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31 March 2010

banana oatmeal raisin bread

oatmeal raisin banana bread

Sometimes the mistakes lead to great places.

Last week, when we were cooking out of C is for Cooking, I spied a recipe for pumpkin muffins. Remembering a can of pumpkin puree left over from the holidays, shoved in the back of the cupboard, I gathered all the ingredients we'd need.

I love teff flour in muffins and quick breads. Its fine texture brings a lightness to baked goods that gluten cannot provide. You heard me right — some gluten-free baked goods are better than the gluten ones. If you hit the right ratio of flours to fats to eggs to sugar, your muffins and quick breads will disappear the day they are baked.

So I grabbed the teff, the potato starch, the cornstarch, the superfine brown rice flour. (I'm loving this one lately too. More on this later.) I had eggs we bought at the farmers' market, vanilla, cinnamon, baking powder. Everything was ready.

Except, when I reached into the cupboard for the pumpkin, my hands came back empty. I pushed aside the walnuts, the gf crackers, the dried cherries, the Thai rice noodles. Where the heck was that pumpkin?

Not in our kitchen.

Okay. I now had the KitchenAid ready to take a spin and I was missing the main ingredient for these muffins.

Trying to decide what to do, I took a break. Lu and I played in the living room. She crawled through her blue tunnel and came out grinning. She sat all her stuffed animals on the couch and fed them Cheerios. She grabbed books off the shelf for me to read. The irritation of the pumpkin had dissipated.

And then I heard that scratching. Intermittently, Danny and I have noticed this vague scratching sound coming from the kitchen. Bird caught in the oven hood? Every time we walked into the kitchen to hear it, the sound stopped. This time, however, I wanted to know.

So I left Lu with a book and tiptoed into the kitchen, stopping every two quiet sock-padded steps. I reached the stove with the scratching still going. "It sounds like it's beneath the oven," I thought, and opened the door beneath it.

A small grey mouse was scurrying on the metal bottom of that drawer. The drawer where I keep the muffin tins.


Yeah, I didn't make pumpkin muffins.

Instead, I substituted the 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree for 3/4 cup of mashed bananas. (They have different weights, you see.) And I grabbed a loaf pan from the scratching-mouse-sound-free pantry.

And thus, this bread.

Danny and Lu both want me to make it again soon. And since I'm not opening that drawer until we figure out what to do about that now-you-hear-me-now-you-don't mouse? It's all quick breads and cakes around here for awhile.

Banana Oatmeal Raisin Bread, adapted from C is for Cooking

I haven't gone back to see how much these flours are in cups. If you haven't bought a kitchen scale yet, may I kindly suggest that you do? Baking mishaps like the one I experienced are far easier to handle if you know you just have to tilt some flours into a bowl on that scale. That's because baking by weight means far more accurate measurements, and thus far more precise batters, and so far more successful baked goods. Seriously? Buy a scale.

But if you want to convert these flours into cups, this conversion table is wonderfully useful.

2 ounces teff flour
2 ounces superfine brown rice flour
2 ounces potato starch
1 1/2 ounces cornstarch
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 cup uncooked oats (make sure they are certified gluten-free) or 1 cup quinoa flakes
1/2 cup raisins

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a standard-size loaf pan (9 x 5 x 2 3/4).

Mixing the dry ingredients. Stir the teff flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, and cornstarch together. Sift them into another bowl. Add the xanthan gum, guar gum, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and ginger. Set aside.

Mixing the wet ingredients. Stir together the sugar and oil until blended. Then, stir in the egg, banana mash, and yogurt until they are blended.

Finishing the dough. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until they are just blended. Stir in the oats and raisins.

Baking the bread. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Slide into the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes (in this kitchen). Put the loaf pan onto a cooling rack and allow the bread to cool for 15 minutes. Pull the bread out of the loaf pan and allow it to cool until you can eat it without burning your mouth.

Makes 1 loaf of bread.

30 March 2010

chanterelles with thyme


Have you tried chanterelles before?

They look like they come from the earth, don't they? I love seeing them splayed out in this rough-hewn box at the farmers' market, since I know the folks at Foraged and Found spotted them in a forest and plucked them up for us. (Well, for everyone who wants to buy them, of course.)

Chanterelles have the most interesting bite when they're cooked right — chewy, with a bit of a squeak. They're meaty without having any meat. They soak up all the flavors of what you cook them with, like tofu. (Chanterelles are better than tofu.)

Sadly, they're only in season in Seattle from July to November, so we have to wait for the summer and fall to enjoy them again here.

However, Chef Dave from Good Bite found some at the Santa Monica farmers' market last month and challenged me to create something with them. Danny and I came up with a quick sauté of chanterelles, shallots, and thyme. You could use it on pasta and pizzas, or as a side dish.

What do you like to cook with chanterelles? Or mushrooms in general?

29 March 2010

C is for Cooking

C is for Cooking

Before Lu was born, I didn't realize that cookbooks are great toddler reading material.

Our friend Matthew, in his book Hungry Monkey, told us that his daughter Iris loved looking at Martha Stewart's Cookies. Eventually, she had all the cookies memorized and could point out each kind: milk-chocolate cookies, hazelnut jam thumbprints, and ginger cheesecake bars. This is a useful sort of skill if Iris ever decides to become a baker. But who says knowing the names of different cookies isn't as important as knowing all the different farm animals? It's sorting and naming and memorizing. And, if she was lucky, Iris might have convinced Matthew to make a homemade cookie or two.

For a few weeks, Lu was besotted by Jamie's Food Revolution cookbook. Filled with vivid photographs for each recipe, this book is useful and beautiful both. Lu likes turning the pages and pointing to the pictures of people cooking. "Dada!" she says, because she knows her dad works in a restaurant. She points out cauliflower cheese and chopped cilantro and braised cabbage and asks for the names. She is particularly fascinated by the page with small photos of fixings for good salads: fresh basil; Belgian endive; toasted pine nuts. That girl is a salad fiend. Put a bowl in front of her and she will chew and chew until that bowl is empty. No wonder she loves that page in the cookbook.

She also loves this Vegetables book, by the lovely Sara Anderson. When we talk about the celery and onions, she nods. After we ate the first rhubarb-strawberry pie of the season, with frozen strawberries and rhubarb from the farm down the street, she pointed at that page with particular energy. "Rhu!!!!" But really, she asks for the book again and again because the potato page means she can ask us to sing The Wiggles' "Hot Potato" to her for the 4,732nd time. (I will be able to sing the Wiggles well into my 80s.)

Now I have to say that Lu is interested in far more than food. She pulls dozens of books from her bookshelf and sits among them, ensconced for 30 minutes and turning the pages. When I pull weeds in the garden, she wanders the yard babbling to herself, then comes over to see the worm wiggling on the palm of my hand. She loves the kids at the playspace, her grandparents, kicking a ball down the hallway, chanting the ABCs with the 10 letters or so that she knows by heart, running, trying to jump, and hugging 3 stuffed animals to her chest. Food is a big part of her life, but only a part.

In fact, I think that food plays a shadow role in Lu's life in comparison to Elmo.

Oh my goodness, she loves Elmo. Sometimes she says his name with this tender longing in the middle of the afternoon, just remembering the morning episode of Sesame Street. In the middle of the night, if she can't sleep, she'll say his name as a comfort against the darkness. Elmo is her first true love.

So when C is for Cooking arrived in the mail, courtesy of Wiley, our little one lost her mind.

(We understand. We love Elmo and Sesame Street too. Watching it with her and talking about what is going on is one of the best parts of our day.)

We had no choice but to cook out of it for the last week.

Jamie Oliver's wild rice salad

There's a lot of talk lately about what children in this country are eating. It's an important conversation, and more voices are joining in. Have you been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on television? Danny and I have watched together, in horror and fascination. When the hard-working lunch ladies in the school he is visiting could not understand why he wanted to give the kids forks and knives for their lunch? I nearly cried. Nuggets, breakfast pizza, chocolate milk hyped up with sugar — this isn't real food.

Have you seen Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project? This blog by a teacher, writing anonymously, chronicles the school lunch she eats every day with the kids. Her photographs are horrifying. Beef patties, tater tots, and ketchup. She wrote recently: "I'm just worn out. I don't want to eat any more school lunches. I've lost the pleasure of eating lunch, the little respite in the middle of the day. I'm tired of the food. I wish I had more control over what I'm eating."

Those lunches look just like the ones I ate in elementary school. Not much has changed. It feels like it has only grown worse.

When did we stop eating real food?

I love cooking with our daughter. She's only 20 months old, so she doesn't participate in much of the actual cooking yet. But when I roasted the red pepper for this wild rice salad, I invited her to put her nose into the paper bag before I closed it up. She smelled for quite awhile, then smiled. "Yummm!" She draws while I weigh flours on the scale. We talk about the food in front of us, the morning behind us. She looks at me with an impish grin and sticks her finger into the food for a taste. (She thinks she's not supposed to. I like playing this game.)

It just seems to me that making food together is one of the best ways to know a kid. It might take more time than popping something in the microwave, but no one remembers that, in the end.

Watching Lu gobble this wild rice salad from C is for Cooking, recipe by Jamie Oliver, made me happy. Roasted red peppers, wild rice, basmati rice, jalapenos (seeds gone), mint, parsley, and basil. It didn't take long to cook. It tasted vibrant. The wild rice still had a chew to it. It's pretty healthy. She didn't care. She ate an entire bowl. Then she pointed to the picture of Elmo with a chef's hat on the cover and asked for more.

baked goods from the Sesame Street cookbook

We're lucky. We have the time to do this every afternoon. That doesn't mean it's easy. There are certainly days when I wouldn't mind putting something in the microwave (even though we don't own one).

Last week, it was nearly 70 degrees outside. Lu and I spent hours in the garden. After I had planted lettuce seeds, I walked toward the hoses to grab some water. Without thinking, I stepped on the hoe leaning against the wall. That's right — I actually did the Three Stooges trick unintentionally. I stepped on the wrong end of the hoe and whacked myself in the head with the handle. I actually saw stars.

When we went inside, Lu and I started a baking project. She found a picture of yogurt in one of her little word books and began her chant: "Yo yo yo yo!" I mixed some of last summer's strawberry jam with plain yogurt and slid the bowl to her. While I worked, I noticed that she kept turning the spoon upside down before it reached her mouth. Quickly, the front of her looked like the Quentin Tarantino of yogurt movies. Bibs can only do so much.

Turning toward her quickly, I tripped a bit. The Cambro full of cornstarch in my hands tripped too and flew across the room. All over the floor, the cupboards, the refrigerator. I found smudges of cornstarch on everything, for days.

It was at this moment that the teething toddler started crying.

For a beat, I really, really wanted a microwave so I wouldn't have to cook dinner.

But I took a breath. Cleaned off the front of the kid. Gave her a big hug, something to gnaw on for her teeth, and her favorite book. I cleaned up the cornstarch (after taking a photo), wiped the yogurt off the counter, and started laughing.

And then I put a sauté pan on the stove. Heated it up, poured in some oil, threw in some spinach and listened to it sizzle. Pulled some tofu out of the refrigerator and seared it in a separate pan. Poured Lu some water, put the food in front of her. Took a deep breath, and then shared dinner with my daughter.

Then I had to sing Hot Potato again.

C is for Cooking made my week of cooking easy. There are a number of books on the market about cooking for children and with children, many great books. (I'd love to know your favorites.) But this is the only one with recipes for dried cherry-toasted almond rice krispie treats, pumpkin muffins with oats (which I turned into banana bread with oats and raisins when I realized we didn't have any pumpkin), and savory waffles with cheddar and provolone.

(All the recipes were easy to convert to gluten-free. I used 5 ounces of flours for every cup of AP flour. There's the secret. You can do it too.)

We don't make kid food in this house. We don't make separate meals for us and another for our daughter. This book was only going to get our recommendation if Elmo's Baby Turkey Burgers worked for our dinner too.

Danny, who loves sour cream, approved of the twice-baked potatoes with yogurt instead. The Mark Bittman recipe for lentil soup — dead simple — made three meals, including homemade pasta with lentils and chicken sausage. We ate well and we ate happy.

Lu looked at the stickers of asparagus and fresh carrots and named off all her favorite characters in the book. (I love that her word for Cookie Monster is "Ahek;gehaAH," imitating the sound of him eating cookies. The Count is "Ah ah ah!" for his little devilish laugh.) She pointed to the foods she wanted to eat and then she ate them for dinner.

I can't wait to cook out of this book with her when she's older, and she can crush up the crackers and crack the eggs. Each recipe has tasks marked for the kids, in age-appropriate fashion. This one will be on our shelves for a long time. It's real food.

And there's Elmo on the cover. Lu would like to say: "Come on. What else do you need?"

p.s. Some of you may have noticed that I stopped using Little Bean in this post. We still call her Little Bean sometimes. She points to herself when we reach the beans in the vegetables book. She's so much her own person now that using her nickname here feels forced, artificial. Hi, Lu!

p.p.s. We're giving away a copy of C is for Cooking. We think you'll like it too. Tell us a story about cooking with your kids, or a memory of cooking with your parents, or how you think we can help more people to start cooking real food.

gluten-free chicken nuggets

Grover's Little and Adorable Chicken Nuggets, Gluten-Free, adapted from
C is for Cooking

The words chicken nugget give me a little shudder. My mind jumps to that fast food place when I was a kid, looking down at fried chicken bits, shriveled into themselves, in a paper container. You know the ones. Back then, I thought they were genuinely delicious: hot, salty, greasy. Plus, they came with honey-mustard dipping sauce. Or BBQ. I ate more than my fair share of them as a kid.

Now, however, I can only think: what the heck is in a nugget? As you can probably guess, most fast-food nuggets contain ingredients we can't pronounce and wouldn't eat if they were offered to us on a spoon. But they're familiar. Watching the Jamie Oliver show, I was shocked at how many chicken nuggets a school kid was eating every day. No thanks.

These "chicken nuggets" however are nothing but chicken, mayonnaise, mustard, an egg, salt, pepper, and crushed crackers. You could use homemade mayonnaise (we did) and crush homemade crackers (I have, but not this time). Does that sound complicated? I made up this batch with Lu standing on a chair next to me. While she drew squiggles with her crayons (sometimes on the paper), I sliced up pieces of chicken, dipped them in the mayonnaise mixture, and rolled them around the crackers. While they baked, she and I read Cowboy Small, about 12 more times. Then, it was time to eat.

Making these took maybe ten more minutes than it would to rip open a package and put them in a microwave. I'm pretty certain they tasted better. And the wait meant I heard Lu say "Whoa! Cactus!" again and again.

The next day, I fried up some chicken nuggets instead. I used the same mayonnaise mixture, dredged them in some gluten-free flours, and fried them in an inch of safflower oil. They looked good. Essentially, they were little pieces of fried chicken. Lu, however, wanted nothing to do with them. She took a bite and spit it out. She did this three or four times in a row and I stopped offering. The baked ones she gobbled.

I'm sticking with these.

24 multi-grain gluten-free crackers (I used these and I also love these)
1 pound thin-sliced chicken breast meat
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 egg white
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. Put parchment paper on a baking sheet and lightly grease it.

Crushing the crackers. Put the crackers in a plastic bag. Bash them up, gently, with a rolling pin or your fist. (I bet the kids would like this job.) Put them on a large plate and set aside.
Preparing the chicken breast meat. Cut the breasts into 1 1/2-inch squares, about 1/2 inch thick. (You can decide your own desired thickness, of course.) Season with the salt and pepper.

Coating the chicken. Stir up the mayonnaise, egg white, and mustard in a large bowl. Put the chicken pieces into the mixture and toss them about until they are evenly coated.

Press each piece of chicken into the cracker crumbs, tossing them about a bit until each piece is well coated.
Baking the chicken. Put the chicken nuggets onto the baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is cooked clean through, about 15 minutes. (You'll know the chicken is done when you can cut a nugget in half and see gleaming white meat.)

Feeds 4 to 6, depending on the size of the kid, really.

25 March 2010

peace comes dropping slow in the desert

vacation II

Sunlight. An open book about to be picked up again. A hot cup of coffee. A toddler playing happily by herself. Still in our pajamas at nearly noon.

This must be vacation.

vacation in the desert

For five full and loving days, Danny, Little Bean, and I were in Arizona, visiting Danny's parents. They doted on their granddaughter, she babbled happily in their presence, and we sat back and enjoyed the moments.

And the sun. People, it was 73° most of the days we were there. I sat on the back porch and drank iced tea, about 3 gallons of it. Little Bean played with gravel and bubble wands and sidewalk chalk. We rode around in a golf cart on quiet cul de sacs with her, and she thought we had invented the best thing ever. We watched the mountains grow pink in the sunset. We sat at the dining room table, the four of us together after she had gone to bed, empty plates in front of us, talking until it was time for sleep. At 9:30.

Oh god, it was so good to do so little.

the light in Arizona

It has been a busy and sometimes dark hard winter around here. Harder than I have wanted to share. Flying to Arizona, being bathed in light, and taking time away from the computer? Yes please.

Waking up in the morning and seeing that clear light behind white curtains woke me up than drinking coffee. Making breakfast in the kitchen, with all that light streaming in, felt like a slow moment. Watching that high light find the cracks in the wall and illuminating rocks made me feel much better. Even screwdrivers are beautiful in this light.

more produce at the farmers' market

Of course, Arizona has a much different climate than Washington. We're still eating leeks and kale, dreaming of English peas. But the farmers' market in Oro Valley splashed color into our sepia-toned eyes. Green, green, more green — orange!

at the Oro Valley farmers' market

We couldn't resist the strawberries. Little Bean ate most of them, her face stained with smears of seeds and a red grin. I could have bought every one of those jars of pickled things and homemade jams.

There is no decadence like being able to buy fresh citrus from the farmer who picked it from his tree that morning.

the kindness Rosemary gave to me.

Most of all, however, we felt loved. There's nothing like the comfort of family.

Danny's mother, Rosemary, made sure her kitchen was safe for me. She baked me gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and put them in a separate cookie jar. She made me two loaves of bread, one whole grain and the other cinnamon raisin, from mixes. She labeled a plastic cutting board with my name and kept one knife set apart for me. She even made a butter container for me, so I wouldn't find any surprise crumbs in my toast.

That is love.

at the zoo!

We didn't do much. There wasn't any need. Danny's parents are in good shape, but they are in their late 70s and early 80s. Reading the entire paper in the morning, doing the crossword by the afternoon, planning and cooking meals, watching a basketball game on tv, a nap, a little walk, and time for dinner. Conversation, then time for bed.

Sometimes I dream of the day when I am retired and can live, simply.

One day, however, we did go to the Tucson zoo. Little Bean stood on her tiptoes in excitement, to show the rhinos to her daddy. She cooed and squealed, her eyes growing wide at the giraffes and elephants. All the animals she sees in books are real? Over and over, she ran back for her grandmother, tugging at her leg to share something new.

It was, as Rosemary likes to say, a grand day.

grandmother feeds her strawberries

The time to climb onto the airplane back to Seattle came far too quickly. It turns out that taking five days away from work has left me 38 weeks behind. Never mind. It's worth it.

And when I start to feel the old stress climbing my neck, I look at this photograph: Little Bean eating the strawberries offered by her grandmother.

This love, this moment, for me, is the only thing that matters.

hot crab dip and tortillas

Hot Crab Dip, adapted from the recipe files of Rosemary Ahern

While we were in Arizona, Rosemary was kind enough to let us raid her recipe drawer. The small drawer to the right of the stove is filled with cards with recipes written by hand, dessert ideas cut out from magazines, and tried-and-true meals made from Junior League cookbooks and church publications. It was a treasure trove.

I wrote down a bunch of them to make for this site. How could I resist something called Scarlet O'Horseradish dressing? More than novelty names, these recipes had the dog-eared edges and scuffed ink appearance of something made over and over again.

You know, sometimes we're all about the new. Not just the two of us keeping this site, but all of us who write about food. How many times can we write about meatloaf? Or scrambled eggs? So we make up new recipes and leave the simple stuff to our stoves. Except, sometimes the simplest foods are the best.

The last night we were in Arizona, Chuck and Jackie came over for cocktail hour. Chuck and Danny's dad, Jerry, have been friends since they were in kindergarten. I'm not kidding — they have been friends for 78 years. They have somehow lived in the same area at the same time, all their lives, from Iowa to Colorado to Arizona. After all that time together, they know each other as well as the most familiar meal. And yet, when Chuck and Jackie are due over for drinks and food, we all bustle around the house, preparing, making everything ready for these dear friends. We sat in the living room, sharing stories and talking about the weather. On the table was spicy hummus and crackers, cheese sticks, and this hot crab dip.

"I always love this dip, Rosemary," Jackie said, as she leaned forward for more. We all agreed. I don't know how many dozens of times Rosemary has made this dip, made with canned crab and mayonnaise from a jar. Every time, however, it has made people happy.

The best food sure doesn't have to be fancy. We think you'll like this too.

6 ounces cream cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (homemade mayo is best, but the one from a jar is fine too)
12 ounces crabmeat (fresh is best, but you can use canned crab if you can't find fresh)
1/2 cup fine-diced onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Beat the cream cheese until is whipped smooth. (You can use a food processor for this.)

Stir in all the remaining ingredients.

Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof dish. Bake until it is warm and bubbly, about 30 minutes.


Makes 2 cups.

19 March 2010

pizza and pasta

the best gluten-free pizza crust II

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, almost five years ago now, I was lucky. I had been so sick, and I was so clear that cutting out gluten made a profound difference in my life, that I embraced this.

That doesn't mean I went without grieving. I walked around the grocery store, weaving through the aisles, picking up foods and putting them down again. It was painfully clear to me that at least half my usual meals were gone. I left the bread section behind me.

Standing in the produce section, I felt more at peace.

And then I thought: what I am going to do without pizza?

There's no need to go without pizza when you're gluten-free. And I don't mean pizza that tastes like cardboard soaked in tomato sauce, or pizza that pushes against your teeth and doesn't relent or pizza that is shaped like a pizza but doesn't taste or feel or smell anything like pizza.

I mean pizza like you see up there in that photograph, the gluten-free pizza I made in our kitchen on Wednesday night.

I may be more proud of this than any baked good I have come up with. A pizza crust with a chewy bite and crisp shattery crust. Air holes. Look at those air holes.

Danny shot me this look when he took the first bite. A look that said, "Holy shit, woman. How did you do this?"

It's pizza. It's really good pizza. Hell, it's great pizza. The fact that it's gluten-free? Who cares? It's pizza.

gluten-free fettucine

And then there's pasta.

This is the fresh fettucine with homemade pork ragu we had for dinner Tuesday night. This latest version of the pasta? It's toothy and tender at the same time. We slurped up each noodle until our lips were flecked with red sauce and smiling.

We're almost done with these recipes.

Now, I know you're going to want to yell at me, but I'm not posting the recipes today. Or even for a bit. Both these recipes will be in our cookbook, which now has a release date. (Drum roll please....September 28th, 2010!) I know that's a long time to wait, but hear me out.

When I posted photos of some of the baked goods we have been working on for the cookbook, back in September, some of you wanted the recipes right then. I understand. But since September, we've been making pizza and pasta and pie almost non-stop, to make sure we have the very best recipes we can before the book goes to print. We have one more time to look at the book and make tiny changes before we fully let go.

This pizza? This pasta? They are both 10 times better than the ones I posted photos of in September.

Trust me. The wait will be worth it.

17 March 2010

Irish soda bread buns

Irish soda bread buns

So we're back from Arizona for less than 24 hours. The suitcases are spilling clothes, the living room is cluttered with opened books and toddler shoes, and the refrigerator needs cleaning. Besides that fact, I didn't touch the computer for longer than 10 minutes while we were away, spending most of the day sitting on the back patio in 73° weather, sipping iced tea while watching Little Bean playing in the backyard gravel. (I had no idea a kid could be this excited about rocks.) This was utterly lovely in the moment.

The moments at home, realizing how much work I have to do after 5 days away? Not so much.

So I should have chained myself to this beast of a machine and not released myself until those blue-pen items on the long to-do list were crossed off with a flourish. Did I do that?

"What should I bake?" I wrote on Twitter.

Aside from all else, I missed baking. Turns out that baking every day with my daughter is one of the best places of peace I know. We stand in front of the large bay window, she drawing with crayons and trying to reach the buttons on the kitchen scale. We talk and giggle, listen to music, and watch something new form from humble ingredients. Five days away from the counter felt far worse than five days away from the computer.

The answers came in. Everyone wanted something different: chocolate cake, Boston cream pie, potato bread. All on the list. But I wanted something new, something for this day, today.

Irish Soda Bread. They started pouring in. Oh right. Today's St. Patrick's Day.

Now I have to tell you, my definition of St. Patrick's Day in this country is pretty pithy: green beer, green plastic hats, green vomit. For those reasons, I normally ignore it.

But St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, in 1999, in a tiny town on the cliffs of the west country, with my best friend Sharon, the two of us standing in the crowd cheering on the locals in flatbread truck floats as they walked the parade? That was one of the best moments we've ever shared.

(And of course, I meant flatbed trucks. But I'm leaving it. Thanks to Jess for pointing out that typo.)

And the Aherns? Well, pure Irish, of course. We had to celebrate somehow.

Someone suggested this, from Deb of Smitten Kitchen: Irish soda bread scones. Not only do I adore Deb as a person, but I trust her recipes. They always work. And she's starting to list ingredients in grams!


Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. Try not to vomit green into fountains. Have some lovely soda bread buns, instead.

Irish Soda Bread Buns, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

These are heaven. They're soft, exactly what I wanted. It's hard to imagine that gluten-free buns could be more tender than the originals, but from Deb's description, I think they are.

On day one, they’ve got a craggy crust and a warm, plush interior; they love butter and you love them. On day two, they have a density, especially when your big toe breaks their fall, that could threaten your efforts to reign in your foul language now that tiny, impressionable ears linger about."

(I love her.)

These are actually plush, pull-apart little loaves of bread. I'm happy enough with them that I'm using these recipe as the template for creating the cinnamon raisin bread I have been craving. You might see that here soon. In the meantime, pull out your kitchen scale and start making these.

20 ounces gluten-free flours (I used equal parts almond flour, super-fine brown rice flour, millet flour, sweet rice flour, and potato starch)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
2 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 softened, 1 melted)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I actually used rice milk for this, making my own buttermilk)
2 eggs
1 cup dried fruit (this was Turkish apricots, but currants are traditional)

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. If you have a baking stone, make sure it's in the oven. Pull that scale out of the drawer.

Combining the dry ingredients. Mix the gluten-free flours you are using, the sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a food processor. (Of course, if you don't have one, just use a whisk. Mixing the flours together makes a big difference in the baking.) When the flours have become one color, you're done.

Mixing in the butter. Drop the softened butter into the mixed flours and pulse the food processor a few times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (Again, you can do this in a large bowl as well, with a pastry blender or your fingers.)

Making the dough. At this point, if you have been using a food processor, dump the flours into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Combine the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the liquids liquid into the well and stir them together with a rubber spatula. When the dough is cohesive but still shaggy, stop.

Baking the buns. Now, at this point, if you are more precise than I am, you will cut the shaggy dough into 8 even pieces and roll each one of them into a ball. Me? I just grabbed softball-size pieces of dough, making sure my hands were a little damp with water, and rolled them into large balls. Or, you might like small rolls instead of mini loaves. In that case, go for 16 pieces here.

If you have a baking stone, put the buns directly onto the baking stone. They will bake beautifully here. If you don't have a baking stone (and we did not before last week), put the buns onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or Silpat) and slide it into the oven.

After about 5 minutes of baking, open the oven door. The wet dough will be hardened enough for you to slash a slice (or cut a cross) across the top of each roll. If you wish, you can also spread a bit of melted butter on the top of each roll. Close the oven door and keep baking.

The length of time it takes to bake these will depend on how big the rolls are. Mine were softball size, and they took about 20 minutes. Can you insert a skewer or toothpick into the center of the roll and have it come out clean? Are the tops nicely browned? Then you're done.

Makes 8 mini loaves or 16 small buns.

10 March 2010

looking, talking, and eating together

gluten-free pancakes with blueberry compote

When you have one of the best food photographers/food bloggers/pastry chef/French wonderful women coming to stay with you, it can be a little intimidating to make breakfast.

Luckily, she has recently gone gluten-free as well. Danny and I figured she'd enjoy some pancakes her first morning here with us.

She did.

helen watches Lu

Do you know Helen? You probably know of her. She's the amazing force of nature who writes and takes photographs and creates recipes for Tartelette, one of the most loved food blogs in the world. Her resume is tremendous.

Her kindness is enormous.

Here she is, watching our Little Bean eat and play at the table as we all shared lunch together. Look at those eyes. That's a real mensch.

We first met through each other's websites, these places of conversation and sweets passed across the table. Long before we were in each other's presence, we read each other's thoughts and shared habits. By the time we could finally hug at the BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco, we were already friends.

This visit was much more quiet than the frenzy that was that fabulous weekend in the Bay Area. Helen flew into Seattle to teach workshops on how to make macarons and take delicious photographs, which she had just completed in Los Angeles as well. She stayed with us on the island as a sort of refuge, a still point in the midst of the whirlwind.

We talked. We ate. We shared stories. We read books to the Little Bean. We watched movies and told more stories and laughed. We drove around the island, looking at beaches and green trees. We lived.

Life's been pretty full-tilt around here. I can't remember the last time I took an entire day off from the computer. With Helen here, I had more reason than ever.

It felt good to breathe.

canned tomatoes

I feel blessed to have friends who are impassioned photographers. This last year, I feel like I've been soaking up photographs, living on Flickr when I can, watching the way other photographers look at the world. At BlogHer food, I took photography seminars from some of the best: Todd and Diane, Heidi, Matt, and Lara.

(We are so honored to have Lara Ferroni as the photographer for our cookbook. I can't wait for you to see it!)

In California at Kingsford University, I learned more about my camera and how to use it from watching Todd and Diane, plus my outrageously talented friend, Jen Yu. After watching the way they shoot, and peppering them with questions, I've been keeping the camera near me, all the time, and looking through that lens as often as I can. Taking photographs is a way of listening, a place without words, a solace.

With Helen here, I learned again. Have you seen her photographs? The woman takes my breath away with her light and colors, the details, the openness. Look at this swiss chard, goat cheese, and prosciutto tart. (And it's gluten-free.) Her talents seem so far beyond my reach that I might as well put the camera down.

However, if you want to see something truly inspiring, look at Helen's photographs from March 2006, the first month she started the blog. Wow. Helen, you have come a long way, baby.

It's a transformation almost as incredible as a frightened girl who has just learned she has to go gluten-free to the woman five years later, joyful and alive, sitting with a French friend by her side.

I never know where life is going to lead me. Raising the camera to my eyes helps me to see my world, right now. Like this wall of canned tomatoes at The Monkey Tree, the vegetarian café where we ate lunch with Helen on Monday. How many times have I eaten there before and not seen this image?

Having Helen here helped me to see differently.

the bakery

They do have lovely baked goods at that café. Sigh.

And that bakery space. What I wouldn't give to have that rack for baking pans.

Helen and I both stood there, taking photographs. The island is a quirky enough place that people didn't even ask us why.

baking with Helen

We forgot the baked goods we couldn't eat when we returned home. We pulled out the scale, various flours, sugar, and butter.

(we didn't use all that butter in one recipe, though.)

Can you guess what we were making?

Helen rolls out the gluten-free puff pastry

Puff pastry.

Together, Danny, Helen, and I are going to conquer gluten-free puff pastry. I don't know when. You'll see it here, and on Tartelette, when we three feel like it's right. This first batch showed promise. We had layers and flakiness. But not yet. We have work to do.

(This did, however, make a wonderful pie crust afterwards.)

pork chile verde

Anyone who thinks that living gluten-free is drab should have hung out with us this weekend.

Yesterday, Little Bean and I shared lunch with Helen, Anita, Jen, and Jeanne. What a fine frenzy of women talking and laughing, eating and taking photographs.

Anita made this addictive pork chile verde for us. (Little Bean looked up from her first bowl and said, "Yum yum yum!" This made Anita happy. And then the kid went back for seconds.) There were warm tortillas, sparkling lemonade, and sunlight coming through the window.

Nobody missed the gluten.

hazelnut pot de creme

And seriously? Are you kidding me? Chocolate-hazelnut pot de creme with fresh whipped cream.

I don't need no stinking gluten.

(Jeanne's recipe for this is right here.)

Life, it seems, has been too busy lately for gatherings of the good women in my life, the ones who tease me and sustain me both. This weekend, thanks to Helen visiting, I reconnected.

lu sees snow for the first time (that she remembers)

And when the unexpected moment of March arrived at our front door, Helen and I both had our cameras ready. Little Bean, seeing her first snow.

Thank you, Helen, for being here. For helping me to slow down. And for showing me how to notice it all again.

p.s. There will be more slowing down for the next week. Danny, Little Bean, and I leave for Arizona tomorrow, for indolent days with eagerly waiting grandparents. We'll be playing in warm sun and reading on the back porch. Next week, we'll be back with new recipes.

04 March 2010

corn tortillas


People, I have a problem.

I'm in love with corn tortillas.

Oh, I'm still in love with my wonderful husband, who takes our daughter to the playspace on the island — to climb jungle gym equipment and feed pretend tea to her dolly — every morning about this time so I can settle in front of the computer and write these words.

(And live on Twitter for a bit. It's so easy to nibble on peoples word's, banter in that small space, and feel like I'm talking to my friends. It's also so easy to feel like I'm nattering away my life. And then I find these astonishing essays that connect me to myself again, like Amanda's piece on the beauty of taking care of ourselves, and I am grateful all over again for this internet that connects people sitting alone in rooms.)

And I adore our darling daughter, who spent a couple of hours yesterday playing in our yard while I weeded a raised bed before I plant potatoes. She traveled at her pace, picking flowers, talking to herself, and climbing the porch steps again and again. As I kneeled to separate roots from black earth, feeling the muscles in my back open to the sun again, I heard her come up behind me, babbling. I sat up and showed her: a worm in my hands. She watched it wriggle, touched it gently, then looked at me in astonishment. Then she was off to kick a big ball.

I love that having a kid means I can be a kid again too.

I love the smell of the daphne just off our front deck (all laundry should smell like this), the rollicking sound of Sharon laughing on the phone, the feeling of my fingers wrapped around the first cup of coffee in the morning. I love pickles dripping liquid, the sound of Little Bean's giggle when we tickle her, and the rhythm of rain on a tin roof.

I love driving into the tiny town of the expansive island where we live.

(And hey, if you're going to be anywhere near us this weekend, I'm speaking at the Vashon Food Summit this Saturday. Take a look at this lineup of impassioned people talking about food that matters to them. I'm honored to be a part of this, so grateful that I live in a place like this one.)

I love so much that I could go on typing all day. But I'm forgetting what I came here to tell you.

Corn tortillas. People, I have a problem.

That photo up there? That's corn tortillas browned in oil, then cut up for migas. My goodness, if you have not eaten migas before, get to it. (I say this as a week-old convert.) That's one of the endless ways you can eat corn tortilla goodness.

But since we have a toddler instead of a baby, we're just digging the quesadillas. ("Make yourself a dang quesadilla!" This line from Napoleon Dynamite is always in there while I'm grating the cheese.) Fast finger food with good ingredients.

Enchiladas. Warm soft tortillas torn off in strips, with a little butter and salt. Nachos — man, we love nachos more than two adults probably should. We're hooked in this house.

For the past week, however, it has been tortilla chips. Homemade tortilla chips. Have you made these yet? Until last week, I thought making tortilla chips must be hard. I mean, they taste so damned good, right? How could it be this easy?

Easy it is. I found this wonderful photo tutorial from my friend Alice at Savory Sweet Life. (Did you know that Alice has a gluten-free category on her website, as well? Thank you, Alice.) I made some 10 minutes later.

I'm always struck by how simple homemade food is. I used to think it would take much longer to make good food from scratch than grabbing something from the deli or takeout. It does take longer. Usually about 10 minutes longer, it seems to me.

(Also, it's really good for me if I make tortilla chips instead of buying a big bag. Big bags quickly dwindle into tightly rolled empty bags that need to go into the trash. Like I said, I have a problem.)

Sometimes I get letters from people begging me to work on a gluten-free flour tortilla recipe. I have to tell you — it's pretty far down the list. I don't really like flour tortillas. They feel so wan and enervated in comparison to the rugged goodness of a corn tortilla. And if you make your tortillas by hand — a skill I'm still improving — then you really won't want those packaged goods again.

But maybe you have a great gluten-free flour tortilla recipe you'd like to share here. Or one of your favorite uses for tortillas. I can't be the only one with this problem. Go ahead. Share.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

I could write a formal recipe here, but seriously? You don't need one. Here's what you do.

Take 10 corn tortillas.

Brush both sides with canola oil.

Cut them into 4 pieces each (for big tortilla chips) or 8 pieces (like a pie, for tiny crispy wedges that will shatter between the teeth).

Don't do them all separately, silly. Pile them up then drive that knife down.

Sprinkle with salt and whatever spices you like.
(I'm playing with smoked paprika, chili powder, pepper, and lemon zest. Also, cinnamon sugar.)


Lay each one out on a baking sheet (we put down aluminum foil) — this is honestly the longest part of this short task.

Bake them in a 375* oven. 10 minutes, then turn them all with tongs. (yes, this seems fussy. worth it)

Bake again, about 4 more minutes for the small chips, about 10 more minutes for the big ones. (What happens in your kitchen might be different.)

Are they crisp? Golden? Solid and airy as commercial tortilla chips, but warm? Ah yes.

Let them cool, a bit. (Come on, you don't want your tongue to be burned.)