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28 October 2009

fall comfort food

autumn comfort foods

The leaves on the tree outside this window are the sultry red that teenage girls dream of wearing on their lips when they are grown and sophisticated. (And then, if you're like me, you realize that this red looks garish on lips, and is certain to smudge off as fast as the leaves are falling right now.)

Not only has Delicata squash arrived at the farm stands, but we almost have eaten our share. The brussels sprouts that seemed so out of place in September, at Frank's produce stand at the Market, are looking quite normal now. (And I have to say that this Mark Bittman recipe for sprouts, bacon, and figs is looking pretty enticing to me.) And most mornings, I seem to want rice, or grits, or some warm grain, topped with a poached egg.

It's definitively fall now.

This morning, rain drizzled down the window. My breath remained in the air when I ventured outside for the newspaper. The oven begged to be turned on.

Time to bake. Time to slow simmer, to braise. Time for comfort food.

Wondering what to make for dinner tonight, I put out the question on Twitter: What is the one dish you make that tastes the most like home?

The answers moved me so deeply that I'd like to share them with you.

@MrsNiddyNoddy Shepherd's pie. With cabbage.

@grubreport Lamb chops and baked potatoes. It was my requested birthday meal as a kid.

@neversent Roast chicken & potatoes. Ham & cabbage, which my Ukrainian grandma served every new year, believing it brought good luck.

@LORIVE Arroz con Pollo!

@SaltySpoon Garlic herb hearth bread - we call it boyfriend bread b/c it turned my now-DH from friend to bf. The smell is heaven/home.

@sammeem Roast chicken with lemon and oregano.

@CarolBlymire Beef shortribs, veal stock, chard, kale, carrots, onion, leeks, fingerlings, limas or zucchini.

@CarolBlymire Sometimes, I throw sausage in there, too. It's a clean out the fridge and freezer soup. Always different. Always perfect.

@artandlemons eggs and toast, simple yet full of so many possibilitites!

@sarahmcarter chkn soup from scratch.the smell of homemade stock, simmering for hrs, reminds me of all my favorite things about being home

@apronthriftgirl something my dad used to call rice fry. it consists of breakfast pork, green onions and brown rice mixed together. heavenly.

@andreajwalker roast turkey with gravy and potatoes and stuffing and green bean casserole (wait, I guess thats a whole meal)

@hungrygrrl no contest, chicken soup, chicken soup with rice.

@ jkwseattle a plate of beans with pepper sauce, cornbread, and a wedge of onion.

@mysocalledwendy Coffee cake.

@DJPegLeg Dumplings and wontons with homemade wrappers. Every Sunday my family would gather in the kitchen and make them.

@lofeisty My mom's almond poppyseed bread. Haven't made it since I went wheat-free ... but it's home. And the holidays.

@MarriedWDinner my mom's meatloaf or the infamous "[not] spam & eggs"

@cooklocal A very simple fried egg. Fried in butter with @secretstashsalt. Is what I make for myself when home alone.

@JosieLynne scrambled eggs. cheese. toast. It's totally basic and completely comforting.

@sevenspoons dal and rice, masala dosa, scrambled eggs with cilantro, onions and chilies. Really good, strong tea. (not all at once)

@embedded_guy Grits and grillades

@marthasnail my mom's baked macaroni and cheese.

@jenniferGFinGA Tuna Noodle Casserole!

@sandmuffin probably crawfish etouffée- my mom would always make it when I'd come home for a break from college!

@hungrybruno My default meal: sauteed greens, topped with crispy taters & a fried egg. Sometimes with bacon, always comforting.

@Adana Lentil soup over jasmine rice. It's one of the first things I made for my husband.

@engineerbaker Chili & cornbread - chile from the Silver Palate, and my great grandma's cornbread - northern & sweet!

@HeroBeth Avgolemeno Soup (Greek chicken lemon rice soup) from my YiaYia's recipe.

@licorous thick delicious beef chili, i may need to start some right now:)

@SweetTartelette My grandma's "riz au lait" (rice pudding) and her lemon yogurt cake.

@TailRoaster - two things: Roasted chicken; Biscuits and sausage gravy

@kelleil Easy, chili colorado with frijoles

@LisaKennelly Chocolate chip cookies. Double the chocolate chips.

@eddybles creamy chicken soup with dill dumplings and parsnips

@ScoopAdventurer My mom's's the only thing I can make that tastes exactly like her version and like home

@lornayee a coffee chiffon cake, the 1st cake I learned how to bake, and have made several hundred times over the years.

@chloerbass Funny, I'm on a similar train of thought today. Mine is either Caribbean pigeon peas & rice or pasta with pesto & peas.

@foodshots Shepherd's Pie - without a doubt!

@CannelleVanille for me it's gotta be either lentil soup with chorizo and chard or tortilla de patatas. Or arroz con leche. So many & all gf!

@naturallyfrugal Beef stew. The smell alone makes me think of my parents & cold rainy days on the Island.

@kickpleat That would have to be tuna melts!

@cynnims It's a little obvious I suppose, but roasted chicken. It's on the menu tonight, first dinner at home in a week.

@Hedonia Pasta with red sauce, basta.

@MarcSeattle really really really bitter coffee. :)

@Coriantura Either butter scotch pudding, or chili, both homemade. Can't make up my mind

@valenvitols @glutenfreegirl you know the answer in my case...arepas! :-D

Hungry yet?

What I loved, besides the fact that dozens and dozens of people shared their dishes, is that they were all different from each other. (Hm. Two votes for Shepherd's pie. I might have to work on that one soon.) If we were lucky enough to have parents who cooked decently, we love the meals our mother made us.

(I wonder what will be Little Bean's comfort food when she's older.)

Really, these all have to do with family.

This struck me especially hard today because I had just finished reading this moving piece about Thomas Keller in The New York Times when people's answers came pouring in. Thomas Keller, who is known for being a perfectionist genius, softened when he began cooking for his aging father.

After reading this (please, do), I hope you call your dad.

And then tell us about your food that tastes like home.

27 October 2009

needing more energy

Zing bar

It has been a busy few weeks around here. Again.

Last week, I was honored to be on KUOW's Weekday program, as part of a roundtable discussion about foodblogging, especially because I appeared with my dear friends Molly and Rebekah. If you click on that link, you can hear it (in podcast form, I think). And thank you to the many of you who called in with gluten-free questions! That was a lovely surprise.

And next week, I'll be teaching the Finding Your Food Voice class at Leite's Culinaria. On Monday, November 2nd, I'll be teaching a lecture/seminar class on how to find your voice in food writing. We’ll convene by telephone for a 2 1/2 hour conference call. The class will be both lecture and discussion, with plenty of laughter, I'm sure. A private podcast of this class, available only to participants, will be posted online for one month at no additional cost. There are only a few spots left, and I'd love to have you be part of the conversation. If you'd like to find out more about the class, and register to be part of this invigorating discussion, come on over here.

Of course, we are still up to our elbows in book edits. And writing two blogs. I wonder if it ever grows less busy when you have a toddler?

I need my energy more than ever now.

Are you feeling the need for a good gluten-free energy bar that actually tastes good? I've found one that works for me. Hop on over to Gluten-Free Girl Recommends to find out about it.

26 October 2009

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow

cooking in the Crockpot

In 1977, my 11-year-old self felt daring by staying up late for Saturday Night Live. Those were the best years, the Gilda Radner as Emily Litella saying "Never mind" years, the Wild and Crazy Guy when Steve Martin hosted years, the John Belushi as samurai guy years. You know, the funny years.

For some reason, of all the brilliant sketches I watched in my pajamas in the den with the shag carpeting, one of the bits I remember best was Garrett Morris dressed as a West African man on Weekend Update, asking for fondue sets.

"Namibia is an undeveloped nation, and we are appealing to you as world citizens. We need your fondue sets. Many people in the United States received these fondue sets as gifts for anniversaries, birthdays and housewarmings, and often put them up on a shelf and forget about them. There are thousands of Namibian housewives who could cheer up an otherwise dull dinner party with one of these sets. Oh, please think, please give, please send."

(Does anyone else remember this, or am I the only weirdo that thinks of this when she hears fondue?)

Fondue sets, with the little Sterno cans blazing brightly beneath them, and the tiny-tined forks ready for dipping, had already become a joke by 1977.

For years, that's how I used to think of slow cookers too.

Your mother had a slow cooker. You wondered what it was. It sat in the back of the pantry, gathering dust, the wide stoneware pot a place to put bowls and potholders. Maybe she pulled it out once in awhile to make some soup. Or maybe she took it to the thrift store one day in a wild cleaning binge, where it joined the 82 other slow cookers available for $2 each.

(That slow cooker probably was never as dusty as the iron in my parents' closet. When my brother was 8, he tugged on the stretchy striped cord, and it nearly toppled on his head. "What's this?" he asked. This was the age of polyblends and never-wrinkle fabric, after all. We had never seen it used before.)

Times have changed, of course, and doubled back on themselves. People have a sudden, passionate interest in canning, preserving, and making jams. We're growing gardens and learning how to compost. Half the cast of those years on Saturday Night Live are dead, the rest are grey-haired and kind of haggard, but the slow cooker is coming back.

I'm sure the folks who make the Crockpot are thrilled to bits. Especially now that Stephanie O'Dea's book, Make It Fast, Cook It Slow has been published. They should probably send her a lifetime supply of new crockpots.

If you don't know Stephanie's book, you might have heard of her blog, A Year of Slow Cooking. Compelled by that now-ubiquitous drive to do something for an entire year, Stephanie vowed to make dinner every night in her slow cooker. All I could imagine when I read her blog is that she must have lined up 10 or 15 slow cookers on her countertops for all the cooking she was doing. She began the blog, as so many of us do, with no idea of what would happen to her. Within a few months, she got lots of attention, ended up on the Rachael Ray Show, got a book deal with Hyperion, and appeared on Good Morning America last week.

Turns out that slow cookers can do some amazing things.

And, by the way, she and her family eat gluten-free. So with all this publicity also came good news for us gluten-free folks.

With this kind of build-up, and our mission to cook out of one cookbook each week, Danny and I decided to pull our slow cooker out of the pantry and plug it in.

 Lu helped me to bake for the first time.

And you know what? I enjoyed this much more than I imagined.

The only time I used the slow cooker in a consistent fashion was the last year before I met Danny. Still teaching high school, and so prying my eyes open in the darkness at 6, I sometimes seared a piece of meat and tossed it into the slow cooker, along with onions and celery, herbs and potatoes. By the late afternoon, when I returned home on the bus, the simmering smells pulled me up the stairs, where I found a lovely braised dish waiting for me.

But then I met Danny, and I stopped teaching high school. We began spending most of our time in the kitchen. The slow cooker was tucked away in the back of the cupboard.

Then, Little Bean turned into a toddler.

I never sit down anymore, unless I am writing at night. She walks with confidence, no longer holding her hands up to balance herself. (For weeks, she looked as though she was saying, "I surrender!" as she wobbled across the living room floor.) In fact, she's nearly running. We play music and dance, then she walks to the blocks, knocks some over, tries to get into the kitchen cupboards, slides her way into the one-inch space between the playpen and the wall to squirm past the barrier and run to the computer room to stand on her tiptoes to touch the mouse. Repeat, all over the house, with books and food and plush stuffed bunnies she hugs to her chin then drops like an old boyfriend. That's about 20 minutes. Repeat, again and again — adding talking and eating and playing and laughing — for hour upon hour, again and again, and you have one happy, healthy toddler, and one exhausted mama.

(Danny has been working a couple of days a week, so those are the days I'm on my own. When he's home, we tag team. There's a bit more rest. And on the afternoons where I'm pushing against deadline, Danny chases Little Bean around the house and ends up one exhausted papa.)

I love it. Every moment of it. Okay, not the moments when I'm so exhausted I could cry. Or the moments when I cannot stand in the kitchen for longer than ten minutes without her clinging to my pants, or figuring out the baby locks on the cupboard under the sink.

During those hours, there's not much elaborate cooking going on in our kitchen. And on those days, the slow cooker was a lifesaver.

Especially when I noticed that Little Bean was fascinated by the process. She's sturdy enough on her feet now that I could set her on a chair, next to me at the counter top. While I chopped yams and shallots for a stew later that night, she played with measuring cups and bottles of vanilla extract. We were cooking together.

(And actually, the photos from above are when we first baked together. That devastated me.)

That stew tasted better that night than I expected.

baked oats become oatmeal bars

So Make It Fast, Cook It Slow helped me to slow down and enjoy this more, knowing we'd still have a good dinner at the end of the night.

A number of the dishes made satisfying meals for us, dinner and lunch. The presidential chili in the book (based on a recipe for Obama's favorite chili, apparently) simmered all afternoon. By the time that Tita, John, and Meri showed up for dinner, it smelled like peppers and turkey, chiles and smoked paprika mingled. And better yet, I had bowls of warm food to feed my friends only half an hour after putting the exhausted toddler to bed. We enjoyed the chipotle chicken with sweet potatoes, although I will advise you to use less chipotle than we did. Simmer that all day and the roof of your mouth might come off with the first bite.

That's where slow cookers work best, I think. Chilis and stews, braised meats and main courses. There are plenty of those in Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, including the Indonesian peanut butter chicken curry I still want to make.

Not everything worked so well. I was genuinely excited about the slow cooker recipe for homemade yogurt, because I'd love to make our own. Little Bean could eat her weight in yogurt every day, it seems. However, at the end of the all-day process, I ended up with a jug of slightly thickened milk. (O'Dea put a packet of gelatin in the ingredients list but suggested it is optional. I'd like to suggest that with this recipe it's essential.)

We made the baked oatmeal recipe, using certified gluten-free oats, because O'Dea's description appealed so well. "The flavor is sweet, and it tastes like a huge oatmeal cookie." However, at the end of 4 hours, it didn't really hold together. It was a bit like dried-out oatmeal, with shriveled prunes.

However, we're going to make the recipe again, because we figured out something new to do with it. We let the baked oats cool, then beat 5 egg whites to stiff peaks. After combining them, we pressed the dough into a square pan and slid them into the oven. 15 minutes later, we had oatmeal bars.

Little Bean ate half of them.

And then there were the recipes I'm not likely to make in the slow cooker, if at all. Danny refused to do any of the seafood dishes in the slow cooker. ("You'll ruin the salmon," he told me.) I'm not sure he was right, looking at the dishes, particularly the seafood stew. But he was eating too, and we had to agree on the recipes. I dislike the cloying sweetness of a pumpkin spice latte at the coffee shop, so I wouldn't make it in the crockpot, either. And while I love the home-crafted spirit of the recipes, I'm not likely to make crayons in the slow cooker. Or candles, either.

Let's face it. Danny and I are not the target audience for this book. When we're not chasing the toddler around, we still spend more time in the kitchen than any room in the house. (Every day, she's spending more time there too.) We're finishing up a cookbook. We love to be in front of the stove.

But I think this book would be perfect for someone who is recently diagnosed with celiac, or who doesn't trust her cooking skills yet. As O'Dea wrote: "I am not the best in the kitchen, and before this challenge, had no idea which spices went well together and why. I have certainly expanded my culinary expertise through this exercise, but I would never consider myself to be a good cook. I like having fun. I treat the Slow Cooker as an Easy-Bake oven for grown-ups."

That's what I love about O'Dea's voice, and I why I think you would too. She's honest. She'll tell you when a dish didn't work. She lists what her young kids thought of each dish so that you can avoid the sight of a plate untouched. She's funny and confident and wonderfully accessible.

So many people will benefit from this book. So many people will start cooking after reading Make It Fast, Cook It Slow. That's the only point, for all of us, in all this work — that more and more people move into the kitchen and begin to feel confident.

And I can tell you this: our slow cooker is not going back into the pantry after this week. This has inspired me to throw in some grits before we go to bed, so Little Bean can have some breakfast when she wakes up ravenous. I will still be simmering stews and soups, long into this winter.

The fondue pot, however? That went to Namibia.

We were sent this cookbook by Hyperion, and we were grateful to receive it. Now, we'd like to offer a copy to the next person who would like to use it. Stephanie has kindly volunteered to send out a signed copy herself! Tell us a story about slow cooking, or cooking with toddlers, or your favorite autumn stew, and we'll choose a comment at random and send you this book!

spiced pumpkin soup with roasted pumpkin seeds

Jamaican Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk, adapted from Make It Fast, Cook It Slow

Danny can't resist fiddling with a recipe the second time he makes it. It's in his nature. But he has always told me: make every recipe once, as written, then make it yours.

We are hoping you do that with our cookbook.

So we made this pumpkin soup in the slow cooker, using the suggested spices and servings. It was good. But it felt just a little flat to us. Maybe that's because I didn't grate the fresh ginger into the soup, the way we should have. (I must have been tired when I read this.) So we added a touch more ginger, a touch more nutmeg, more than a pinch of salt.

Stephanie suggested finishing the soup with cream. But Danny wanted to try coconut milk, to make this soup gluten-free and dairy-free.

Hell yeah. This soup is so easy to make, if you have a slow cooker, an immersion blender, and a can of coconut milk. It's full of fall spices, with the subtle sweetness of pumpkin, and a touch of something wonderful with the coconut milk.

3-pound fresh pumpkin
1 red onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 yams, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar
6 cups water 5 ounces coconut milk, more or less, depending on your taste
1 tablespoon pumpkin seed oil (you can substitute olive oil if you don't have pumpkin)

Preparing the pumpkin. Cut both ends off the pumpkin. Peel the skin with a sharp knife. Cut the pumpkin in half. Scrape away the seeds. Wash the pulp off the seeds, then set them aside. Chop the pumpkin flesh into 8 pieces.

Cooking the soup. Put the pumpkin pieces, the red onion, celery, yams, garlic, and ginger into the slow cooker. Sprinkle in the salt, turmeric, allspice, nutmeg, and sugar. Pour in the water. Stir it all up. Cover the crock pot and cook the soup on low, for about 8 hours.

Finishing the soup. When the soup is fully cooked and smelling delicious, pour in the coconut milk. Stir up the soup and let it simmer until the coconut milk is fully incorporated. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until is completely blended. Taste the soup, then season with salt and pepper, and touch more nutmeg, to taste.

Toasting the pumpkin seeds. Put the pumpkin seeds in a nonstick pan on the stove, over low heat. Drizzle them with the pumpkin seed oil. Move the pan around on the burner, occasionally, until the seeds are toasted, about 10 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Feeds 8.

23 October 2009

looks a little different around here

pumpkins in the field

Have you noticed? The pumpkins waiting to be plucked from muddy fields, destined to perch on porch steps? Or the way the leaves have started to droop on the trees, even as they grow more vibrant? Or how woodsmoke curls through the air, rising toward the grey skies, as you drive by farms or houses with burn piles?

It's fall.

The change of seasons always feels like a time to step back and contemplate where we have been. And let me tell you, people, this was one heck of a summer. Picnics with friends, trips to San Francisco, a major surgery, sleep deprivation. Mostly, a lot of sleep deprivation. I think every Twitter message I wrote for months began with "a cup of hot coffee..." (Come to think of it, they still do.) There were family gatherings, walks along the beach, and trying to teach a toddler how to sleep again. We had strings of days of friends taking the ferry and sitting in our backyard, talking and eating, waving hands at Little Bean, and not leaving until the light started to fade from the sky at 9 pm.

And in every moment in between: working, baking, writing, tweaking, re-writing, tearing hair, laughing at it all. Then, back for more editing.

Now, it's pitch-black dark at 7. We don't need that curtain on the window to convince Little Bean it's time to sleep. Our friends are staying closer to home in the city, drinking hot chocolate and making pies. It's much more quiet around here.

Time for a re-design of this site.

It has been well over a year since this little website had a new look. Season after season passed with the same rooster and chicken holding court on the porch up there. We've moved away from that house now. (And, I'm sad to say, that beautiful rooster was killed by coyotes just before we left.) I think this website has looked one way since before Little Bean was born.

Boy, how much has changed since then?

So it's a fresh start around here.

See up top? All those buttons? You can navigate more easily now. You can read about us. You can find all the recommendations we have in one place. You can find the recipes gathered. You can watch any video you like. You can read what other people have said about this site. And you can find all the links — dozens and dozens of them — to other sources of information about celiac, living gluten-free joyfully, and other food people who have become friends.

Really, you could spend hours on this site now. (If you have the time for that, we tip our hats to you!)

Perhaps the biggest change is one that has been a long time coming — the name of this site. Danny has been in my life for over three years, far longer than the one year I wrote before him. He has influenced every recipe, every photograph, every choice of spices. I could not live without him, and I certainly cannot write without him. We love this space, and we share it together. And so, as it should be, the name of this place is now....

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

(It's about time.)

We really can't take claim for this beautiful site. That's all the doing of Kaytlyn Sanders, the powerhouse behind Beneficial Design. She has been tweaking and creating beautiful new features on this site for years now, and we're lucky enough to have her as a friend, as well.

She has also helped to design Cannelle and Vanille, Tea and Cookies, and Dana Treat's beautiful site. So, if you are looking to make your blog suit your style more, you'd be wise to talk to Kaytlyn.

We're so happy to be here now.

carmelized apple bread pudding

And the re-design (plus the editing and sleep deprivation) explains why we haven't been here as much as we had hoped this week.

But come back next week. You don't want to miss the recipe for this caramelized apple bread pudding.

Looks like fall to me.

19 October 2009

Soul of a New Cuisine

The Soul of a New Cuisine

Two autumns ago, when Danny was still working full-time as a chef, and we were still living in Seattle, I sat in a Starbucks in Madison Park, excited.

Marcus Samuelsson would be there soon.

His glorious cookbook, The Soul of a New Cuisine, had come out the year before, and we had been dog-earing pages and ogling photographs all that time. The paperback had been brought out by Starbucks, who sponsored his tour across the States. That's why I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting to hear one of the best chefs in America speak about Africa.

First of all, I have to tell you that Marcus Samuelsson is beautiful. I don't mean in a Hollywood kind of way. He has absorbing eyes and a grace that's rare to see. There's something special about this man, something mesmerizing.

When the time came for questions, I raised my hand. I knew that Samuelsson had written this book with the hopes of encouraging chefs and home cooks to turn toward the cuisines of the African continent more often, to create new dishes with the flavors of Morocco and Ethiopia, Senegal and South Africa. So I asked him, "Is there any one dish from Africa that you wish people in the States ate too?"

Immediately, he said, "It's not a dish. It's ubuntu. I wish people here ate with ubuntu."

In his book, Samuelsson wrote, "Whenever I pick up the newspaper and read a story about Africa, it's almost always negative: war, famine, AIDS, corruption. And it's true that a lot of bad things happen in Africa. But this is not the only Africa I know. I know an Africa that is a land of great beauty, and of beautiful people. It's a land of ubuntu — "I am what I am because of who we all are" — the idea is that there is a universal bond of sharing that connects all people, and calls for humanity toward others. This word...defines a traditional African spirit that I saw connecting and unifying people throughout the continent....In Africa you are surrounded by people everywhere you go, and the spirit of community is embracing, even in the most impoverished areas. "

At that Starbucks, in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Seattle, Samuelsson talked about ubuntu in food. How it is an honor and responsibility across Africa to feed your friends and neighbors, to welcome everyone to the table. Even if you have very little money, you spend what you have to make sure that everyone eats.

I have never forgotten that comment.

And it is with that ubuntu spirit that Samuelsson wrote The Soul of a New Cuisine. Here, there is such a generosity of spirit, a sharing of culture, and a willingness to cross beyond the borders of nations to create the best food possible. What other cookbook has a foreward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Samuelsson didn't seem to write this to become famous. He wanted to help us all to cook with more flavors and start to savor a continent that is all too easy to ignore.

This is, perhaps, why it is one of the best cookbooks that we own.

We've been cooking out of it all week.

some of the flavors of Soul of a New Cuisine

Unlike last week, when we cooked out of a book entirely new to us, we chose to go back to one we had loved before. Danny once did an entire month's menu based on the cuisine of Africa after reading this book. So I already knew that the black-eyes peas dish is unexpectedly creamy, the chili-spiced lamb sandwiches are addictive, and the chocolate pancakes with bananas flambe are fabulous. (They're also easy to convert to gluten-free, since they only call for 5 tablespoons of flour.)

But no matter how many recipes we had tried before, we certainly had not cooked all of them. How many dishes do you make out of a cookbook, generally? Even the ones you love? From what I understand from publishers and culinary conferences, the average cookbook is only opened 5 times. And the owners of that book generally make only 1 recipe.

That statistic is a little depressing to think about when you are writing a cookbook, as we are, and taking meticulous care with each recipe.

So this week, we doubled back and started making more recipes from The Soul of a New Cuisine. And in doing so, we brought more flavors into our kitchen, once again.

In the photograph above, in the top left-hand corner, is duqqa (also spelled dukka), a spice mix originally from the Middle East, and now popular all over North Africa, especially in Egypt. The recipe for it in Samuelsson's book calls for hulled pumpkin seeds, peanuts, peppercorns, and thyme, among other ingredients. On the top right is berbere, the densely layered spice mix used in nearly every Ethiopian dish, with fennugreek and chiles, paprika and ginger. On the lower right is a spiced butter, also from Ethiopian cuisine, which is a clarified butter infused with spices, including turmeric, which is why it's so yellow. And on the left are cardamom pods, which have such a heavenly scent I would make everything with them some days, if I could.

The spice mixes are especially important in cooking from this book, because cooks in Africa don't rely on salt and pepper, the way we do here, or olive oil or lard. Instead, it is the spice mixes that build layers of flavor.

Let me tell you — that spice butter alone is worth making from this book. I clarified butter late at night, tired from writing, at that nearly-midnight state of mind. But the smells woke me up. And the chicken thighs coated in berbere and roasted with spiced butter were better than almost any chicken I have eaten in months. Because the berbere and spiced butter were in our kitchen, I had dinner in 15 minutes.

I love that Samuelsson offers traditional recipes in this cookbook, but he also makes up new ones, fusing the flavors and techniques with west and southern Africa, or a little bit of Asian. Reflecting the way of eating in Africa, he also encourages readers to have good ingredients and then measure by instinct, in pinches and handfuls, rather than teaspoons and cups. That made me enjoy these meals even more than I would have if I had cooked with a furrowed brow and highlighter pen.

It's clear that Samuelsson just wants his readers to cook good food.

salmon soaking in oil

And cook good food this week we did. We made the lentil stew with brussels sprouts instead of fava beans, and we ate it happily for days. The creamed swiss chard with turmeric, cabbage, and cream is my new favorite way to eat that vegetable. I want to make the pumpkin mash for Thanksgiving.

My only problem was with the injera recipe, which relies on wheat flour instead of only teff. I know that Samuelsson was trying to make injera accessible for typical Americans, but I want to learn the traditional method!

Still, I stopped complaining when I ate the salmon skewers with tamarind sauce. Here is the salmon, sitting in oil before being coated in a thick sauce of tamarind paste, curry powder, red wine vinegar, and wine. The recipe calls for these to be grilled, but we just used the last of our propane tank last week. So Danny seared them, then finished them in the oven. The tangy taste of the tamarind, the slight sweetness, the heft of a complex sauce reduced well? They made the salmon memorable, something different. We've been eating salmon for months, and we both wanted more of this.

So did Little Bean.

That's one of the main reasons we'd like to recommend The Soul of a New Cuisine to you. There are many, many incredible cookbooks in the world. They all deserve food-stained pages. But this is the only cookbook we know that honors the diverse cuisines of the continent we seem to forget. We want our daughter to grow up with many flavors in her memory. Instead of nagging her to clean her plate because people are starving in Africa, we want to offer her plantain-crusted yellowtail, doro wett, and bobotie sometimes.

We hope that she grows up with ubuntu in her heart.

We think you would enjoy this cookbook too, which is why we are giving away a copy of it this week. Leave a comment telling us about your favorite foods from African cuisine, or why you want to learn it, or how you express ubuntu through food in your community. We would like to hear.

squash-apple fritters

Apple-Squash Fritters, adapted from Soul of a New Cuisine

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon with our good friends, Matt and Danika. We would hang out with them any day, for any reason, but this time we had work. There was baking and making of food to be done. We made the bread recipe for our book one more time (score! they loved it) and some doughnuts to try for a friend (they didn't work gluten-free, yet, but they will, soon) and these fritters to fry up in peanut oil.

When I saw the recipe for these fritters, inspired by South Africa's Cape Malay cuisine, I knew this had to be one of the recipes for this week. Apples and squash are both in season now. And with the original recipe calling for only 1/3 of a cup of flour, we figured it would be pretty easy to adapt gluten-free.

We laughed as the kids played at the toy kitchen or climbed on the couch, chattering away, then dancing. (Little Bean LOVES their little guy. We call him her boyfriend.) The roasted apples and squash smelled good enough to eat in that state, but we waited. Danny mashed them with a fork, and I thought of harvest feasts. He shaped them into soft balls and heated up the peanut oil. We all hovered at the stove in anticipation. Finally, they were ready.

Matt and I are both dorky enough that we stood over the wooden table in the corner, taking photographs, instead of eating them right away. Little Bean, as you can see, was smarter. She started to grab one, so we moved back into the kitchen to try one.


"Oh my god," we all moaned. We went back to silent chewing. These have a slightly crisp crust and a soft squash and apple ooze inside. The garam masala gives them just enough savory taste that you could serve these alongside game or pork. All I know is that I agree with Matt: "I could eat so many of these that I'd be physically sick, and I'd still want more."

These are going to be on our Thanksgiving table, to be sure.

2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch cubes (we used Jonagolds)
2 pounds Kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour plus 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 cups peanut oil

Preheating. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Roasting the apples, squash, and garlic. Put the apple and squash pieces, plus the garlic cloves, on a baking sheet. Brush them with the olive oil. Roast in the oven until the garlic has softened, about 15 minutes. Take out the garlic and put the baking sheet back in the oven. Roast the apple and squash until they are soft, about 20 more minutes.

Making cinnamon sugar. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together.

Mashing the squash mixture. Put the roasted apples, squash, and garlic in a large bowl. Mash them all together with a fork or potato masher. Add the garam masala, salt, cornstarch, the sorghum flour, 1/4 cup of the sweet rice flour, and xanthan gum. Stir until combined. Shape the dough, which will be soft, into 2-inch balls. Roll the balls in the remaining sweet rice flour.

Frying the fritters. Heat the peanut oil in a deep pot (make sure no little ones are nearby) until it reaches 350° on a candy thermometer. Lower the squash balls into the oil, gently, and let them fry, turning them once in a while, until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Take the fritters out of the oil with a slotted spoon, pausing to let the oil drip back into the pot, and put them on paper towels.

Sprinkle the fritters with the cinnamon sugar and eat as soon as they are cool enough to touch.

Feeds 4 hungry adults, plus a couple of little ones.

16 October 2009

Friday island photos: the cider festival

apple tasting at the cider festival

Last weekend, on the island, there was an apple cider festival.

Of course, there was cider, pressed from island apples by island folks, by the glass, the jug, and the barrel. Sweet and mellow, with just a hint of tartness — the cider spoke of autumn.

But the main event, in tents off the Saturday farmers' market, was the apple demonstration.

70 different kinds of apples. 70! Heirlooms, common varieties, and even apples so new they didn't have names yet.

We were a bit daunted. How would we taste them all?

Pristine apple

Each apple had a name, a type, and a sharp knife by it, in case you wanted to taste it.

I love that they carved the name of this one into the apple.

This Pristine apple appears in early August, far before most other apples.

fruit club volunteer

All the apples were sliced and offered by members of the island's fruit club. A fruit club! They gather together to discuss pruning and grafting, and then have potlucks afterwards.

We're going to join soon.

Holstein apple

This was one of my favorites.

I had never seen a Holstein in a market before. It's grown through grafting, apparently. But it's wonderful. It tastes like finished cider, instead of the raw fruit.

sometimes the best apples have worm holes

I love that sometimes the best apples have worm holes in them. These probably wouldn't sell in the grocery store.

 the apple without a name

And this apple, wonderful for dessert on its own, is so new that it doesn't have a name yet. Dr. Bob Norton, who runs the island fruit club, created them his orchards.

I wish we could have stayed for hours and sampled another 20 kinds of apples.

the band that played that day

Just off the apple tents was a space for the toddlers. And this band.

This is such an island band.

man riding a chicken

And parading through it all, a man and his chicken.

What, you've never seen a man riding a giant chicken?

(Actually, this is one of the performers in UMO, this wacko incredibly talented performance art group that has been on the island for years. Stefan built this chicken costume himself.)

This is where we live.

15 October 2009

gluten-free English muffins

gluten-free English muffins

Whenever I have felt just a mite constricted about being known as a "gluten-free blogger," instead of someone who loves food and the chance to write about it, I have tended to say, Yeah, like all people want is a gluten-free English muffin recipe. The rest doesn't matter.

I don't know why I always chose this example. Maybe it's because I grew up eating Thomas English muffins, the flat discs that came in the little trough of a package wrapped in plastic. I'm not sure I had ever eaten a good English muffin before. I liked the packaged ones — melting butter topped with a spoonful of raspberry jam, a steaming mug of black tea to the side — but I didn't miss them much. Life's just fine without an English muffin, thank you.

But these past few months, I've had some baking revelations. Some scientific ones — the ratios and flours that work best in our kitchens — arose from the urgency of finishing the book. But more, I've had a softening. I have found myself, quite often, standing before the counter in front of the bay window, sifting flours, drizzling in oils, and preparing sheet pans with parchment paper.

I spend too much time in front of the computer by the nature of my work. Baking helps my cramped fingers unfurl, like flowers moving toward the emerging sun. When flour and softened butter are clumped in the palm of my hand, I feel at ease. I'm not worried about the work yet to be done. I'm just moving toward the next step in the recipe.

Plus, the kitchen always smells good — brown sugar and vanilla, poppy seeds, roasted bananas — and now Little Bean toddles towards me, trying to discover the source of the scent with her nose.

I really do love baking, and it's time to take it up again. Yesterday, the wind lashed the windows wet with rain and the trees blew side to side so violently that the kid looked up in amazement as we sat on the porch. It's growing dark by 6:30 now. Time for hot chocolate. Time to pull out the muffin tins.

Hell with the fact that gluten-free baked goods are different than gluten ones. (Not always worse. Sometimes, they are better.) I'm not looking to reach some Platonic ideal anymore.

I'm just baking.

So when I found this lovely, lovely post by Sara at Culinerapy, all about her husband Paul and how much she loves him, and how much he loved the English muffins she made from scratch? I wrote her a note to say how grateful I was to have read her sharing. And then I pulled the flour bin down from the top shelf and started making English muffins.

And now I want to share them with you. I'm happy to be a gluten-free blogger. I am. I'm saying yes to it.

Here they are — imperfect and homey, flecked with yellow cornmeal, a touch easy to burn, sure to delight — English muffins from scratch, gluten-free.

poached eggs on English muffins

Gluten-Free English Muffins, adapted from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice

You may be aware that dozens of intrepid food bloggers have been systematically baking their way through Peter Reinhart's master tome, in what they are calling The BBA Challenge. For months I watched their attempts and successes with a distant interest, enjoying the pictures but not thinking I would join in.

But after I read Sara's post, I knew I had to make these English muffins. Our friend Lara loaned me her copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and I dove in. I must have looked pretty funny, this gluten-free girl studying a bread book. But this is how I have begun to bake foods I'm starting to love. I study the best bakers and what they do.

This recipe yields English muffins different than the ones you'll see in the BBA Challenge. These may not puff up quite as much as the homemade gluten ones do. They don't have quite the same spectacular nooks and crannies of the traditional ones. Nothing gluten-free will ever be exactly the same as the gluten ones. But that's okay. That's what I have learned. I don't want to copy. I want these to be my own.

For the past two months, we've been eating these English muffins for breakfast. They're easy to toss together. They're fun to watch toast in the skillet. And they hold melting butter wonderfully well.

When Sharon visited last month, we ate English muffins with poached eggs. The girl loves her gluten. But these? "These are really, really good," she said, in between bites and the silence of chewing.

That's all I really want when I bake gluten-free — to make good food that makes people happy.

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup corn flour (this is cornmeal ground into a flour, NOT cornstarch)
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons canola oil

Mixing the dry ingredients. Sift each of the flours into the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can use your biceps and spatula, if you don't have a stand mixer.) Add the gums, the sugar, salt, and yeast. Mix well.

Adding the wet ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, pour in 3/4 cup of the buttermilk, butter, and egg. The dough should be smooth and just a touch sticky. If it feels stiff, add the remaining buttermilk. Keep running the mixer for a few minutes, to allow the dough to form more fully. (But remember, no need to knead!)

Letting it rise. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Settle it in a warm place in your kitchen. (If you have trouble getting doughs to rise, try putting the bowl on a wire rack, which sits on top of a large bowl of hot water. You can replace the cooled water with hot water every 1/2 hour or so, if you wish.) Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel. Allow the dough to ferment for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Shaping the muffins. Line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle cornmeal on it, liberally. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. While it may not be entirely possible to shape them into boules, the way a gluten dough does so easily, you can roll the balls around a bit until they feel smooth. Put the balls of dough on the cornmeal-covered sheet tray. Cover them with a clean dishtowel in a warm spot for another 60 minutes, until the pieces have swelled a bit.

Cooking the muffins. Preheat the oven to 350°. Put a large skillet over medium heat (a cast-iron skillet is ideal). Add just a touch of canola oil. Carefully transfer 3 of the dough balls to the skillet with a metal spatula and cook until they are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes on each side. (If you burn one, it's not the end of the world. I did, at first.) Transfer them back to the sheet pan and cook the remaining three dough balls.

Bake the muffins in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes to make sure the middle is cooked. The finished English muffin should have a bit of a hollow thump when you tap the top. Take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack.

Here is the important part: you must allow the English muffins to cool for at least 30 minutes before you touch them. Otherwise, they will fall apart.

When you are ready to eat them, split them open with a fork, gently. This is what makes the nooks and crannies you associate with English muffins.

Makes 6 English muffins.

14 October 2009

how to chop an onion (a video)

So, it has been awhile since we put up a video here. We've been wanting to do one. Truly.

But life just kept crowding in.

No more. Here we go.

Long ago, Danny and I did a photo post on how to chop an onion. A number of you have said how helpful that post was to you in the kitchen. (It was for me, too. I can't tell you how many times I sneaked back to that post to look at the photos before I chopped an onion. My chopping skills are more sure now, but it took me all this time to feel confident about it.) And a number of you have written over the years, asking if we could do a video, so you could see it in action.

We listen.

This is also part of our new series for Wednesday posts: chef technique videos.

When we have done videos in the past, we have shown you how to make recipes. But now, Danny would really like to demonstrate technique. Interspersed through the essays and recipes in our cookbook, Danny teaches basic techniques that chefs know but home cooks might not. But we can't wait a year to start sharing.

So we're going to share here. We'll start with the fundamentals and move onto more exotic techniques as the year goes on. Do you have something you would like to learn? Let us know.

We'll be back every Wednesday.

So let's start at the beginning. How to chop an onion.

And if you would like to watch the entire process, without our commentary, here's a video of Danny cutting an onion in silence.

See you next Wednesday with another video.

p.s. a technical question for you. We put the first video on Vimeo, the second on YouTube. A number of you have complained in the past that the audio and video start to lose sync on Vimeo. Is that true here? (If so, does anyone know what to do about this? I sure don't!) Is the quality okay on YouTube? We're neophytes at this one. Help us out.

13 October 2009

writing classes and recommendations

Lu's breakfast (version 2)

Hey there.

Some of you may be wondering — Shauna, didn't you just post last night? Why are you back, talking with us so soon?

I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to be around here more often again.

We're still in the middle of edits. Little Bean walks fast across the living room, straight toward the one dish cupboard we can't put baby locks on. We write another blog, three times a week, which occupies my mind, happily. I'm working on another book. Somewhere in there is sleep (sometimes).

So why write here more often?

Simple. Because I love it here.

I love talking with you. Telling stories. Coming up with recipes. Taking photographs against the dying light outside. Wondering how best to say what I feel. And mostly, the food. Oh, the food that feeds us, that occupies our minds, that keeps me and Danny talking late into the night. We're always bubbling with ideas.

We want to share.

So here I am. On Tuesdays, I'm going to share any announcements, plus a recommendation. Here goes.

I'm teaching a class on Finding Your Voice.

Next month, I'll be teaching again. And I'd love to have you in the class.

David Leite, of the incredible Leite's Culinaria, has assembled a respected group of teachers and writers to teach classes on the publishing world, writing a cookbook, pitching to magazines, and how to write the perfect recipe. I'm humbled and happy to be one of the group with David, Renee Schettler, and Dianne Jacob.

On Monday, November 2nd, I'll be teaching a lecture/seminar class on how to find your voice in food writing. We’ll convene by telephone for a 2 1/2 hour conference call. The class will be both lecture and discussion, with plenty of laughter, I'm sure. A private podcast of this class, available only to participants, will be posted online for one month at no additional cost.

To quote myself:

"Finding your voice will lead your readers to good food and shared meals. Voice is more than word choice, sentence construction, and punctuation, although those are important elements. Your voice conveys your personality, your decisions, and your biases that make you interesting to the reader. Think of this: would you rather share a kitchen with Anthony Bourdain or Laurie Colwin? Jeffrey Steingarten or Ruth Reichl? If you knew which writer with whom you’d like to chop onions, it’s probably because you like his or her voice."

If you'd like to find out more about the class, and register to be part of this invigorating discussion, come on over here.

I really would love to have you in class.

I've been nominated for a Food Buzz award.

I'm also honored to announce that this site has been nominated for a Food Buzz award: Healthy Living blog.

Now, I have to admit, I sort of love the fact that a site that applauds butter, pork, baked goods, and sugar (among other foods) has been nominated for this award. Thank you!

But there are also some wonderful folks in this category, websites I found through the nominations:

Carrots ‘n Cake
Eat, Live, Run
Healthy Tipping Point
Kath Eats

They are all inspiring sites, all deserving of the award.

If you should wish to vote for this site, however, please click here.

You need some silicone financier molds.

There's a reason why I put a picture of polenta on top. Want to know why? Click on over to Gluten-Free Girl Recommends to find out.

That site has been on summer hiatus. But now, it's back!

12 October 2009

Modern Spice

the leftover five-spice squash

Fresh curry leaves. Pomegranate seeds. Turmeric that leaves little trails of neon-yellow dollops on saucers. Brown basmati rice. Fenugreek. Coconut milk-simmered chicken. Cardamom pods.

These have been the flavors of our kitchen this week.

What a feast it has been, thanks to Modern Spice.

fennel and chiles

You see, Danny and I are still deep in the throes of final edits for the cookbook. We slip into working on our editors' comments on recipes when Little Bean has gone to bed, after we have eaten our dinner while watching Jeopardy on the couch. (I may have the literature questions, but Danny kicks my butt on geography.)

Our days might look mundane from the outside — reading books to Little Bean, picking up the pile of books that Bean has taken off the shelves to "read" by herself, breakfast lunch and dinner together about the same time every day, trips to the playground, cuddles and wonder at hearing her talk, waiting for naps, a dance party to Caspar Babypants every evening about 6 — but to us they are wild and alive. There is never enough time.

Especially when it comes to editing. We are exhausted. I hunch toward the computer screen late at night, trying to decipher comments through the blue squiggles of tracking changes, then I have to ask Danny, "How long will it take for potatoes to cook until they are fork tender?" Or we wonder together how to best describe the texture of pumpkin soup, or veal stock after it has simmered for six hours. Most evenings we are baking — Asian pear tart, one more time — measuring and writing, comparing notes. I'm not complaining. I'm grateful for this chance.

But I do know this: I never had any idea how much work goes into producing a cookbook.

To everyone who has ever written a cookbook? We salute you.

And this work we have been doing has inspired an idea, a new feature here on the site. We're going to start cooking out of one cookbook each week, to delve into its flavors and make at least 10 recipes to know its rhythms (and whether or not they work). If we love what we make, we'll recommend it to you.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, I gave away all my baking books and some of my favorite cookbooks. Erroneously, I believed that I'd have to eat a "special diet" all my life. It only took me a couple of weeks to realize that was ridiculous. But that was after I had kneeled down on the carpet in front of the "special diets" section of the cookbook collection of Queen Anne Books in Seattle, then chose a fistful of cookbooks to take home.

Somehow, I got the message that big, glossy cookbooks were beyond my reach. I thought I had to look for "gluten-free" cookbooks. None of that is true.

Anyone new to this? We want you to know that good food is yours, if you want it.

And those of you reading who can eat anything? We're sure you need another great cookbook, dog-eared and stained, on your shelf.

You should definitely buy Modern Spice.

Be prepared to have fennel rub and dried red chiles in your kitchen soon.

roasted cauliflower with fennel-chile rub

Monica Bhide, the author of Modern Spice, is a graceful and generous writer. Born in India, she has lived outside of Washington D.C. since the early 1990s. This makes her cooking grounded in both the traditions of India and the United States. Although she has written two cookbooks before this, somehow Modern Spice feels to me like her life's work. Clearly, she hopes to inspire more of us to cook with Indian spices and flavorings, without the burden of having to cook for days and stick entirely to traditional ways. More than that, however, the book has the urgency of the deeply personal.

As she writes:

"I understand the soul of Indian cuisine; I understand the dishes, their roots, and the richness of history that surrounds the food. It is this knowledge that sets me free and gives me the freedom to play with them, to evolve the dishes. Growing up in the Middle East, I learned authentic Indian dishes from the talented and knowledgeable hands of my father and mother. During frequent visits to India, I moved from my grandmother's kitchen to those of my mother's cousins and friends, along the way gathering delightful anecdotes and learning authentic recipes. Fifteen years ago I moved to the United States, and since then Indian cooking that I learned has changed so much. All these experiences are what I am sharing with you in Modern Spice."

This is what I love in a cookbook — the feeling when you read that you are holding in your hands the best that author could give.

Besides that, all these recipes work. And how.

When I made the red chile, garlic, and basil chicken, Danny and I both wondered if it would work. A pan full of shallots and only 1 1/2 pounds of cubed chicken? But I trusted Monica and made the recipe as written. (Danny has taught me this. Make every recipe once, just as it is written. Only afterwards should you change it.) 20 minutes later, we had a satisfying pile of chicken and chiles, tender shallots, turmeric and basil on top of our steamed basmati rice. "Wow," Danny kept saying, as he spooned more in his mouth. There were no leftovers.

I loved the pomegranate shrimp, the red seeds dotted against yellow shrimp (turmeric really does stain everything that color), hot with chile flakes and garlic, fresh with curry leaves and coriander. That plate emptied fast too.

There was cilantro-mint chutney (incredible and simple both), roasted spicy fig yogurt (I would eat this for breakfast every morning if I could), butternut squash stew with jaggery (but mine was with palm sugar, since I couldn't find jaggery anywhere). The whole roast chicken with fenugreek will make you taste roast chicken new.

Mostly, though, I loved the simplest recipes. The brown basmati rice with pine nuts, mint, and pomegranate. And the fennel-red chile dry rub works with everything. Simple, simple — fennel seeds, dried red chiles, peppercorns. Somehow, it manages to smell like Christmas. We patted it on escolar, a firm-fleshed white fish, and ate them up near midnight last week. One of my favorite tastes of the entire time? The roasted cauliflower with the fennel rub. I could have eaten an entire head of it myself. But I saved half for breakfast the next day. Little Bean ate every piece.

That rub won't last long in this kitchen.

mango rice pudding

And late at night, after hours of editing, the rice pudding with mango parfait tasted like the sweet release of sleep.

I made the rice pudding after reading Monica's lyrical essay about the first time she made it in Virginia, just after she arrived in the States. Flattened by loneliness and culture shock, she cooked to assuage her sadness. When the pudding didn't work, she burst into tears and left the kitchen to call her mother. Half an hour later, she remembered the pudding:

"...I rushed out to see the milk and rice in perfect unison. The cardamom had taken over the air in the room. The pudding, thick and creamy, was at a perfect simmer. My roommate took a spoonful. 'Wow, it's sweet, but it's good. Is it like a rice pudding of some sort?'"

Just after, the man who would become her husband walked in to taste the rice pudding. That was the first time he tasted her cooking.

It's stories like these, and the other open-hearted essays scattered through the book, that made me fall in love with Modern Spice. The food we ate this week is what gave the book a permanent place on our shelves.

We think you'd like this book too. So we're giving away a copy of Modern Spice. Leave a comment about why you think this book will be useful to you in the kitchen, and we'll pick a winner by random at the end of the week.

Also, for the purposes of transparency, we'd like to tell you that this book was sent to us by the publisher, who wanted us to take a look at it. We would buy it on our own, however.

five-spice Danish squash

Danish Squash with Five Spices, ever so slightly adapted from Modern Spice. The voice of the directions is that of Monica Bhide.

This was one of my favorite recipes in the book, particularly because it's squash season right now. The original called for acorn squash, but I found a firm, green Danish squash at our farmstand that day. Danish squash it is, then. And this dish had a kick to it.

For this recipe, you'll need paanch phoron, which is a five-spice blend common to Bengali cooking. (It's black mustard seeds, onion seeds, fenugreek, fennel seeds, and cumin.) This also works on so many dishes that you won't regret the purchase. You'll also need shallots, a green serrano chile, and some warm honey.

That's one of the parts of cooking from Modern Spice that I liked best. As adventurous as we can be in the kitchen, we can fall into a rut of flavors too. We didn't have any paanch phoron in the cupboard. Now, we do. Thank goodness. That means we can make this again.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons paanch phoron
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
2 large or 4 small shallots, peeled and diced
1 small green serrano chile, minced (and if you don't like that much heat, de-seeded)
1 dried red whole chile
1 medium (about 3 1/2 cups) Danish squash (or acorn, or Delicata, or...), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup water
warm honey (optional)
1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)

Heat the oil in a deep lidded saucepan over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the cumin seeds, paanch phoron, garlic, and shallots. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the shallots begin to change color.

Add the green chile, red chile, and the squash and mix well. Add the salt and turmeric and mix. Raise the heat and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the squash just begins to brown.

Add water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the squash is soft and the water has almost dried up, about 20 minutes (it was more like 35 minutes on our stove).

Serve hot. Drizzle with warm honey and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, if you wish.

Serves 4.

05 October 2009

where life leads you

Danny snags the last anchovy

I remember the feeling clearly.

Newly diagnosed with celiac, I felt relieved that I had found the answer to what ailed my body. I felt determined to stick to this, to heal myself. I felt sort of giddy that I could grow well by eating good food, instead of enduring terrible treatments and a lifetime of drugs. Mostly, gratitude.

But I also felt a certain sadness. This wasn't necessarily about the fact that I would never eat gluten again. I knew, in my gut, that I needed to avoid it. Immediately, baguettes and flapjacks started looking like attacks to my system. That part? With a little time, I could grow used to that.

The sadness stemmed from all the reading I did on the internet and guidebooks at the time (four years ago now), from a fact everyone seemed to insist upon: I would never eat in a restaurant again.

The cross-contamination issues are too dangerous. You don't want to chance it. If you must eat in a restaurant, order a plain salad with no dressing. Order meat with no marinade, and no sides. Sit, politely, while everyone else enjoys her food and hope that you don't grow sick.

You see, this is why I started cooking seriously, for the first time in my life. Why I started discovering so much about food, and loving it, and wanting to share. Why I started this site. I thought, "Okay, if I'm never going to eat in a restaurant again, I'd better learn how to make my meals worthy of my own attention."

I had no idea where all this would lead.

Danny enjoying prosciutto ice cream

I had no idea, in 2005, that I would meet a man who is a chef, that we would fall in love and marry each other, that he would turn his restaurant gluten-free for me (and feed hundreds and hundreds of people that way). Or that we would end up working together, at home, writing a cookbook with 100 gluten-free recipes good enough for a restaurant. Or — in the funniest coming full-circle swerve — we'd end up not going to restaurants that often because we can't afford to, and also because we eat so well at home.

Sometimes people write to me and say, "Would you just stop talking about how happy you are, please?" (except they mostly don't write please, so politely.)


My life went from deprivation to fullness. I was 39 when I met Danny, and I had given up on finding someone to love. And I married a chef, when I was convinced I would never eat in a restaurant again.

I certainly never thought we'd be in San Francisco together, eating prosciutto and melon ice cream.

monkeys love tripe

Or that we would take our daughter to eat at Contigo, the dream-turned-delicious restaurant that Brett Emerson opened this year.

A few months after I began this site, and comments started coming in, I realized that I must have begun a food blog.

I had no idea. Really.

There weren't that many food blogs in the spring of 2005, not the multiplied x5000 the way there are now. Nobody started a food blog to get a book deal. Most of us writing were just plain eccentric, enthusiastic eaters who had this weird habit of taking pictures of our food and writing about the people with whom we shared our meals.

And I didn't even think I was one of those.

You see, I used to write really long emails. ("Scrollers," my brother called them, because you'd have to hit the scroll bar so many times to reach the end of the missive.) In those days, I had no one else in the house with me, and hours to avoid grading papers. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and poured out all this energy to my friends' inboxes. They gently complained. "Maybe you could put all these into one place, and we could read them at our leisure." Someone told me about Blogger. I started an account.

That's how this site began: as a place to leave my long letters to friends. And really, it still feels that way.

When first got a site meter, and figured out how to use it, I was excited to see that 56 people a day were reading my site. Then, I felt a little deflated when I realized that a full third of them were hits from the Middle East, people searching for "free girl."

I'm pretty sure I was not what they were looking for.

(And really, it still feels to me most days that I'm writing for 56 people. I prefer it that way.)

When I realized I must be writing a food blog, I started gobbling up new sites. One of my favorites became Brett's In Praise of Sardines. I loved Brett's food sensibilities, his adventures in eating, his kind voice. And over the past four years, I have watched his life change dramatically, his daring grow, and his vision of a restaurant become a place where people eat meals they never forget.

So they we were, Danny and me, sitting at Contigo, with good friends, eating some of the best food of our lives. All of my bites were gluten-free, entirely. I didn't worry, at all. Beside us sat Little Bean, eating anchovies, (she grinned wide), sardines, octopus, and calamari for the first time.

I certainly never thought that our daughter would fall in love with tripe. Her monkey did too.

For a moment, I sat back with tears in my eyes. Life has changed, so much.

Jaden plays with Lu

Sitting at the table next to us were Elise and Jaden, two women whose work I have admired from afar for years. And here was Jaden, letting Little Bean butt heads with her, over and over again, as they giggled together.

You see, we were all in San Francisco two weekends ago for the first BlogHer Food conference, a gathering of 300 of the most ardent food bloggers you will ever meet. The day was full of squealing first meetings, incredible connections, sessions full of valuable information on photography and finding your voice, and laughter.

In one day, I met dozens and dozens of good people whose work I adore, as well as seeing again the people who have become some of my favorite beings in the world, all of whom I met through this stumble-upon food blog. (And I had to leave a lot of links out of that sentence, or it would have been 12 pages long.)

It was all a little dizzying.

Little Bean handled it all with more aplomb than anyone. She just loved everyone.

pho from Out the Door

Everything about that conference was great. Well, except for the food.

You've probably already heard about this.The people in charge of the conference did a great job of planning it. Conference food always stinks, in my experience. You try feeding 300 people, all at the same time.

Still, it was pretty darned funny to watch Rocco DiSpirito in a tight nylon t-shirt, a mic attached on his arm, walking through the crowd like a sweaty motivational speaker, hawking frozen pasta meals to a room full of food bloggers. "Who in this room has the time to make every meal from scratch?" he asked at the beginning of lunch.

Um, Rocco? You're taking to people who take photographs of their food and came to this conference to learn how to take better photographs of it. This probably isn't your audience.

When most everyone raised her or his hand to that question, he looked at the sea of hands aghast. "Come on! No one here has jobs or kids?" At this, 3/4 of the crowd turned their backs on him and started talking to each other instead. Within minutes, the din of people ignoring him was nearly deafening.

As you can imagine, I couldn't eat the frozen pasta meals. (Danny says I didn't miss anything.) Before lunch, someone handed me a card that said "Gluten-free/vegan." I was lucky. Many of the gluten-free bloggers never saw one. But because the hotel staff affiliated the two together, I had a lovely salad with anchovies, tuna, and hard-boiled egg snatched out of my hands and was given a plate of lettuce with no dressing instead. The "risotto" was made from long-grain rice, and mushier than a 7th-grade-girl's idea of married life with that cute boy from Tiger Beat. I gave it all to Little Bean, and even she didn't eat it all.

This meant that by 4 pm, with no food all day, I felt a little faint. We played hooky and walked down to Out the Door to order this giant container of pho. Considering what everyone at lunch was served, I probably got the best meal of anyone.

Heidi's lunch at Il Cane Rosso

But that was the only dud of a meal the entire weekend. Here, we're enjoying a lovely lunch with Heidi, Wayne, and Tea at Il Cane Rosso. (Oh, what a treat to have a leisurely meal after the mayhem of a full conference day, and with these wonderful people.) We ate great egg scrambles at Dottie's True Blue Cafe — mine came with smoked whiskey and fennel sausage. There were salumi cones at Boccalone, bacon peanut brittle at Humphry Slocombe, and antipasti platters at Incanto. We certainly never went hungry.

(And if you're noticing that there was a lot of pork in those meals, you're right. We were lucky enough to be sponsored by the Pork Board to go to the conference, which we would not have been able to attend otherwise. They also sponsored us to try some of the best places serving pork in the Bay Area and write about it on our other blog, Pork Knife and Spoon, which we were hired to write for them. Come on over there if you want more recommendations of where to eat.)

Peruvian fava beans at Rancho Gordo

On our last day there, wonderful Anita drove all of us, including marvelous Helen, out to Napa, for a quick tour of the best of the area. That meant we stopped in at the Rancho Gordo store, where we met Steve Sando himself, bought a bunch of heirloom beans, and admired these topographical fava beans from Peru.

at the Oxbow store

We also stopped at the Oxbow Public Market, to gawk at the displays of heirloom tomatoes, gaze at rows of beautiful spices, and take a gander through every stall. Mostly, though, we were excited to visit Fatted Calf. (Dear Helen has written about this afternoon much better than I could.)

Lu ate at Bouchon (and so did we)

But for all of us, the highlight of the day was having lunch at Bouchon, one of Thomas Keller's restaurants, the relaxed French bistro of our dreams.

frites at Bouchon

For the young single woman of 2005, scared she would never eat in a restaurant again, this was a dream never even imagined. There I was with my husband, and our daughter, two dear friends whom we met because of food blogs, eating great food, done just right.

And of course they were able to feed me gluten-free.

These are Bouchon's frites — crisp, golden, still hot from the fryer. Only the frites are made in this fryer and so there is no cross-contamination, no fear that I would be getting gluten.

Oh, these tasted so good.

And they were Little Bean's first taste of french fries. She approved.

Bouchon bakery macarons

After lunch, in a daze of full bellies and even-more-full hearts, we wandered into the sunshine. We stood there for a moment, content after a perfect meal. And then we walked into Bouchon Bakery.

Of course, I didn't expect to find anything there for me. I was sated, happy to look with my friends. And then I saw the macarons, as large as hockey pucks. When I asked, the girl behind the counter said, "Oh yes, they're gluten-free. We get a lot of requests for that." Satisfied that they knew what they were doing, and that I could eat these safely, I went outside with Little Bean. We found a bench, all five of us, and sat in the sunlight. I fed my daughter her first macaron.

She loved it.

That's one of the places it hit me, again. How incredible my life is. Surreal. How lucky I am.

There I was, in a place I never expected to be.

Lu with bakery box

I had no idea where I was going when I began writing this website. I have no idea where I'm going after writing this post.

Oh, there will be more food. In fact, within a couple of weeks, you'll see some new features of this website — cookbook reviews, more recipes, videos of techniques in the kitchen you might like, little glimpses of island life — and a re-design. Without my knowing where I was going, this site has changed, a dozen times already. Me? I've changed more than that.

All I know is that I'll keep writing. And eating. And sharing it with you.

And loving it all.