicious as well. However, I have never been a big fan of chocolate mint, for some reason. And both the Chef and I just love lavender. (Did you know that lavender is one of the most enticing smells to men?) Here in Seattle, there is a little stand filled with all goods lavender in Pike Place Market. Sometimes, the woman who runs it goes off for lunch and leaves the stand on the honor system. We just grab a bunch of dried lavender sprigs and leave cash under the tip jar. It always seems to work out.

One gluten-free pie dough recipe (see the link here), omitting the cinnamon and using one cup sorghum flour and one-half cup rice flour instead.

¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup cream
¼ teaspoon dried lavender buds
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (Callebaut or Scharffen Berger here), chopped into small pieces
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons baker’s sugar (extra-fine white sugar)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Form the tart dough according to the recipe. Let it chill for a few moments in the refrigerator before working with it. Pat the dough into a tart shell (or, in the case of these, into a dozen tiny tart shells), attempting to make the bottom of the tart as thick as the sides. If the dough becomes unworkably sticky, put it back chill. When you have finished the tart dough, set it aside, preferably in the refrigerator.

Poke some holes in the bottom of the tart shell, lightly, with a fork. Bake the tart shell in the oven for about thirty minutes, or until it has turned golden brown. Remove it from the oven and set it aside to cool.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a boil. Add the lavender, stir the buds in, and take the pan off the heat, immediately. After the lavender milk and cream have rested for ten minutes, strain the liquid of the lavender. Turn the burner on medium. Return the milk-cream to the saucepan and put the chocolate pieces in the liquid. Let the chocolate sit and melt for three minutes, and then whisk the concoction together.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, gently. When they have come together, pour in the chocolate-cream mixture, slowly, whisking all the while. When this has become a coherent mixture, pour the chocolate filling into the tart pan. Fill the tart just enough to come to the top.

Chill the tart in the refrigerator for at least an hour, and preferably more, before serving it. Take it out of the refrigerator an hour before serving it, so that it is not icy when you try to cut it.

Here’s a trick for not smearing chocolate from one slice to the next: dip a sharp knife in hot water between each slice.

Serves twelve.

01 February 2007

The way we eat around here.

Furtively, the Chef and I glance in other people’s baskets and gesture toward each other. “That one has Fig Newtons, Oscar Mayer hot dogs, and bottled spaghetti sauce,” he whispers to me.

“Yeah? Well that girl has twenty little containers of the yogurt with the gelatin and food dye in it. She’s also buying nonfat cheese, six boxes of low-fat cookies, and a twelve-pack of diet grapefruit soda.”

“Ewwww,” he shudders against my shoulder.

To be clear, the Chef and I are not making direct judgments about the people with the baskets. Honestly, we never look at their faces. If we did, we would see their stories, and then we couldn't play the game. More, we both have an autonomic response to this kind of bad, packaged food.

You have to understand — I grew up eating all that stuff, even more than most people. It made me sick, all my life. When I look at bad packaged cookies and quick preparation foods, it evokes a visceral reaction in me, like I'm looking at people buying Drano for their kids.

The Chef sees it that way too. But he also knows the joy that comes from cooking from scratch and feeding people with those tastes. Nothing compares.

Convenience is over-rated.

The Chef will eat almost anything, made from scratch. He doesn’t turn up his nose at any food. (Well, with the exception of lima beans, which warms my heart, since that is the one vegetable I cannot stand.) Pork belly, sunchokes, sweetbreads, celeriac — any food that other people might think looks knobby, funny, or just plain gross? He jumps at the chance to eat them. He knows that great food doesn’t always look pretty. Really, for someone with such a fine palate, he’s not picky.

There are only two foods he refuses to eat. If I want to make him shudder and shake his head in disgust, I only have to say two things: tofu. And American cheese.

The tofu thing? Well, he’s a straight guy. I have to admit — I haven’t met many straight men who like the stuff. He’s fairly well versed in Asian cuisines, having cooked them many times. The flavors and techniques of various Asian cultures have filtered down into his dishes. But he just cannot stand the thought of tofu. I think it’s a texture thing.

And American cheese? That stuff is just plain disgusting.

One part of my book is a kind of horrified nostalgia for the food I ate as a child: everything wrapped in plastic and dyed, the ingredients list a dozen names I never knew how to pronounce. We all ate that food, or most of us did. Remember Crunchberry cereal? Twinkies? Canned chili with Fritos crunched on top? I lived on the stuff as a child.

Now, however, the sight of endlessly packaged foods in other people’s grocery carts turns my stomach, just a bit. What are we doing to ourselves? How is this any way to feed each other?

I have to admit: before I went gluten-free, I still ate some pre-packaged foods. Sometimes, the exhaustion of not feeling well caused me to buy boxes of macaroni and cheese. And I remember one time, late at night (more near dawn), my friend Gabe and I sat on the counters of his Seattle apartment kitchen, swinging our legs and eating a bowl of Cookie Crisp cereal. We still talk about it, however, since it was the first and only time either one of us had eaten it. Simultaneously, we lay aside our bowls, because we could not stomach the sweetness.

However, once I went gluten-free, I was liberated from packaged foods. Oh sure, at first it seemed like a loss. What would I eat? But over time, and fairly quickly, I came to see what a gift this celiac diagnosis truly is. Since most packaged foods contain gluten, I had to start cooking.

My life has never been the same.

I have never eaten better than I have since I went gluten-free. After the Chef entered my life, my eating improved twelve-fold, because he is astonishingly talented, plus he expresses his love through the meals he makes for me. But it’s more than that.

One afternoon, a few months ago, I said to him, “You know, if you’re going to make the restaurant gluten-free, I really have to investigate every product you have in the kitchen, just to make sure there isn’t any hidden contamination. We don’t want anyone getting sick.” He agreed.

It took me about three minutes to realize that this would be a short task.

The Chef never uses anything packaged. What is in his kitchen? Boxes of fresh produce. Chickens ready to be cut down. Veal stock he has made from scratch. Butter. (What restaurant kitchen could exist without butter?) Spices ready to be ground. Exquisite cheeses from around the world. Rice. Polenta. Cream. Milk. And so on. There was absolutely nothing in his kitchen that would require a phone call to a major corporation. He makes it all by hand.

I know that’s part of the reason his food tastes so damned good. He makes it all by hand.

Those of you reading who are recently diagnosed? Take it from me — throw yourself, gleefully, into the world of cooking and baking food from scratch, and your life will improve, irrevocably.

This weekend, Michael Pollan published an incredible article in The New York Times magazine, called "Unhappy Meals," about how we have done ourselves damage with the way we eat. I encourage you all to read it. He breaks it all down, fairly simply, especially the nine guidelines he gives at the end of the piece. Following every fad, terrified of fat, then carbs, we are perpetually worried about food and what it does to us. We regard food as the enemy, and we are allowing it to kill us.

The longer I live with food and write about food, the more convinced I am — we are pretty screwed up in this country, when it comes to food.

I especially loved this paragraph:

"This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates' famous injunction to 'let food be they medication' is ritually involed to support this notion. I'll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health — like pleasure, say, or socializing — makes people no less healthy; indeed, there's some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the 'French paradox' — the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you."

That has been the biggest discovery for me, since I went gluten-free: the ineffable pleasure of eating.

Living gluten-free is no loss.


Gluten-free meatloaf

What was in our basket the other night when we stopped at the store? Two pounds of Oregon country natural ground beef; an organic onion; fresh herbs; free-range eggs; canned tomatoes from Italy; a small tub of sour cream. Some people might have looked at our cart and thought, “Oh, the horrors! Beef. Full-fat dairy. Eggs.” But that’s such a short-sighted view of food. The night before, we ate a quinoa salad with smoked salmon and a dozen vegetables. Once in a while — in the name of eating a variety of foods — there’s nothing wrong with meatloaf.

That night, there was everything right with this meatloaf. I hadn’t eaten meatloaf in years, since it also requires breadcrumbs. The Chef, however, seems to be on a quest to cook me foods I have been missing all this time. Of course — with all apologies to my mother — this meatloaf is the best I have ever eaten.

And one of the fullest pleasures I have had lately was watching the Chef eat a cold meatloaf sandwich, on toasted gluten-free bread, in bed next to me, sometime after midnight that night.

2 pounds ground beef
½ medium yellow onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
2 eggs
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
½ cup gluten-free bread crumbs (this bread makes great crumbs)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 tablespooons olive oil
¼ onion, diced
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
½ cup canned tomatoes (we only use San Marzano)
1 whole tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon turbinado sugar
¼ cup ketchup

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Place the first half of the ingredients (from the beef to the black pepper) in a large bowl. Mix them all up with your hands until they form a coherent mixture. Put the meatloaf in a loaf pan and bake it for about an hour.

Bring a skillet to heat. Add the olive oil to the hot skillet. When the oil runs around the skillet as easily as water, add the onions. Cook them, stirring occasionally, until they have started to soften. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the tomatoes and everything else on the list, except for the ketchup. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the food for fifteen minutes, or until it all smells redolent and enticing. Move the tomato mixture to the blender, then add the ketchup. Puree it all up.

Brush this tomato mixture over the top of the hot meatloaf, coating thickly. Return the meatloaf to the oven and continue to cook it until it has reached an internal temperature of 160°.

Serves six.