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26 May 2008

beans, beans


Beans, beans
the musical fruit
the more you eat
the more you....

Oh, I can't even finish that little ditty. (And you know the ending anyway.) I have to admit, I'm tired.

The Chef and I just spent two-and-a-half glorious days on the Island, with our dear friends Nina and Booth. There were spot prawns, just caught by Booth (180 of them!), thrown on the grill, and then onto our plates. The first corn on the cob of the season. Key lime pie with a gluten-free crust. Chicken mole. Pancakes with blackberry jam. Long walks on the beach. Tours of the island's artists' homes. Lovely meandering conversations with our friends. Two movies that made us both have weird dreams and startling revelations. And mostly, plenty of time on the loungers on the deck, staring out at the water, drinking pina coladas (well, a virgin one for me), listening to hummingbirds flutter above our heads, and waiting for the grill to heat up so we could eat again.

Bliss, in other words.

We arrived home late this afternoon, our skin warm from the sun, our hearts drenched with memories. And I had every intention of writing more fully for this post, stories that lope and loop back into some coherent startling arrival. But you know what?

I'm 29 weeks pregnant. My belly is eclipsing my feet. Little Bean is playing Dance Dance Revolution inside me. It's time to curl up in bed.

So I'll leave you with this, instead of a story.

Nina -- gratitude bless her -- made fresh salsa, homemade guacamole, corn tortillas from scratch, and a kick-ass mole sauce with shredded chicken. All of it gluten-free, of course. And with this magnificent repast? Four different kinds of Rancho Gordo beans (some of which you see above), soaked and simmered, salted and sauteed with onions and garlic, cumin and pepper. We moaned our way through dinner, happy beyond repair.

(And the Chef had four days off, caught up on his sleep, and is ready to go back to his kitchen tomorrow.)

Those little bites made me remember how much I love beans. Fresh, heirloom beans, lovingly prepared, full of flavor, and soft to the teeth -- this is not obligation food. We think of legumes as the food we should eat, nutrients that leave us with a clean conscience and not much taste. Not at all true, of course. Great beans? They are a meal to themselves.

So tomorrow, after a long sleep, I'm ordering more beans from Rancho Gordo. We need a strong supply before Little Bean arrives. (And frankly, I could use the fiber right now.)

But right now? I'm headed for sleep.

How do you like to eat your beans?

22 May 2008

would you like some Tang with that?

egg salad with chive blossoms

The longer I am pregnant, the more immediate my food needs become.

If you have been reading this site for awhile, you know that I love playing with new flavors, tasting new foods, throwing ingredients together and inventing something that I have never made before. For the first year after I lived gluten-free, innovation was my constant watchword.

But after awhile, you slow down. And especially now, when my belly protrudes before me and strangers smile on the street, I just want to eat.

As I write, I can hear the roast chicken with lemon sizzling in the oven, the smell of the browning skin wafting toward me. Before I leave the house to pick up the Chef at the end of the night to celebrate (a four-day weekend begins this evening!), I'll throw some jasmine rice, a little lemongrass, kosher salt, and butter into the rice cooker. Roast chicken and rice is what we're having for dinner. And in bed, at nearly midnight, I know this food will taste damned good.

Of course, each day I still want something different, as simple as it might be. A handful of pistachios, some Pyrenees goat cheese with green peppercorns, pickled sea beans, five strawberries dipped in vanilla sugar -- each of these has been a snack this week. I want to give Little Bean as much variety as I can. (Did you know that little ones can start tasting the food that mothers eat in the seventh month? The amniotic fluid changes its flavor according to what I eat. Now there's a lovely responsibility -- giving Little Bean the start of a palate with the mouthfuls I choose.) I certainly haven't fallen into a rut.

However, the other day, a deep, old craving came over me. I needed an egg salad sandwich.

The summer I turned sixteen, I literally ate an egg salad sandwich for lunch every day. You may think I'm exaggerating, and perhaps I am. There might have been a tuna fish sandwich once in a while. But I remember a wooden table in a cool house -- the only respite from the pounding heat outside -- with a plate. A white-bread sandwich plump with thick-cut egg salad and a mound of wine-dark bing cherries. Alongside it, a glass of cold white milk. Between swimming sessions and time in my room reading books, this egg salad sandwich was the still point of my day. And each day, I anticipated the taste, with great elation.

I'm not sure where that single-minded fixation came from. As we were sharing one of these sandwiches the other day, I asked the Chef, "Why are these so good?"
"Eggs," he said, after a bite. "Eggs are good."
That's certainly true. And I do seem to remember that my brother, that summer, ate a lot of fried eggs and navel oranges. Eggs really are good.

But it had to be more than that. I think it came from Lisa Loopner.

You must remember Lisa Loopner. If you are anywhere near my age, you'll remember Gilda Radner dressed in a blue cardigan sweater, glasses perpetually falling down her nose, and a big wad of hair gathered into a lospided ponytail on the top of her head. She adored Marvin Hamlisch, and often in those sketches in Saturday Night Live, she played "Heart and Soul" with such physical gusto that I worried she would fall off the piano bench. Oh Gilda Radner, you were my hero then, and you still are. So damned funny, and smart. Unafraid to be an assertive creative woman in a boy's world. She, along with Lucille Ball, formed some deep part of me. They are still forming me.

But best of all was the relationship she had with Todd diLamuca, the erstwhile boyfriend who sat on her couch and teased her, the only physical affection between them the noogies he would spring on her. That image -- the two of them awkwardly laughing and snorting, he never kissing her but twisting his fingers into the top of her head -- was pretty much my vision of what my love life would be, back then. I was only eleven when those heyday years of the show appeared, so I didn't know about the backstage shenanigans or the amount of drugs those actors had to have taken to stay awake through it all. Simply, I just watched those two nerdy characters fumble around each other, some real affection shining through, and no hope of ever growing up to be hip. And the reaching-puberty me, with the Albert Brooks hair and the thick glasses, thought, "Well, that's going to be me. Maybe at least I'll find my Todd."

(Sometimes people talk to me about the love story I have with the Chef, and how they wish they had one too. And inside, I'm still thinking, "Don't you know I'm really just Lisa Loopner?")

Whenever I think of egg salad, I think of Lisa Loopner's mother, who always arrived, at some point in the sketch, to say, "Now who would like some egg salad and Tang?"

Lisa Loopner: Oh, egg salad, my favorite!

Mrs. Loopner: Egg salad for everyone! You know, your father - God rest his soul - used to say "Happiness is a Norge full of Tang and egg salad."

I never did develop a taste for Tang. But egg salad? Yes, please.

boiled eggs with cold water

I don't know what led me to think about these characters again, or why it is, late morning the other day, I turned to the Chef and said, "I'm going to go boil some eggs for later." But I knew, without a doubt, that I needed egg salad for lunch.

Here's a funny admission. I've never been entirely sure how to make good hard-boiled eggs. Do you boil then simmer? Boil then turn the water off? 17 minutes? 20? It seems such a rudimentary task that I should have known it by now. But I didn't, until that morning.

"Hey honey, how do you make boiled eggs?"

He didn't even look up from the paper. "Start with cold water, a splash of vinegar, six eggs. Bring it to a boil. Turn it off. Let it sit for 12 minutes. Run cold water over them. You're done."

Damned if he wasn't right. The vinegar helps keep the shells from sticking. (I don't why I hate, so much, the task of picking little particulates of egg shells from the boiled egg I want, but I do.) 12 minutes meant that the eggs were boiled, but not grey. Soon enough, I had eggs waiting in the refrigerator for an egg salad sandwich.

"Thanks, hon," I told him, happy that I can be dopey in front of him, and admit I don't know how to do something.

"Come here," he said, and drew me to him on the couch. He cuddled me, put his hand on my belly to say hello to Little Bean. But for a moment, I swear, I thought he was going to give me a noogie instead.

egg salad sandwich


I have to admit, I feel sort of silly even posting this as a recipe. Certainly, this isn't complicated. But I like being reminded of these simple pleasures, and perhaps you will be too. Besides, sometimes the meals with five ingredients are the best.

Make sure you have great eggs for this. If you have your own chickens, you are set. Try to find truly free range eggs, produced locally, if you can. Not only because those eggs will be fresher, but also because they will taste better. (Crack a factory egg and one that came from a chicken allowed to roam -- you'll see the difference in the yolk.)

Of course, there are endless variations here. I happened upon chive blossoms because the spindly chives survived the winter on our back porch, and bloomed into lavender flowers this week. Spontaneously, I yanked some off and shredded them into my eggs. Oh, yum.

Finally, of course, the bread. This particular sandwich was cut from a loaf made by the good folks at Haley's Corner Bakery, in nearby Kent. Even Marvin Hamlisch would want to write a song based on this sandwich bread. Sorry to those of you who don't live here, but you might want to make the trek if you do. Good, good, good.

4 hard-boiled eggs
a spoonful of Dijon mustard
a glug of mayonnaise
pinch and one more of kosher salt and cracked black pepper
six chive stems and purple blossoms

Chop up the eggs, roughly. Put them in a bowl. Add everything else, in whatever portions feel right to you. (I can't stand my egg salad too dry, but not gloppy wet either. You'll find your happy medium.) Stir. Taste. Exclaim something loudly, to show your appreciation.

Put between slices of bread, in a happy mound. Cut the sandwich in half. Sit down to eat and sigh.

19 May 2008

green garlic

green garlic

For years, garlic meant pungent bulbs beneath papery sheaths.

Actually, before that, garlic meant pulverized-into-pulp mush in a jar, the already-chopped garlic bulbs forced together to sit, waiting, for months, for someone to use them. Convenience dictated plopping a spoonful into my pasta, to yield taste, fast. My fingers never grew messy with the sticky juices of bulbs slithering down the knife blade, lending their particular scent to my hands and hair for days. I never touched garlic. The spoon dipped, the pan received, and I remained eye-smarting stench-free.

It never felt right, somehow. Too antiseptic, too much like cheating. And when I realized just how old that browned garlic in a jar really was, I gave it up for the real thing.

Except I switched to the garlic press, which smashed the bulbs for me, and only required a quick scrape of a paring knife, and into the pan. I ran hot water over the withered remnants of the skin inside the press, so by the time I touched it, nothing of the smell remained on my fingers. However, the paste that stayed in my food reeked of garlic with a capital G. I didn’t know for years that pressing the garlic releases juices that intensify the silent-but-deadly scent that drives so many people away.

Then I found the joy of pounding bulbs open with the flat edge of a large chef’s knife. So what if my fingers stung with pungency and the board beneath took on a different color. It felt good to smack the heck out of that garlic, and then slice it, thin as I could, before sliding it into dishes. Much more subtle, much more satisfying.

And then, last spring, I stumbled onto this: green garlic. These nascent bulbs, vivid magenta fading to white, are the immature starts of the storage bulbs that last all winter long. Pull them from the earth early, and you find these scraggly green stalks, like a stunted leek or scallions slightly askew. Chop them up like green onions and flick them into stir frys at the last moment. They make baked potatoes an even more perfect food. And since this vegetable is a sure sign of spring solidly here, green garlic seems to be close friends with fava beans and English peas.

A few weeks ago, I had a cup of potato-leek soup with green garlic and tarragon oil at Crush, late at night. I’m still thinking about it, figuring out how to make it.

Certainly, when I slice up green garlic, there is no palm-enjoyable thwack with the knife. But there’s also no sticky juice, no pile of papery leftovers, and no stench that some simply cannot stand. (Not the Chef, of course. He loves garlic, used in moderation.)

Best of all, green garlic is ephemeral, bound to disappear soon. I like to eat it often, now, and then long for newly born garlic early next spring.

So how about you? Have you discovered green garlic? And if so, how do you like to use this green, green vegetable?

p.s. This morning, after I published this piece, someone alerted me to the fact that this week's Sunday New York Times magazine published a musing on green garlic. I hadn't read it, until now, but I certainly recommend it. That parsley-green garlic vinaigrette is going on grilled halibut tonight.

15 May 2008

Monday mornings are for waffles

corny waffles I

Mondays are Sundays around here.

I don’t mean that to sound as Alice-in-Wonderland-down-the-rabbit-hole as it does. (I can’t wait to read that book to Little Bean, but I’m counting on it being perplexing the first dozen times.) We just don’t live days like most people do.

Most people think of Friday night as the great release. When I was teaching full-time, Friday afternoon felt like summer vacation starting, like the beginning of a long break. Anything seemed possible. I sat outside, at beloved restaurants with friends, chatting slowly and hoisting glasses to the weekend. Back then, I never realized just how hard the chefs and waiters were working, or that Friday night was crunch time for them.

Friday night is generally the busiest night of the week for the Chef.

Waking up Saturday morning used to feel like decadence, with warmth pouring through the windows onto my feet in the bed. Two days lay before me. And even though I knew those days would fly away as fast as early spring warmth in Seattle, I still believed, every Saturday morning: this weekend I could fully relax and achieve everything I thought I needed. Coffee in bed, reading the paper, dreaming of longer vacations — Saturday morning.

On Saturdays now, we read the paper in bed together, and feel the warm cups of coffee in our hands. And watch Jamie Oliver, of course. But Saturday mornings mean another work morning around here. We climb in the car and drive to the farmers’ market, never being able to linger long and talk to farmers the way we like. We’re gathering food for the restaurant, and it’s time to go. The Chef has just dreamt up a fish special with pea vines, pickled asparagus, and petrale sole. We drive to the restaurant, say goodbye, and he starts another ten hours of working without once sitting down.

Saturday nights are pretty darned busy these days, too.

By Sunday morning, I could feel the dread slip in, the palpable sense that the weekend was coming to an end. After an entire day off from grading, I traded plans for languishing and laughing with friends for hours hunched over the kitchen table, marking up papers. I rarely made it through them all. No matter how hard I worked, I could not keep up. I sipped juice and watched episodes of Sex and the City to bribe myself back to working. Cooking was my only release, the evening place where everything else turned off, and I could just be.

I hated Monday mornings.

But now, around here, Sunday is usually our Saturday morning. We languish and laugh, read the entire paper slowly, and still make it out of the house sometimes to meet people for brunch. Our first day of the weekend intersects with our friends with regular jobs, like those circles we had to study in high school algebra. Sunday is the circle on the left, Monday the one on the right — and there’s a small semi-circle where our Sunday meets other people’s with the day off.

And Monday? It feels like real decadence. You see, I keep the same hours as the Chef. I don’t stand in the kitchen ten hours in a row, creating food and feeding people. But I spend his work days doing work as well: writing, researching, coming up with new recipes, running errands. My weekend is with him, on Sunday and Monday.

By Monday, most everyone else has gone back to work. We can go to the movies in the middle of the afternoon and be the only two people there. We stroll through the Market in the late morning without having to sidle through hordes of tourists. We can drive on the freeway in non-rush hour traffic and not have to battle other cars. No matter how hard I work or how long I write, I’ll always feel a little bit like I’m playing hooky by having Monday off.

Lately, however, we haven’t had two days off in a row with each other. Poor Chef. He’s utterly exhausted. For reasons that are the purview of his work, and not this site, his former assistant turned duplicitous and left him in the lurch for weeks. Without any help, he turned to friends, and even me, to come play sous chef for days, while he searched for someone better. (Working with him for three weekends was a glorious experience, but it’s not one I would recommend to anyone else who is six months pregnant.) This has meant he worked Sundays again, the last six Sundays. His hours increased to twelve hours a day, most of the time not sitting down once and forgetting to eat. And for the first few of those weeks, his only day off, Monday, seemed to fill up with making decisions about the baby, childbirth classes, and the cooking classes we have begun to teach together again.

The siege is over. He found a tremendous sous chef this week. Soon, he will sleep again. Soon, we’ll have an entire weekend together.

But in the meantime, I am making Mondays as filled with rest and good food as I can, for him. He has rediscovered naps, like a small child with his favorite blankie. We sometimes stay in bed for hours, just watching movies and holding hands. And we remind each other — this is the restaurant business. Life moves in phases. This too shall pass.

And this Monday, to feed him, I made us waffles for breakfast.

There’s something deeply satisfying about waffles. Fluffy pockets, crisp to the first touch of the fork, soft inside with warm dough, the little indentations filled with melted butter and thin syrup, ready to be topped with rhubarb compote or whipped cream. Something about waffles feels like a slow Sunday morning, even if we do eat them on Monday mornings.

When I was a kid, my favorite night was Breakfast for Dinner. Even if we had eaten well for breakfast that morning, I never grew tired of the excitement of eating scrambled eggs, plump sausages that gristled under the fork, and a little pool of maple syrup, well into the evening. And in my family, the best Breakfast for Dinner event was waffles night.

Mom made up a huge batch of waffles with Bisquick. For one course, we had the traditional waffles, with margarine and Mrs. Butterworths. After I had cleared my thick brown Pfalzgraff plate. I received the savory course: waffles with chicken, sometimes with green chiles from a can, and sour cream. Last — and the most anticipated — were the chocolate waffles, evenly brown and crispy on the edges, topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup. To my memory, the vanilla ice cream gleamed a rich yellow color, and it came to us in a rectangular package, which meant we cut squares onto our waffles, and watched them melt under the weight of the cloying chocolate syrup.

God, we loved waffles night.

It didn’t matter that the waffles came from a mix, or the syrup from a can, the brown liquid flowing from a tiny triangular opening in the top. We felt well fed. We felt loved.

So this Monday morning, when the Chef and I had a few hours together before he would need a long nap, to prepare for our cooking class that night, I slipped into the kitchen and made up a batch of waffles. I played with flours, opened a can of coconut milk, and gently warmed some maple syrup. The first waffle emerged, fluffy, with a thickness I had never seen in gluten-free waffles. I walked into the room where he sat, at the computer, and placed a plate of waffles in front of him, butter melting, syrup filling all the indentations.

He looked up at me, surprised, the sleepiness leaving his eyes. “Hey! Thanks, sweetie.”

I turned toward the kitchen, happy to pass on this tradition. Monday mornings are for waffles around here.

corny waffles II

GLUTEN-FREE CORNY WAFFLES, adapted from Joy of Cooking

As much as the Chef liked these waffles, he said he would probably like them more as a savory dish. When I mentioned barbequed chicken, cheddar cheese, salsa, and chiles, his eyes grew wide. I might make those later this week.

But I happen to like the fact that these are slightly savory. I’ve been making so many corn tortillas lately that I threw in some masa flour to the mix. I’ve noticed that all the Italian gluten-free baked goods I love have corn flour in the flour blend. Why not? They have a distinct corny taste, and some of you might not like that. That’s okay. I’m the one who used to eat movie theatre popcorn with Milk Duds melting among the kernels. I love that sweet and savory combination.

I will say, the masa made these waffles the thickest yet fluffiest waffles I have ever eaten. Try them. See what you think. Also, I made pretty thick waffles, which called for stiff batter. You might want to thin these out and make them stretch more. And feel free to play, entirely, with the flour combinations. Waffle nights should be your own.

1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup teff flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1 cup masa harina
2 teasoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried buttermilk powder
12 ounces coconut milk
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs

The dry ingredients. Combine all the gluten-free flours together. Sift them into a large bowl. Add the baking powder, salt, and dried buttermilk powder.

Meet the wet ingredients. Whisk all the wet ingredients together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in all the wet ingredients. Stir until the waffle batter is coherent.

And become waffles. Heat the waffle iron. When it is hot enough to go, brush canola oil on the surface, and then plop enough batter onto the waffle iron to cover 2/3 of the surface. Put the top down and wait for the waffle to be done.

Feeds 4.

12 May 2008



The Chef grows dreamy and nostalgic when anyone mentions rhubarb. “Ohhhh, rhubarb,” he almost growls, his face softening into a smile. He grew up in a large home that everyone in the family refers to as Big Brown. (It’s painted blue now, but that hasn’t changed the name at all.) In the side yard of Big Brown grew a large patch of rhubarb gone wild, like a teenage boy in need of a haircut. No matter how much rhubarb his mom cut down, more grew in its place. She made rhubarb pies and crisps all summer, apparently, but still there was more for the taking. He tells me that one of his favorite ways was to eat rhubarb was sliced as though for pie, with sugar dusted on top, and mixed up to make a little syrup. He just sat at the table and ate it straight out of the bowl.

Perhaps I might have discovered the beauties of rhubarb before now if my backyard had grown the fruit like a weed. However, rhubarb didn’t sprout in the dirt of southern California. (Don’t feel sorry for me, though. We had an avocado tree and pomegranates too.) To me, rhubarb always sounded like a fussy grandmother’s food, the kind one hoards and uses in place of sweeter, more expensive fruits. My grandmother grew up in the Depression, and she made rhubarb pie, reportedly. I never did eat one. Grandma rarely cooked for us. I heard rhubarb and thought thrift, sourness, and not so good.

I’ve seen the light, lately. The Chef is making a strawberry-rhubarb tart for the restaurant, and I want a piece every day.

Rhubarb is tangy and kicky, like strawberry’s spunky cousin. Raw it has a crunch like celery. Ruby red on the outside like slippers, the inside slips into a more demure greenish white. But when you cook it down, in a sweet stew, the slices slide into softness, mushy enough for a baby without teeth.

This week, at the farmers’ market, piles of bright red slices enticed me to stop. I didn’t know what I would make with that rhubarb, but I had to have some. For days, they languished in the refrigerator, waiting to be touched. For a time, I dreamt of making pie for the Chef, with a lemon custard on the bottom, and rhubarb on top. Fatigue set in, and the pie didn’t happen.

On a lovely walk with Molly on Friday, we talked about food as we circled the lake. Of course. The two of us talk and buoy each other, illuminate our lives for each other, and laugh. Much of it has nothing to do with food. But sometimes, in glancing, we dance across an idea for food on the way to the next topic. This week, she mentioned rhubarb compote, and moved on. It stayed in my mind, though.

Today, when the rains threatened outside, and the Chef took a nap, Molly and I talked on the phone. Needing to go — we could always talk more — I stopped her. “Wait, how do you make that rhubarb compote?” She talked me through a recipe she had adapted from someone else, and then I went into the kitchen and made my own. A pound of sliced rhubarb, half a cup of sugar, generous pats of butter, the zest of a Meyer lemon (the last soft and squishy one of the season), and the juice too. The hard slices relented into the juicy syrup and became soft and liquidy. The smell of it woke up Little Bean, who started kicking.

When that compote cooled down, I spooned some into thick vanilla yogurt.

Oh rhubarb, you’re my new best friend.

And so, dear readers, what do you like to do with rhubarb?

08 May 2008

frikadeller is my new favorite word

veal frikadeller I

Long before I became pregnant, I was curious about other women’s food cravings. Popular culture says that we’ll all slaver over pickles and ice cream. But I don’t actually know any women who were desperate for either when they were pregnant.

Not me, certainly. I’ve always loved pickles anyway, but I’m much more excited by other pickled vegetables than cucumbers. Pickled sunchokes, red onions, asparagus spears? Yes. But mostly during this pregnancy, I can’t eat enough of anything with brine. This kid is going to be half made of olives, as far as I can tell. But ice cream? Eh. I had some marscapone gelato with Sharon last weekend, in Los Angeles, sitting outside in the warm air, stretching my feet in flip-flops toward the sun. That was good. But I don’t really need any more. Not yet, anyway.

Still, the cravings are real, even if they don’t happen at 3 a.m., as fast food commercials seem to suggest. I knew this had to be a biological truth when I heard about my sister-in-law’s one urgent craving, six years ago.

Pregnant with my dear nephew Elliott, Dana was rational and even-going. No sudden bursts of pregnancy hormones, at least that I know about. But she has never been like that anyway. However, one day, apparently, she needed food. She turned to my brother and said, “We have to drive to IKEA.” For no reason that either of them could discern, Dana needed Swedish meatballs from IKEA. Luckily, the vast furniture store wasn’t far away. They drove there, she ate a plate full of them, and then they went home.

This always made me laugh before.

But on Sunday, during dinner at Lucques with dear friends, I understood.

A Sunday supper at Lucques is an exquisite experience. Everyone gathered in the dining room, and the ivy-covered-walled patio space, sits patiently waiting for the same three-course meal. Suzanne Goin decided long ago to put the principles of local food from farmers’ markets into real restaurant working order. Meals here are made of simple, earthy food with fantastic tastes. And even with the most advanced techniques and unusual ingredients, the meal still manages to feel like a family gathering, Sunday slowness and everyone together. Good luck trying to get a reservation. It’s worth the work.

Luckily, Rachael (a peach of a woman) made reservations for us, weeks before. She also informed them, long in advance, that I would need to eat gluten-free. “No problem, natch,” she wrote me. That’s my experience as well. Choose a restaurant where everyone involved truly cares about food and how it is made? They will be able to make a gluten-free meal for you too.

The only (small) downside of eating a Sunday supper at Lucques, instead of a weeknight dinner, is that they serve a set menu. That makes the gluten-free options limited at times. Oh heck, I didn’t really need the cumin flatbread that accompanied the chickpea puree and roasted beet salad. And even though the vanilla custard tart with rum and candied kumquats looked great, my sorbet was more than adequate. However, when the waiter put the plate in front of Judy, my heart sank.

I wanted that veal frikadeller.

Frikadeller. Doesn’t it sound like a terrible insult? Sharon and I have decided to adopt it: “Geez, he’s such a frikadeller!” I had never heard of this dish before I looked up the Lucques supper menu online Sunday morning, already anticipating. Frikadeller? What? Turns out it’s a Danish meatball, made with any kind of mixed meats, flattened a bit, substantial. I love trying foods I have never eaten before.

Unfortunately, frikadeller is also made with bread crumbs. So when the plate arrived before my dear friend Judy, I started craving that crusty meatball on top of green risotto, with English peas and nasturtium butter. But I couldn’t. Breadcrumbs. No thank you. So I simply listened as Judy moaned, and then pushed her plate to the center of the table toward Sharon and Rachael so they could take tastes. Sympathetic to my plight, Judy wondered if I could take a taste of the risotto, away from the meatball. Not worth the chance. And besides, that’s not what I wanted.

I just had to imagine the taste.

That is, of course, until I reached home. “Hey sweetie? Have you ever heard of a frikadeller?”

I’ll never be able to go to IKEA and indulge in Swedish meatballs. And maybe it’s better that Lucques couldn’t serve me a gluten-free version. I might insist we drive all the way to Los Angeles for one more taste. This is where it helps to have a chef, if you’re a pregnant woman. Thanks to him, I can have these any time I need them.

And believe me, I need me some frikadeller, right now.

veal frikadeller II

Veal and pork frikadeller

Thanks to the Chef's generosity, you don't need to have one around the house to eat these too.

I’m pretty sure this recipe is only a template. As is always true of loved recipes made by hand, passed down from one mama to another, everyone adds a slightly different touch. We liked the taste of rosemary here, as well as a touch of nutmeg. Some of the recipes I looked through called for club soda, or milk, as a way to bind together the meats. The Chef doesn’t think you need it. The large frikadeller he made for me this afternoon, so that I could take photographs, and then have lunch, is pretty plain. And delicious.

The crust that forms on top from searing the meatball crunches with the fork. The meat inside tasted tender, like soft cloth. The combination of ground meats made my mouth keep guessing.

And by the way, if you make larger versions of these, they make unbelievable burgers on the grill. That’s what we’ll be having for dinner tonight, right around 11:30.

1 pound ground veal
½ cup pound ground pork
1 medium onion, chopped fine
¾ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon rosemary, chopped
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg
1 tablespoon canola oil

Preparing the frikadeller. Combine the meats together. Add the onion, breadcrumbs, rosemary, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and egg to the meats. Mix well with your hands. (Don’t be afraid to get those hands messy. You can always wash them after.) Stop mixing when the ingredients have become coherent.

Cooking the frikadeller. Preheat the oven to 500°. Bring a large skillet to heat. Add the canola oil. Take a large chunk of the meatball mixture (about the size of your palm) and roll it into a ball. When you have formed a perfect ball, flatten it a bit, both top and bottom. You should be able to fit four of these flattened balls into the skillet. Sear the meatballs for at least one minute, or until the bottom has browned. Turn the meatballs and sear the other side. Slide the skillet into the hot oven and allow them to cook until they have reached an internal temperature of 160°. (This should be about six to seven minutes, depending on your oven.)

Remove the frikadeller from the oven and serve, in any way you wish.

Feeds 4.

05 May 2008


bananas at Casbah

This morning, about 8:45, I took this photograph of bananas at the Casbah Café in Silverlake, Los Angeles.

At breakfast, I sat with my dear friend Sharon, who was born and raised (until she was 11) in Hot Springs, South Dakota, then moved to Claremont, California, went to college in Poughkeepsie, NY, lived in New York City, Ashland, Oregon, and now in Los Angeles. I was born in Pomona, California, moved to Claremont (where I met Sharon), lived in London, moved to Vashon, Washington, lived in New York City (where I lived with Sharon), London, and now in Seattle.

For breakfast, Sharon ate poached eggs with brioche toast, wrinkled black olives, and tomatoes. Where did the eggs come from? Perhaps from California, as well as the tomatoes. The brioche? The wheat could have come from anywhere in the Midwest, the yeast from somewhere not clear, the water imported from Colorado or Washington. And the olives were probably from Morocco, because the little café is Moroccan inspired, but both the women preparing our food were from Mexico, originally. And mine? The strawberries were from Southern California, the sweetness far more full than that of the strawberries I ate a couple of weeks ago, because they were local and in season. The yogurt, I would guess, came from Greece, given the thickness and particular taste. And the bananas? Perhaps from Ecuador?

Right now, about 9:45 in the evening, I am writing this in our bedroom in Seattle, a little weary from traveling and full of memories. The man I love — born in Breckenridge, Colorado, went to school in Vermont, cooked in New York City, Denver, and now lives in Seattle — is with me, eating beef stew. The beef is local, raised about 60 miles from us. The potatoes were grown on the other side of the Cascades from us. The carrots are probably from California, since we bought them from a supermarket, and it’s not carrot season here. The kalamata olives were from Greece, the canned tomatoes from Italy. The red wine I used to deglaze the pan came from Napa Valley, and the mushrooms from California as well.

Is there really such a thing as eating local?

I am struck, once again, by how odd airplane travel truly is. After we ate our breakfast, Sharon drove me to Burbank airport. From the time I stepped inside that airport, until I walked out of the Seattle airport? Three hours and ten minutes. Now granted, that time went fast, because I had a fabulous conversation with an unexpectedly familiar stranger in the seat next to me. But really, are we supposed to be able to move that quickly? This morning, I woke up on Sharon’s couch in Silverlake, and tonight I’ll be sleeping in the bed I share with the Chef in Seattle. Believe me, I’m grateful, but I don’t think my body will catch up for a few days. Do we move too quickly? Do we want too much?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how excited I am that local asparagus is finally in season. Some readers wondered what the big deal was. A few anonymous readers even suggested I was being a snob by waiting. But really, have you eaten asparagus grown in Chile, purchased in Seattle in January, at $8.99 a pound? Withered, spindly, and no real taste. The taste alone makes the wait worth it.

But does that mean we only eat locally grown produce around here? Nope. As much as we try, we find it near impossible, all the time. If I never ate any foods grown or made outside of the radius of Western Washington, how could I ever make something with teff flour? Or eat the health benefits of red quinoa grown in Bolivia? Even more simply, olive trees don’t grow in Washington. Nor do any of the ingredients necessary to make any kind of oils. And what would I do without avocadoes?

I heard a beautiful piece of advice recently: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” That covers most of the faux ingredients that fill out packaged processed foods that don’t seem to do us any good. But I’m certain that my great grandmother never ate shiso leaves, macadamia nuts, or balsamic vinegar. Isn’t the tremendous variety available to us, because of the food revolutions of the past forty years, better for our health, and our understanding of the world? But they’re not local.

We don’t have any answers around here. I certainly don’t think that anyone has to live the way we do. And every day, I make decisions as to how to spend our food dollars, and I’m never entirely sure I made the right decision.

But what we try to do around here is this. When there’s a piece of produce that grows naturally, abundantly, in the Pacific Northwest — fat blackberries; sweet peaches; wild salmon — we wait to eat it until it’s in season. That makes the produce cheaper, and it tastes better, as well. I love buying food directly from farmers. These next few months will be a bonanza of berries, pea vines, and soft green lettuces. I can hardly wait.

But when it comes to foods that will never grow here, we buy them sparingly, and with deliberate decision. My great-grandmother probably ate everything locally. I have the chance to know more about how the rest of the world eats.

And besides, I’m really not willing to give up bananas for the rest of my life. (And for Little Bean’s, either. Bananas are the perfect portable kid food.)

So I’d love to know: how do you approach this?

And for that matter, how do you like to cook with bananas?

01 May 2008

celebrating with lemon-poppyseed cake

gluten-free lemon poppyseed cake

There have been plenty of reasons to celebrate around here.

It’s the first of May, and the world seems to have awoken. This afternoon, pulling into our driveway, I saw a few purple buds of wisteria draped over the patio trellis. Right now, a single bird is chirping out its rhythmic call, a little warble after all those regular beats. In the mornings, the sun comes in our windows earlier than I remembered. The magnolia tree in the front yard is dropping its pale pink petals onto green grass.

May, it seems, is when spring truly begins this year.

The end of April wasn’t bad, however. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the first day I started eating gluten-free. Three years ago yesterday, I finally had my blood drawn for the celiac panel. After months of struggling with recalcitrant doctors who speculated that I had ovarian cancer, but never asked me about the food I ate, I found someone who listened. Anemic and withered with little energy, I still found the presence of mind to fight for myself. After the blood draw, I drove to the grocery store, bought fresh produce and meats, rice and cheese. The next day, I sautéed a small pile of spinach. The green gleamed off the white saucer, and I had to take a photograph — it was that beautiful. How would I know I’d be taking photographs of food for the next three years? By the time the blood results came back, ten days later, I already knew my fate. And I embraced it.

In the last three years, I have never deliberately eaten anything with gluten. There have been a few accidents, places I never suspected. They have all taught me. But it has never occurred to me to reach for a croissant, or grab a bagel on the run. Why would I make myself sick? Instead, my life has bloomed open since I stopped eating gluten, and I started saying yes. Everything has changed, and for the better. I am constantly in amazement. And I am so grateful.

So April 30th always feels like my second birthday. That’s what finding out I have celiac sprue and going gluten-free has meant for me: I was reborn.

And April 26th will always be our anniversary.

Two years ago this week, I met the Chef. A cup of coffee in the late morning, a slap on the arm, a friendly conversation about food and family, and a hug that felt like enveloping love — that’s all it took to start this life we have been laughing through together for two entire years. Can it really be that little time? So much has happened between us. What I have been able to write here has been like the fingernail-crescent light of the moon, early in its cycle. So much lies behind these words.

I adore him. But you know that already. More, he is my closest friend, my true companion, and the one who makes me laugh so hard I nearly stop breathing. Intertwined, our lives have grown into something we never expected. I could write for an entire day and never place the words on the page in the right formation to say it. We are a team. With him, I feel safe in the world.

And for us, the biggest celebration is nearly three months away now: Little Bean will be born into the world.

Talk about having no words.

And so, even though I was momentarily overwhelmed last week, by exhaustion and pregnancy hormones, I quickly remembered how blessed I am. And how much living there is to do.

And now, how much writing.

We have this good news to share, but we have been a little silent for awhile. We are both so humbled and honored that we decided to sit on this momentous news, our hands in our laps, instead of waving them wildly in the air. Really, we still can’t believe it. And we were more than happy to do the work, and dive into the process, and make announcements later. But official publications have mentioned the news, and some of you have been asking pointed questions. It feels like time to tell.

The Chef and I? We just signed a two-book book deal with Wiley, the publishers of my first book.

DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will come first. DANCING is a cookbook, a lavish beautiful cookbook, with 100 recipes, all of them gluten-free. But it’s more than a book with headnotes, recipes, and photographs. This is the story of love and food, and how they intersect. Blessedly for some of you, our personal story will only be a part of the book. (You know the gist of it if you read this site anyway.) Instead, the story I want to tell is what life is like if you dance in the kitchen as a chef.

Chefs work hard. They have scars and burns on their hands. They are frequently exhausted. They are working-class heroes, with jobs entailing searing foie gras and mopping the floors, all in one shift. They aren’t paid well, certainly not well enough to eat the meals their companions make in other high-end restaurants. Chefs are a band of brothers (men and women both) who have a work ethic, and a code of ethics, most people never have to approach. Most of us eat in restaurants as a means of escape. But for chefs (as well as servers and dishwashers), the restaurant is not theater. The restaurant is home, a grungy labor-of-love home, never completed, always capable of more. Chefs love food. Chefs are artists. But they’re not the people you see on television, in clean white coats and a cocky grin. Chefs are far more complex than that.

And my Chef? He is one of hundreds of thousands in this country, all across the world. But his story is the one I have been watching, and the story I want to share.

So DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will be a cookbook with narrative, pithy essays about feeding each other, shopping at farmer’s markets, and waking up early to make it to the seafood purveyor for the freshest fish. It will be a book about food, and how it can inspire us to live more awake some days. It will be a book about what inspires us, and how we eat late at night, after the last of the shift has finished. It will be funny (oh goodness, that’s the intention), sometimes moving, and also practical.

For every four or five recipes, there will be a chef technique, tricks of the trade that chefs know but us home cooks don’t. When you chop an onion five hundred times, you know how to do it, precisely. When do you salt food? How do you create a fish special? What’s the trick to cooking gluten-free pasta so it doesn’t fall apart? The Chef will attempt to share (with photographs and my words) the most fundamental techniques of cooking food well, so you can feel more comfortable in the kitchen.

And it will all be gluten-free. But gluten-free won’t be the first focus of the book. Food will.

When we had known each other for about four months, I looked up from typing the latest menu for the first of the month. Astonished, I said to him, “Sweetie, I can eat everything on this menu.”
“I know,” he said.
“Well, that’s fantastic, but how did that happen?”
He looked at me kindly, and said, quite plainly, “I just realized that if I make something with gluten in it, I can’t share it with you. And so, I’m just not going to cook with gluten again.”
(I married him.)

At the Chef’s restaurant (and in the rest of our lives), the first focus is on great food. Meals that ring out with seasonal ingredients and flavors that are clear, not competing. This is food that tastes like itself. That it is all gluten-free is fantastic. But neither one of us has been interested in eating food just because it’s gluten-free. It has to be good. Sometimes, that’s a pan-roasted rib-eye chop with potatoes gratin, broccoli, & white cheddar. Sometimes, it’s a plate of nachos at midnight, shared in bed while watching South Park. But we want every bite to be memorable.

That’s what DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will be. (Hopefully.)

Every recipe in the book will be new, never published on this site. Nearly every essay will be too. (There might be a couple of passages that feel familiar, but no more.) There will be recipes for curried red-lentil puree with cucumber and lemon-yogurt dip, tagliatelle with duck confit, sun-dried tomatoes, and a cabernet sauce, seared lamb chops, and a blue cheese cheesecake with a fig crust. All with enticing photographs to make you hungry.

We are writing this book together, and we love creating it, side by side. The recipes are all his. But without me, he would never be able to put them down on paper in a way that makes sense to those of us who aren’t chefs. We want food to feel accessible. We want everyone to eat well. And we love writing recipes, and stories, and talking about food. We’d like to share that with you.

The manuscript for this book is due at the end of the year. December 31st, 2008. Those of you paying attention may remember that we’re having a baby in the middle of the process. How are we going to do that? We’ll find out.

But with our love of food and writing, and for each other, and both of us with powerful work ethics, I think we’ll be okay.

DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will be published in the early spring of 2010. (Perhaps even on Valentine’s Day.)

And after that?


As early as my 8th week of pregnancy, I knew I wanted to write about it. My relationship with food changed dramatically, seemingly overnight. And I don’t just mean the fact that I spent three months being nauseous, all day long. Instead, I felt for the first time that food was immediate and visceral. My body knows what I want to eat, right now. When I don’t eat — letting the day run faster than my chance to sit down and savor — Little Bean is the one who suffers. Every bite of food I eats helps to grow a human being. How is that possible?

FEEDING US will be a funny, touching community memoir. My essays will be the backbone of the book, but throughout will be a plethora of quotes and stories from other pregnant women, doctors, nutritionists, doulas, mamas, papas-to-be, etc. I’m amazed by how most pregnancy books leave the father out, other than a small section devoted to the dad, and how to calm his oafish nerves. The Chef will be throughout the story. This is a team effort.

Most pregnancy cookbooks, and standard lists given out by doctor’s offices, list foods forbidden to the pregnant woman. This book will explore the science behind those guidelines, and why most of them are worth questioning. (We have a team of doctors standing by.) Instead of avoiding certain foods, perhaps we can learn more about our food, where it comes from, and the people who make it for us. Most pregnancy books seem to suggest that the pregnant woman will suddenly develop a fondness for pastels and eat only pickles. But what if you love beef tenderloin done rare, arugula salads with caramelized pears, and warmed Luques olives with lemon zest and garlic before you decide to bring a baby into the world? What if you decide that, after a lifetime of eating junk food on the run, this time is the chance to finally learn how to eat well? Is it possible to be pregnant, aware that every bite helps to develop a baby, and still eat with relish and joy?

So of course, FEEDING US will be about food. But really, it will be about so much more.

FEEDING US will be not only filled with tips on what to eat and how to approach food, but also recipes for easy-to-make, healthy, appealing food. We will give guidelines for how to make your own baby food. How to cook together even when your stomach is so big you can barely reach the stove! FEEDING US will be funny, informative, and welcoming. And of course, the book will be entirely gluten-free, with certain essays dedicated to the joys of negotiating morning sickness with restricted foods. And how do you know if your baby can tolerate gluten? (Or another food to which you are allergic?)

And as is true for the cookbook, all the material in FEEDING US will be new. No repeated recipes or essays from this site. This one will be published in 2011. (And for those of you might ask, it is slightly terrifying to be working on a book for which I haven’t lived the ending yet. But exhilarating too.)

As you can see, we have our work cut out for us. And we are grateful and singing.

Reasons for celebrating around here? You bet.

gluten-free lemon poppyseed cake II

LEMON-POPPYSEED CAKE, adapted from a recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Celebrations sometimes require cakes. When you're gluten-free, you might think your options are limited to boxed mixes that don't taste that good. Not true.

The Chef is unafraid to play with gluten-free cakes. He had so much baking experience before he encountered gluten-free flours that he throws his hands into the work, fearlessly. Last month at the restaurant, he served a lemon poppyseed cake, to much approval. The last week of the month, he switched to this recipe based on one by the amazing woman who created The Cake Bible. What's not to trust?

The esteemed Ms. Beranbaum suggested that this cake be made with a loaf pan (to be precise, a 8-inch by 4-inch by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan). I'm sure she's right, because the tight squeeze of the loaf pan would encourage this pound cake to rise higher. I used a round cake pan, because I baked it at the restaurant, and that's all the Chef had. As you can see, it's quite lovely, but also quite flat. No harm in that. Better for toasting the next day.

The cake itself is only faintly lemony, a little tingle at the back of the throat. If you wanted the cake to simply dazzle with lemon, add more zest and a bit of juice to the mix. We covered this cake with a tart lemon syrup (you can see the proportions for that here, in the original recipe), and it added a slithering puckery bite to the cake, which I quite liked. You could also try creme fraiche, whipped cream, or a fresh berry sauce.

You decide what best suits your celebration.

3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
13 tablespoons softened butter.

Preheating and preparing. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while mixing the batter. Butter the bottom of your cake pan and put down parchment paper to keep the bottom of the cake from sticking.

Mixing the liquids. Whisk the cream, eggs, and vanilla together, briskly. Set aside.

Blending the dry ingredients. Put all the dry ingredients into a Kitchen-Aid (or a bowl waiting for a hand mixer), including the lemon zest and poppy seeds. Make sure you blend them well.

Making the batter. Add the softened butter and half the cream-egg mixture to the dry ingredients. Let them blend together well for at least one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add one-half of the remaining mixture and blend. Scrape. Add the rest of the cream-egg mixture. Turn off the Kitchen-Aid.

Baking the cake. Slowly pour the cake batter into the cake pan. Smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Slide the cake pan into the oven. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, depending on your oven. You'll know the cake is done when a toothpick (or butter knife) comes out clean.

Feeds 10. (if they take dainty pieces)