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30 October 2008

making cookies, spontaneously

cookie dough

"Sweetie, what day is it?" I whispered to the Chef in bed, as Little Bean fell asleep between us. She had been up for nearly an hour, kicking and smiling at the light fixture above us, cavorting at the sound of our voices.

"It's Thursday, I think," he said, scrunching up his face with the remembering.

"Oh fiddlesticks!" (I'm pretty sure I said something else, but I'll refrain here.)


"It's blog post day, and I don't have a recipe yet.


You see, we're cooking up a storm over here. We talk about food all day long, we shop for ingredients in the early afternoon, and then we're in the kitchen making at least four dishes a day. Right now, we're making up the recipes for the book that don't exist yet. The Chef salts food, and stirs sauces, and cuts into sheets of homemade pasta, and I write it all down. I ask a dozen questions and cook some of it myself to get the rhythm in my hands so I can translate it into words. And then we eat.

We have never felt so alive together. If someone said to me — "You've won the lottery. Now you can do whatever you want!" — do you know what I would do? I'd keep living exactly like this.

But when you make up four recipes a day, plus start jotting down notes for the next day's dishes that are already starting to appear in the mind, making up another recipe that will go on this website but not the book? Well, it slipped on by.

I thought of leaving a little placeholder here, send out an SOS and apologize. Stay tuned to next week.... But that didn't feel right. So, what to do?

A few days ago, the Chef and I were sitting on the couch, Little Bean between us, kicking and cooing. We started imagining what it will be like when she's older, and she has friends over. We both always wanted to have the house where everyone felt comfortable stopping by, spontaneously, without announcement. And so, the Chef started playing the part of Little Bean's friends, a few years from now.

"Mrs. Ahern, can I have a cookie?"

That did it. I needed to make cookies. I want to have an entire retinue of great gluten-free cookie recipes in my files, so I can make some for the little kids with grubby hands and big grins who wander through the door.

And so, these buttery jam cookies appeared. I tried the recipe this afternoon solely because we had all the ingredients on hand. Our refrigerator is stuffed with food, with plenty of flours and sugars on the shelves. After we came home from shopping at the Market (we ordered venison shanks! and bought caul fat for the sweetbreads!), I flew through the kitchen, putting together cookies.

I was trying to beat the light so I could take photographs.

In the middle of mixing and reaching for more ingredients, I started laughing. What an absurd situation. I have to make cookies now! And then it occurred to me -- this is the way I used to bake. Given a moment's notice, I could break out a batch of sugar cookies for a holiday party, or a baking sheet full of gingersnaps on a cold winter's night. It may have taken me three years, but gluten-free baking just feels like baking to me now.

For those of you who are new to this, persist. Believe me, it grows easier.

And these cookies, which I had never eaten, turned out to be a keeper. Fluffy as biscuits, faintly sweet with apricot jam, and pillowy with vanilla softness, these buttery jam cookies would be perfect with a late-afternoon cup of tea.

Or in the grubby hand of a grateful little kid.

buttery jam cookies II

I have learned so much about gluten-free baking since I began experimenting with recipes three years ago. In the past two weeks, as the Chef and I bake nearly every day, and he moves the dough around with his hands, I have learned even more about the body mechanics of baking.

One thing I know for sure: start with a great recipe.

Once I started to have a feeling for some of the flours, and I had worked out my favorite combinations for different situations, I went back to my baking books. Who do I trust, always? David Lebovitz is a genius. Julia Child always makes me smile. The folks at Cooks Illustrated have a new baking book I'm dying to buy, since almost every one of their recipes in the other books work like a charm. The Betty Crocker baking book still works. And there are countless other brilliant bakers who have a talent for not only making memorable baked goods but also expressing their technique in such a way that the rest of us can follow along.

(Who are your favorite baking gurus?)

Lately, however, my baking guru is Dorie Greenspan. (And actually, she was the author of that Julia Child baking book as well.) Her recipes work. Every time. She is meticulous and lovely. And I especially appreciate that she points out the sensory pleasures of a recipe, showing us what the dough should feel like underneath our hands and the cookies smell like when they are done.

Our copy of her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, has multiple pages speckled with gluten-free flours and butter. I'm certainly not done baking from it yet.

We've changed this recipe of hers around a bit -- a little more flour, which seems necessary for gluten-free cookies -- and topping them with jam. But really, there's no need to experiment wildly when Dorie already invented these.

1/2 cup amaranth flour
2/3 cup potato starch
2/3 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, soft
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup apricot jam, plus more for topping the cookies

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a Silpat, if you have one.

Combine all the flours in a bowl. Stir them up well to make them one flour. Add the baking powder, ginger, and salt. Sift them into another bowl with a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.

If you have a stand mixer, put the butter in the bowl and use the paddle attachment. (If you don't own a stand mixer, you can do this all by hand with muscles and a wooden spoon.) Beat the butter for about 30 seconds, and then add the sugar. Beat for only one minute. (When you over-cream the butter and sugar in gluten-free cookies, they spread out in a disappointing fashion.) Add the egg and beat for one minute more. Next, pour in the milk and vanilla. At this point, the batter will look lumpy, even curdled. Don't worry. Keep going.

On the lowest setting, spin the stand mixer and add in the jam. When it is incorporated into the dough, add the dry ingredients, 1/4 cup at a time. You will know you are done when the dough is thick, almost to the point that it resists being poked.

These cookies work best as small cookies, so spoon them onto the baking sheet with a teaspoon. Leave space between the cookies.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through the baking process. The cookies are done when the tops are firmish. They will be pale -- if you keep baking them until they are browned, you will have horribly stiff cookies. You're just looking for browning around the edges.

Bring out the baking sheet from the oven. Make a small indentation in the top of each cookie with the back of a spoon. Carefully pat a dollop of apricot jam into the indentation. Allow the cookies to cool for a few moments before removing them from the rack.

Eat and enjoy.

Makes 18 cookies, depending on the size you make.

27 October 2008


squash season


It just sounds good, doesn't it? Say it loudly, with emphasis, slowly enough to feel the final shhhh leave your lips. S q u a s h.

Really, it would be such a satisfying swear word.

Around here, we're trying to train ourselves to not use the typical words that rush from our mouths without thought, since fairly soon the baby will be taking them all in. She watches our lips purse and dance, studies them like an astronomer stares at the stars. When she begins talking, she'll use all our words. So we're trying out old favorites, instead. Rats. Mule feathers. Fiddle sticks. Now, I'd like to add squash.

It's squash weather. This afternoon, I looked out the window just beyond the computer. Outside, tiny flies danced above the green grass of the park across the street, lit up by the afternoon golden light. The trees that fascinate Little Bean when we walk through the neighborhood were lit from within, dark blond leaves crinkling into brown. Down the street, an orange explosion.

(A family story. When I was just over one year old, my parents were surprised to hear me say, from the back seat of the car: "Oh look, fireworks!" We were driving in autumn, and I caught a glimmer of that light on the trees from my seat.)

This is the only time of the year I crave my favorite squashes.

Give me butternut squash sprinkled with smoked paprika and good butter, baked in the oven until the flesh is melting into softness. Acorn squash baked with brown sugar, lots of salt and pepper, and an inch of water beneath it to keep it tender. And this time of year, I can feel the wet strings sticking to my hands from when we carved pumpkins for the front porch.

(Remember how gross they turned, when you forgot them out there, and the face fell into itself?)

I still haven't made a pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin, however. I have so much to learn.

So I have to ask you. What are your favorite squashes? And how do you like to eat them?

24 October 2008

working on the book

preparing the egg dish

"How about spiced prune chutney?"
He makes that face, the pursed lips and fast shake of the head.
"Why not?" I ask. Sounds good to me. I'd eat that with great cheese.
"Hmmm...No." At least he took a moment to think about it this time.
I love this banter, this back and forth. And besides, I really like discovering foods I have never eaten before.
"Zuni has a great recipe for spiced prunes," I suggest.
He answers this one immediately. "Nope. No copying other recipes and altering them slightly. These are all ours."
I backtrack, to explain. "Oh, I know. I agree. But I thought we could look at it for technique."
The Chef agreed. Every chef is inspired by other chefs. We pore over the cookbooks we trust for little tweaks and reminders. ("Ahh, that's right. We need ice-cold liquid with the ground pork when we make sausages.") But he is adamant, and rightly so: these recipes are ours.
"You're forgetting the fig chutney I served at the restaurant," he said.
"What, you mean the one that fills the fig cookies? That recipe's in the first book."
"No," he reminded me. "The one I make, with rosemary and red wine."
"Oh god, I love that one. You're right. That's the one that should go in the book."
He paused for a moment.
"Besides, I don't like prunes."

Well, that did it.

. . . .

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Little Bean is awake. She's lifting her legs, rising onto her butt, and slamming down her legs, in glee, again. She doesn't cry upon waking anymore, after a full night of sleep. Instead, she plays in her bassinet, moving and rolling, rising and thumping. When I do lean over her to say hello, she smiles so wide her face becomes a smear of smile. So does mine.

The Chef wakes up to feed her, and receives his own smiles. I drift back to sleep for a moment. And then the baby is in bed with us, looking up at the ceiling and smiling wide, as she moves from side
to side. We stare, transfixed.

But it doesn't take more than a minute for the conversation to begin.

"What about tackling that cinnamon rolls recipe today?"
"Ooh, cinnamon rolls," he says, his eyes widening.
"And we have to taste the sausages today."
"I want to see how those pickled apples turned out."
"Aren't the white beans still braising on the back of the stove?"

And the entire time, we are looking at Little Bean, calling out these foods to her. Her eyes go wide. She stops to listen. And then she kicks up her heels and begins moving again.

. . . .

Coffee and the paper. Throw in some reading of the cookbooks on the coffee table.

Little Bean, after we have held her and danced her around the living room (yesterday, her favorite song in the world was "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants), falls asleep in her swing. We look at each other and move to the kitchen.

The Chef is chopping. I am mixing flours. The smells are rising.

. . .

Pike Place Market in the clear autumn sunlight. We stick cream and butter, milk and sugar in the basket beneath Little Bean's stroller. Chanterelles at Sosio's. A bag full of spices at World Spice, after sticking every one of them beneath Little Bean's nose. She always kicks. Talking about what to do next, and what to have for lunch.

It's 2 pm, and the Chef is not at the restaurant.

. . .

Little Bean is in her vibrating chair, looking up at us with wide eyes. She kicks and kicks, little coos emitting from her mouth. It's late in the afternoon, and she's far from fussy now. Both of her parents are with her, cooking and laughing, dancing in front of her from time to time. I pull the fresh vanilla bean from the bag and slowly wave it in front of her nose. She stops, and then starts to smile. The Chef laughs, his hands deep in the marinated pork he will be braising soon. Music wafts through the room.

. . .

We give her a bath together. She stares up at us with adoring eyes. She loves the warmth.

The same ritual, every night. Until this week, it was only me in the room with her. Now, we both speak in hushed voices in the small light of the room. Lotion and diaper, soft fleecy pajamas. White noise machine on. One book from each of us (perhaps Madeline or When the Sky is Like Lace), with the Chef acting each action out in exaggerated motions. He always makes me laugh. Lovely food, and then Goodnight Moon.

She's out.

. . . .

Music going. Simmering happening.

Do you think that sugar cookie dough is ready to roll out?
What kind of peppers are you going to use in the tomatillo chutney?
Let's be sure to get to the farmers' market early tomorrow.
How much molasses did you put in there?

He's cooking, dancing in front of the stove. I'm writing everything down.

. . . .

Hell, we even do the dishes now. For the first time since the baby was born, the kitchen is clean before we snap off the light.

. . . .

We're on the couch, wonderfully fed, by the food, and the day. Four more recipes done. Three, he loves. One, he needs to do again before he likes it at all. What would the fun be in four perfect recipes?

We hold each other as we watch Jon Stewart. I feel the laughter pushing his belly up. My eyes droop at the end of the show. Little Bean will be up in six hours. We really should be in bed.

"What are we going to cook tomorrow?"

We fall asleep talking about food.

p.s. We are keeping a set of photographs on Flickr called Working on the Book. If you want to see more of the process, go here. And kudos to anyone who has figured out what the Chef is playing with in the top photograph.

fried prosciutto

We are, of course, eating well around here. We're doing it all for you. We want our cookbook, and its 100 recipes, to be stellar, every recipe tested, every dish gorgeous. We have to eat it first.

But sometimes, it doesn't have to be complicated. On Monday morning, the Chef made us breakfast. We both felt so indolent. We didn't have to rush to be anywhere. Our muscles had started to relax.

He emerged from the kitchen with roasted potatoes, melted Drunken Goat cheese, eggs over easy, and this little flourish on top.

"What's that?" I asked, excited.

"Fried prosciutto."

It took him all of a few moments. I never would have thought to do it. But it made the meal so much more alive. Monday morning, every morning — it takes only a few moments to make us feel civilized.


6 prosciutto slices

Lay the prosciutto slices on top of each other. Roll them into a tube (more pencil than fat marker).

Slice them thin, in a chiffonade.

Into a hot pan add a bit of oil until it is almost smoking. Add the prosciutto. Sautee for 30 seconds or so, until it crisps up.

Serve on top of eggs over easy. This could also garnish potato-leek soup, black beans, or a quinoa-shrimp salad.

20 October 2008



At my 40th birthday party, in the middle of a sunlit field, two of my friends wore t-shirts that seemed to compete with each other. Sharon, chattering away and waving her hands in the air, wore a shirt that read: Yum Yum Doughnuts. Mary, earnestly listening to her left, wore one that read: Eat More Kale.

I seem to remember everyone looking a bit dubiously at Mary, skirting away from her silently, as though she might lecture them on vitamins and nutrients. (She is a nutritionist, after all. But she's also a comedian, who often performs one-woman shows. The last one was called Judy Blume Owes Me. Then again, she did write a little ditty called The Broccoli Song.) Someone who espoused kale on her clothing couldn't be that much fun, right?

For years, I thought of kale as one of those foods I really should eat more often. You know, one of those dreary obligation foods, a super-nutritious, so-not-enjoyable vegetable. A food that made me grit my teeth while eating it, a food that made me feel virtuous so I could relish my chocolate without guilt. That meant I didn't eat much kale, for years.

One of the gifts of going gluten-free is that I was forced to experiment with every food I could find, as long as it did not contain gluten. That led to meandering around farmers' markets. And within a few visits, I realized I'd have to start buying kale.

Kale exists ubiquitous around the Northwest. It grows best in cool climates. All our rain keeps the green going. And in those slender-on-the-sunshine, dreary months of winter, kale shows up at every stand, every week. Eventually, I gave in and started going home with dark green leaves draped over the top of my shopping bag.

Thank goodness.

Kale deserves a better reputation. When it's cooked right, kale has a robust taste, greenness intensified, something earthy and palpable. It's part of the brassica family, the same group that contains brussels sprouts. (There's another misunderstood vegetable.)

Heidi created gorgeous olive oil and kale mashed potatoes last year. Molly informed us last week that boiled kale can be sensuous when lavished with poached eggs. And sometimes all I need is some lacinato kale roasted with olive oil and sea salt to make an afternoon feel complete.

The Chef says his favorite kale recipe is olive oil, salt, pepper, fine-diced shallots, and a hot cast iron skillet. When everything is popping, throw in the kale and watch it wilt. Pull it off the burner and eat it, immediately.

Still, I know there are plenty of other ways to enjoy kale, whether it's curly kale, red kale, or lacinato kale. (That dark, crinkly beauty is my personal favorite.) I'd love to know your passions.

I'm not going to implore you to eat more kale. Instead, I'll ask you: how do you eat kale?

p.s. The Chef and I haven't made any public appearances in months. We've been happy to stay in with the baby. But it's time to come out and play again. For those of you live near Seattle, we're teaching a one-time class next Monday at the Whole Foods on Westlake. We'll be cooking four dishes we're trying out for the new cookbook:

spiced walnuts
forbidden black rice with chickpeas, bok choy, and tamari sauce
seared lamb chops with lavender, mustard, and bread crumbs
chocolate peanut butter brownies

The class is only $35, and we'd love to see you there.

Please sign up by Thursday, October 23rd.


The lovely Hilary Davidson is running a splendid website for those of use who live gluten-free and wish to live as fully as we can: Gluten-Free Guidebook. A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of talking with Hilary -- we couldn't stop talking! -- and she wrote a piece about me for her site. I'm humbled. Thank you, Hilary.

16 October 2008

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free II

"Biscuits in the oven going to watch em rise...
right before my very eyes.
Hey hey."

We have been dancing around here, to music we never expected to love.

Our friend Monique gave us a cd before Little Bean was born, telling me it was one of her kids' favorites. When I saw the name, I wanted to cringe, but I resisted. Raffi. I had heard of him, and I thought he was cheesy. I had a flash image of concerts with kids in the audience, all waving flags, everyone singing music that the parents couldn't stand to hear again. Before Little Bean was born, I swore we would never listen to music meant just for kids. Instead, we'd teach her how to sing with Johnny Cash, and Alison Kraus, and Elvis Costello. All our favorite music was good enough for her, right?

So I took the disc and thanked Monique and tucked it away.

One afternoon, about a month ago, Little Bean was crying. It was late afternoon, the time when babies grow fussy, mysteriously. (Does anyone know why that is?) She's such a sunny little being, with the wide-open eyes and tiny pursed mouth of a cartoon character, that her crying took me by surprise. I went through the usual routine to soothe her. Nothing worked. I danced her around the room to Prince, which had just come on the iPod. She was having none of that. We went outside. I took her in the kitchen to smell herbs. She jiggled on my knee. I tried to stay calm, which calmed her for a moment, but she went right back to crying in jagged sobs.

Exhausted, I remembered Monique's present. I flipped Baby Beluga into the cd player and turned it on. I swear, from the first high-pitched squeaks and giggles of the whale in the opening moments, Little Bean was transfixed. She forgot to cry. She started to smile.

"Hell with it," I thought, sinking back into the couch cushions. "Kids' music is fine."

When "Day-O" came on, I started to sing, exaggerating every syllable with my mouth, like Harry Belafonte on steroids with a face made out of rubber. Little Bean looked up at me, and she stayed looking. At that point, she only made glancing eye contact. The Chef and I both longed for her stare, the adoring eyes. Until that moment, the ceiling captured all her grins. But when I sang to her, the words tumbled from my memory, even though I didn't know I held them. As she bounced on my knee, she watched my mouth, looked at my eyes, and took me in, for the longest time since the day of her birth.

That was the point I began to love Raffi.

Since then, the Chef and I have been playing this album for her every day. She loves it every time, her eyebrows flinging upward, her feet beginning to kick. Each song makes her happy (except for one called Joshua Giraffe, which goes dark and stormy in the middle, and she cries every time). She always dances.

Here's what we never expected, however. The Chef and I are hooked on this music.

He'll call me from the restaurant and say, "I've been singing that one song all day."
"Which one?"
Now, normally, the answer might be some sappy country music song we heard on the radio on the way to work that made us both teary. Or some old song by the Clash that mirrors any anger in our minds. Or any of two dozen Beatles songs that are important to us.
But lately, it has been: "You know, that jaunty one, how oats and beans and barley grow."
And I start whistling, right away.

(I'll ignore, for the moment, the fact that barley contains gluten. We'll come up with another grain when she's older.)

These are great songs. I'm not kidding. They're funny and loving, memorable and whistle-able. (I don't care if that's not a real word.) And more than that, they are the kind of music we want Little Bean to listen to, as she's growing into this world.

One of the songs, "Thanks a Lot," feels like the only kind of prayer we're likely to say around the dinner table. A traditional song that Raffi sings so sweetly, "To Everyone in All the World" reminds me every time that our political system would be mighty much better if we lived like this: "I may not know the lingo/but I can say by jingo/no matter where you live, we can shake hands." And perhaps for obvious reasons, one song makes me cry every time:

"All I really need is a song in my heart
food in my belly
and love in my family."

Whenever that one comes on, the Chef and I scoop up Little Bean, hold her in our arms, and dance her around the living room, singing.

Okay, so we have become those parents. And you know what? We don't care. Little Bean has been in this world for less than three months, and already she has encouraged us to let go of ridiculous expectations. There's nothing wrong with admitting it: we love Raffi. If he were still giving concerts, we'd be first in line to wave flags and sing earnest songs that we still love to hear.

(So if any of you have recommendations for great kids' music that's still pretty damned cool for parents, we'd love to hear them.)

Besides, the best song on the disc is all about biscuits. "Biscuits in the oven, going to watch 'em rise...." After weeks of singing this to Little Bean, I couldn't stand it any more. I had to make biscuits.

I remember my mom making biscuits from scratch some evenings. Now, I realize she used Bisquick as the base. What does that matter? She still put them together with her capable hands, cut through the pillowy dough with an antique cutter given to her by her mother, and pulled the golden warmth from the oven to our oohs and ahhs. I remember standing beside her in the kitchen one day, when I was about seven or eight, and watching her hands make biscuits. They seemed so sure, so reassuring. I wondered if I would ever be that strong.

Now, I look down at my hands, almost exact replicas of my mother's at my age. And I wonder if, a few years from now, when I am making gluten-free biscuits inspired by the Raffi song, Little Bean will look at my hands and wonder what hers will look like when she is an adult.

I found, this week, that I had to create a gluten-free recipe that worked for me. The first two years of living gluten-free, I didn't really care that much about baked goods. But now that our darling, hilarious daughter is here, I realize I want to make her biscuits some evenings and have her ooh and ahh at the warmth I am pulling out of the oven with my hands.

"When they get ready going to jump and shout
roll my eyes and bug them out.
Hey hey."

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free


Of course, the only problem with baking biscuits in this house after hearing that song is that gluten-free biscuits simply don't rise the way that regular biscuits do. Why? No gluten. That doesn't mean they can't be darned fine, however.

I've been baking biscuits for days around here, cutting butter into different flours and waiting in anticipation for the moment I could open the oven door. The first batch was horribly disappointing — the expected gluten-free hockey puck. But I love this trial and error process. Every batch taught me something different. And by the time I crafted the recipe you see below, I really was jumping and shouting to see them, like Raffi sings in the song.

The egg white takes the place of the protein gluten provides to a baked good. Lately, I've been finding that just a bit of egg white gives strength and structure to gluten-free goods.

I'm pleased with the softness of these biscuits, the fluffy center with air holes, and the crispness of the bottoms. They're a little bit pillowy, and a little bit crusty. Frankly, I'm glad I found the recipe I like, because I have to stop eating so many biscuits now.

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
3/4 cup buttermilk (give or take a bit)

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Combine all the flours, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir them up well so they are one. Sift them into a large bowl.

Cut the butter into small pieces and drop them into the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (also known as a pastry cutter), or two forks if you don't own the fancier tool, cut the butter into the flours. You should have a good blend, with the butter the size of small peas, by the end.

Froth up the egg white with a fork or small whisk. You are not looking to make meringue here. Simply whip some air and volume into the egg white.

Pour the egg white and the buttermilk into the dry mixture. Stir them in slowly with a rubber spatula, taking care to not overwork the dough. When the liquids are incorporated into the flours, stop stirring. Bring it all together with your hands.

Drop small balls of the biscuit dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. (I prefer these biscuits small, about the size of a plum, to help the middles bake through.) Slide the tray into the oven.

Bake the biscuits for about 20 to 25 minutes. Test for your own version of doneness.

Makes about 8 biscuits.

09 October 2008

leaving the restaurant

Danny and Lucy in front of Impromptu

Before Little Bean entered the world, people who were already parents told us, repeatedly: "Your entire life is going to change."

It seemed safe to assume. Little to no sleep, a fierce little creature at the center of our lives, crying without words, and all those diapers to change. We imagined the worst, but we knew we would love it more than others assumed. We thought we were prepared.

We had no idea.

Much in our lives is still the same. We still love food, the Beatles, overcast days, driving and singing country music songs together, teasing each other, and farmers' markets. We still adore each other. We still live in the same house and have the same names.

Nearly everything else feels different.

It's subtle, sometimes. We still have long mornings together, and they still feel languid. It's just that we wake up at 6:30 now, instead of 8 or 9. The first part of the morning, instead of being spent looking at each other and laughing, is spent looking at this tiny being in our bed and saying, "My goodness, we made her." The afternoons and evenings always raced by, especially when I was absorbed in writing. But now I look up, and the sky outside the living room window has turned that rich, crepuscular blue, and I think, "How did it come to be evening already, when all I've been doing is dancing a little girl around the room?" The Chef and I still laugh and share our stores at the end of the night. Now, however, we can barely keep our eyes open past Letterman's monologue. We stumble into bed.

It's more than the schedules, the sleep deprivation, the sighing we do over her for hours. Our hearts have exploded open.

The sweetness overflows into everything around here. And then, when Little Bean cries, she's the potent force with which to be reckoned. She has a powerful set of lungs, and she doesn't mind using them. She's dear and sweet and not fussy in anyone's book. But when she cries -- oh, it pierces our hearts. She has taught us. Compassion is not a concept anymore. Everyone I see, no matter how annoying, reminds me: "You were once a baby."

Poor Chef, however. He has the mornings with us, and then he is gone for hours on end. By the time he comes home from the restaurant, it's late at night, and Little Bean is fast asleep. No matter how many photographs I send him on the cell phone, it just isn't the same. The other day, he said, "Every morning, when I pick her up, she's heavier than the day before. And I missed all of it."

All of this change is prologue, a way of explaining the next sentence I am about to write:

The Chef is leaving his restaurant.

As of October 18th (next Saturday), the Chef will no longer be cooking at Impromptu.

Some of you, the ones who have eaten there and the ones who had wanted to, will be shocked at this. We're grinning with happy surprise ourselves.

You see, the Chef has been working in restaurants since he was 15 years old. As much as he thrives on the rush, and adores feeding people, he has simply never had a break. If he's going to keep cooking, and dancing in the kitchen, he needs some time off, to find his perspective.

Along with this, the manuscript for our cookbook is due to the publishers on December 31st. That's alarmingly soon. We have been working on the book for months, long before Little Bean was born. But, in a revelation that will come as no surprise to anyone who has been a parent, it turns out that trying to complete a book and be home alone with a baby all day? Those flavors don't meld so well.

Having the two of us at home, though? Oh, what a joy that will be.

Mostly, the Chef wants to be the house husband for awhile, like John Lennon was with Sean. He wants to dance Little Bean around the room in the afternoon, sing her bouncy songs, and take her on long walks while I write. He wants to be a father, before he is a chef.

And so, for the next few months, the Chef will be at home, with us. After the cookbook is done, I'm sure he'll return to cooking, in some form. Perhaps he'll pick up some shifts at a favorite restaurant, or teach cooking classes full time with me. We don't know.

That's what feels so great, what feels so honest to where we are. We don't know what comes next. But right now, in this moment, when Little Bean is eleven weeks old? We want to be with her.

We don't have much money, but we have just enough money in savings that we can do it, if we tighten our belts. In these tumultuous economic times, prudence says to not take any chances, to hunker down. However, after the terrifying start we had with her, we both know that there are no guarantees in life. We have to seize this moment, as it arises.

We're saying yes.

The Chef would like everyone to know how much he has loved cooking food for the people who have come into Impromptu:

"The last two-and-a-half years have been amazing. It has been such a gratifying, rewarding experience to cook for people. There are so many people who have a gluten allergy and they are afraid to go out to eat. People who don't have a food allergy can take food for granted. Eating is such such a joyous event, whether picking up a snack with a friend or having a three-hour meal. Most people with gluten issues are still scared to eat in restaurants. I've wanted to give people the chance to eat safely and not grow sick. It has been such a great feeling for me, because I have been cooking the food that I have wanted to feed Shauna. And in doing that, I have been able to feed a lot of other people."

(You see? He won't be able to stay away from restaurants that long.)

Impromptu will still be open after he leaves. And he is training the new chef to cook gluten-free, and keep the kitchen safe from cross-contamination, so that people may still eat safely. It just won't be the Chef in the kitchen making your food, after October 18th.

What will he be doing instead?

For the next three months, we're going to play with food, test all our recipes, develop some kick-ass gluten-free baked goods (pasta, focaccia, dinner rolls, multi-grain waffles, etc.), and live in food together. We have big plans for how to step up this website. (More news on that later.) The Chef can look after Little Bean for four or five hours a day and give me time to write. And then, in the evening, we can give her a bath, put her to bed, and have dinner together before midnight.

We'll be parenting together.

The Chef adores food — lives it, breathes it — more than any person I have ever met. It turns out, however, that he loves his daughter more.

Those babies. They really do change everything.

03 October 2008

winning him over to oatmeal

oatmeal pancakes with blueberry compote

The Chef and I don't always agree.

If you've been reading this site for awhile, you know how the Chef and I feel about each other. From the time I announced his existence on this site in June of 2006, it was quite clear I was moony and madly in love. If he had his own website, he would have used entirely different words to say the same thing. We're made for each other.

Our love has changed, of course. We can never go back to the exuberance of finding love and feeling it flourish with each moment. These days, our love is more mundane, and deeper, than in those first days.

Now, our love is the worn place on the couch where he sits with the remote in his hand, flipping to Jon Stewart, while I lay with my head in his lap, exhausted and exhilarated from a day of being with Little Bean. Plates scraped clean of food sit on the coffee table before us. I'm in my pajamas, again. He smells of the restaurant. His socks are dirty. We should be in bed; we're both tired, and the baby will be crying in only a few hours. But these moments at the end of the day — devoid of adventure and out-loud romance — are our favorites together. We know each other so well that his hand on my shoulder feels like an extension of my body. We don't need to talk much. We're no longer in that first gush of knowing each other, when we want to share all our stories for the first time. He strokes my hair. I hold his hand. We laugh and gnash our teeth at politics. My eyelids droop. I don't fight it. I fall asleep, curled into him, feeling safe.

And at 6 in the morning, I open my eyes and look over to the corner, to see him sitting in the rocking chair, feeding our daughter. He looks down at her with adoration, the awe in his eyes clear, behind his smudged glasses. His bathrobe needs washing — there is always laundry to be done — and his hair is a hilarious mess. He looks so beautiful to me that I'll never be able to say it. When I see him cradling her in his arms, and see her look up at him with wide eyes, I tear up a little. And then I drift back to sleep.

We couldn't know those moments when we first met. I love being here now.

Reading this, and everything else I have written about him, you might assume that we have the perfect relationship. Clearly, we never fight, right?

What, are you crazy?

Put two passionate, strong-hearted people into a relationship, have them share every intimate detail of each other's bodies and minds, and repeat, day after day for years. Do you really expect there to be no disagreements?

The other day, the Chef and I were driving to his restaurant, Little Bean in back, asleep in her car seat. We were talking about the techniques he wants to teach in the cookbook we are writing. Somehow, we began talking about artichokes. They used to intimidate me, those thorny creatures. I wanted him to demonstrate, with photographs, how to take them apart and reach the thistly heart. He wanted to use the space for something else. "No, but artichokes are really scary to some people. It would help," I told him, gesturing with my hands while I drove. (That drives him crazy.)
"They can use baby artichokes if they're scared. We have more important things to show," he said, waving his hand and looking out the window. (I hate when he won't look at me.)
We spent the rest of the ride going back and forth, talking about the first days of cooking, about what's important to him in this book, about our different perspectives. That all sounds pleasant, doesn't it? Actually, we sometimes interrupted each other, spoke abruptly, and never did come to a consensus.

That was a great conversation. Really.

Disagreement? It's good for people. Honest, kind debate -- not the staged presentations we've been seeing in the national spotlight -- is how our brains grow. And I think if we had never fought, we would be a little unhealthy at this point. What would we be hiding from each other? There have been tense discussions in the kitchen at midnight, misunderstandings that blurted into bigger problems, conversations in bed that hurt for a bit. Honestly, there haven't been many, but there have been some doozies. Every one of those moments has taught us something important.

We don't yell at each other. Or call names. That's the last resort of people who don't know how to talk. And we work at it -- we won't go to bed mad, even if it means staying up until our eyelids start to hurt.

(Frankly, most disagreements never make it that far. Staying mad at each other through a meal is too painful not to bend and apologize.)

We try to save our arguments for matters that really matter. After the scare we had with Little Bean after her birth, only the consequential deserves our attention.

And would you be surprised to find that most of the times our disagreements end in laughter? In fact, the other day we had a few festering moments that ended in a spontaneous pillow fight, both of us falling on the bed and giggling.

I love sour and sweet together.

So, for those of you who have been wondering (and the angry woman who wrote to me this week, insisting I must be lying about our relationship because no one is that perfect): yes, we fight.

I just haven't written about it here. This is a food blog, after all.

But I will tell you about one major disagreement we seem to have solved this week.

The Chef won't eat oatmeal.

I adore oatmeal. Before I had to go gluten-free, I ate steel-cut oats every morning. Not because I had been told they are healthy, but because I just plain love the taste. The heft of them. The way my belly is filled with warm softness after I finish my bowl. Once I found gluten-free oats, I would have happily returned to my earlier habit.

Except, the Chef thinks oatmeal is gross. Now, I maintain that's because he ate instant oatmeal out of a packet when he was a kid, just like I did. This is the man who regards American cheese as an abomination. Anything that artificial doesn't move him. Therefore, he doesn't want oatmeal.

However, on the few occasions when I have made up a pot of oatmeal for myself, and offered him some with brown sugar, blueberries and pecans, he looks up from his bowl and says, with wonder, "Hey, this is good."

Well, exactly.

Except, when I say, "Hey honey, how about oatmeal for breakfast," he doesn't even look up from the newspaper before he says no thank you.


This week, however, I came up with a recipe for oatmeal pancakes. And guess what? He loved them. "Hey, these taste like oatmeal, but they're pancakes. You can make these for me again."

I looked at him for a moment, until he heard his own words.

"Okay, I'll make them next time," he said, laughing.

Being married to each other is never boring. All it takes is a little compromise. And some pillow fights.

oatmeal pancakes with blueberry compote II


These pancakes, adapted from a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, are enough to sway the most stubborn oatmeal loather. Soft with cooked oatmeal, but crisp on the edges, they taste like childhood Sunday brunches. (I can't wait to make these for Little Bean someday.) However, they seem to do best in small sizes. When I made them the width of the pan, they sagged in the middle. Stack up the pint-sized pancakes and plunge your fork into the middle.

I found that oat flour makes these pancakes nearly indistinguishable from regular pancakes. Until Bob's Red Mill starts making oat flour from their gluten-free oats, we simply have to make our own. We have an especially powerful blender, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, which turns any grain into flour within minutes. But a strong food processor and some steel-cut oats work well too. Try it. You'll want to make everything with oat flour soon.

Oatmeal pancakes

1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cooked oatmeal
1/2 cup milk (or soymilk, for those of you who have to be dairy-free)

Combine the oat flour, sweet rice flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. Set aside.

Whisk the two eggs well.

Combine the oatmeal and milk. Slide them into the eggs and stir them together, quickly. (If the oatmeal is hot, the eggs will begin to cook a bit when they meet. This is why you want everything ready to go.) The batter will be lumpy with the oatmeal.

Grease a small skillet with canola oil or butter. Put it on medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet. Don't touch the pancake until bubbles appear on the top of the pancake and begin to pop. Flip the pancake. One minute later, put the pancake aside.

Make yourself a stack of pancakes, keeping the first ones warm in the oven (at 200°).

Makes 8 small pancakes.

Blueberry compote

2 pints fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

Bring the sugar and orange juice to boil. Add in 1/2 of the blueberries, as well as the cinnamon stick. Turn the heat down to simmer and allow everything to cook until the blueberries start to fall apart.

Mix together the cornstarch and water to make a slurry.

Add the remaining blueberries to the mixture. Stir and let simmer for a minute. Take out the cinnamon stick.

Dollop in a little bit of the slurry and stir the mixture. Continue this until the compote has reached the thickness you desire.

Take the compote off the heat and spoon it on top of the blueberries.

Save the rest of the compote, cooled, for the top of ice cream, or folded into yogurt.