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24 May 2010

some rhubarb recipes for the week

rhubarb muffins, done

I made you some rhubarb muffins. They're soft and pliable without being tough, a bit sweet, a bit tangy, flecked with pieces of softened rhubarb, and topped with raw sugar.

I'd love to share the recipe with you. And I will.

Next week.

You see, we've been a little busy around here. Danny's brother Pat, whom we all adore, came to stay with us this past weekend. This meant he ate dinner at Danny's restaurant with us and had the chance to watch Lu play peek a boo with her daddy while he was on the line. ("Dada! Hi!") He hiked our favorite path down to the water on a clear-blue-skied day. Mostly, he spent time with Lu, on the floor drawing and drawing. This was a beautiful family weekend.

Also, Lu and I have both been feeling under the weather. She has a double ear infection (her first) and sips the pink liquid antibiotics with great patience. Slowly, she's feeling better, but our robust child being sick has been a great strain. Then, of course, I caught the crud myself. Yesterday, my throat was so sore that it felt as though a pack of feral raccoons were scrabbling around in my throat, digging in with their claws.

I really didn't have much interest in writing about food.

However, thanks to suggestions from friends on Twitter and other places, I found some relief. Shots of honey and apple cider vinegar cut the worst of the pain. So did gargling with warm salt water, little drips of lime and honey, chili flakes and lemon juice, hot green tea, cold fruit bars, and more glasses of water than I can count. Mostly, however, I drank mug after mug of hot ginger tea: fresh ginger shaved into a mug, a dollop of honey, and hot water. (Thanks, Joe Yonan.) Today, I feel only moderately horrible, instead of pummeled. The raccoons have retreated.

However, through it all, I baked rhubarb muffins for you. Three different ways, with different sets of flours, to see how these could work best. Our favorites, by far, are these: teff and other flours, rhubarb compote, little slivers of fresh rhubarb, and raw sugar on the top. They are addictive.

I'd type up the recipe for you now, but we are headed toward a midnight flight tonight. Danny, Lu, and I are going to Iowa for a few days, to gather material for our other blog and see Danny's sister. A red-eye with a bad cold and a toddler isn't my idea of fun, but being there will be a welcome respite. So we won't be posting anything this week.

However, if you have rhubarb on the brain as much as I do now (before it goes away for the season), here are some recipes for you to make this week:

Aran's Stewed Rhubarb with Lemon and Buttermilk Sorbet and Financiers

Ashley's Rhubarb Ice Cream at Not Without Salt (this one has some sweet news, as well)

Helen's Lavender Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb at Tartelette

Jess's Rhubarbsauce at Hogwash

Lara's Rhubarb Bars at Lara Ferroni

Molly's Roasted Rhubarb at Orangette

And finally, you definitely need to make
Dana Cree's Rhubarb Compote.

Why? Well, it makes a wonderfully sweet, still tangy, soft with a bit of bite, and heavenly tasting rhubarb compote and you don't want to miss it. Also, it's one of the key components of these rhubarb muffins, so you'll want to have some at hand before I post the recipe next Monday.

Get cooking!

19 May 2010

gluten-free cookbooks

gluten-free cookbooks

May is Gluten-Free Awareness Month. Did you know that? October used to be Celiac Awareness Month, but that was changed because no one wanted to compete with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the folks who don't have celiac but still can't eat gluten deserved to be included as well. Except, that's still not official. Canada switched the awareness month to May. Unofficially, the US has not made the switch, but there is a House Resolution asking for May to be Celiac Awareness Month soon. And every single PR agency that sends me press releases seems to have something about gluten-free right now, so the media world has made the switch.

Whew. Why is this so complicated?

Really, every month should be gluten-free awareness month. Do you know that the number of people in this country who have celiac is probably something like 1 out of 100? And that fewer than 5% of us have been officially diagnosed? If you think there has been a big surge in gluten-free foods on the market in the last five years, imagine what it will be like when every single person with celiac sprue finally knows her (or his) story. When people with gluten intolerance or sensitivity or any of the many reasons why people's bodies do not tolerate gluten finally know what ails them, there will be no limit to the energy those people have, and the good they can do in the world with that energy.

So yeah. It doesn't really matter what month it is. It's always gluten-free awareness month around here.

This weekend is the Go Gluten-Free Challenge, sponsored by the good folks at GIG and Pamela's Products, two organizations we love. They are challenging everyone — particularly those of you reading who do not have to be gluten-free — to live gluten-free, entirely, for one weekend. Those of you who have friends or family members who have to live gluten-free? Do this for them. It will help you understand the particular challenges of the people you love. There's a blog for following along and a Facebook page.

(And if you get stuck about what to eat, we have a few recipes here.)

I have said it before, and I continue to be amazed by this — if you're going to have any kind of disease or autoimmune disorder, be grateful for the one that heals with great food.

In honor of Gluten-Free Awareness Month in May (even if the House of Representatives hasn't sanctioned it yet), we cooked out of a big pile of gluten-free cookbooks the past couple of weeks. Today, we'd like to share with you the books we liked best.

Gloriously Gluten-Free

For those of you who are relatively new to gluten-free cooking and baking, we'd like to recommend Vanessa Maltin's The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook: Spicing Up Life with Italian, Asian, and Mexican Recipes. Vanessa was once the director of programming and communication at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, so she knows something about spreading the word about gluten-free living. Now, she is the food and lifestyle editor of Delight magazine, so she's working hard to help people eat well.

(I should also add that her book was published by Wiley, which will be publishing our cookbook, and was edited by our book editor. However, this really had little to do with why we are recommending this book, other than the fact that Wiley sent us a copy.)

The book has some really strong, dependable recipes for dishes that are naturally gluten-free and dishes that require flours. Maltin was smart — she enlisted the help of chefs who specialize in each of the cuisines she highlights in the book. Chef Keith Brunell of Maggiano's of Little Italy, Katie Chin of Thai Kitchen, and Edgar Steele of Café Atlantico are given credit for the bulk of the recipes in the book. (My only complaint about this is that the last section of the book is called Mexican dishes when Steele comes from a pan-Latin background. It would be great to emphasize how all of Latin American cuisine has something to offer those of us who have to live gluten-free.) These chefs clearly know how to make food.

Danny and I made the gnocchi recipe one evening and were both impressed. The texture was pliable and bite-able with a light touch that was unexpected from looking at the recipe. Making the gnocchi was no more arduous than traditional gnocchi. (Have you made gnocchi before? If not, you really should. I'm starting to prefer it to pasta these days.) I did find that my batch needed more liquid than the recipe called for, but that was easy to fix. The original recipe called for a vodka sauce, but for the lunch Lu and I shared the next day, I fried up some sage leaves in a little butter. Lu ate them all, talking away the whole time.

We also made the empanadas, which you see on the right. I liked the idea of putting cheese and onion right into the dough, along with using masa flour. The texture of the final empanada dough was a bit coarse for my taste. As Maltin writes, "Most restaurants use a pie crust or pastry dough to make their empanadas." Since we make pie and puff pastry gluten-free now, I'd probably use one of those next time. But I'll keep the idea of cheese and onions in the crust.

The spicing on the ground-beef filling for the empanadas was a touch bland for my taste. That's why this might be a good book for people who are just beginning to cook and starting to feel adventurous. Once you have made all the risotto recipes in the book, you should be feeling ready to branch out on your own and spice it up more.

My only regret is that I didn't have the time to make the stromboli recipe in the book. That sounded good.

food from The Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook

I have to be honest. I did not expect to like The Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook: The Delicious Way to Strengthen Your Immune System and Neutralize Inflammation.

It is such a plain-looking book, with no photographs or illustrations. And the words "...neutralize inflammation" don't generally suggest meals worth remembering. It looks like a health book. One of the authors, Claudia Pillow, has a PhD in Health Studies, after all. I flipped through it and almost gave it a miss.

However, the other author of the book is Annalise Roberts, whose wonderful first book, Gluten-Free Baking Classics, is still a bible for many gluten-free bakers. She has great taste and a sense of what works for gluten-free cooks, so I took a second look at the book.

We're glad we did. The recipes in this book are fantastic.

Up there, on the left, is my favorite new meal of the moment. It's a a puttanesca sauce — with capers, kalamata olives, good olive oil, and diced tomatoes — with kale simmered in it. The sound of it intrigued me. The taste of it blew my mouth open. It has a tomato intensity of a summer dish, with all those briny tastes I love, plus tender wonderful kale. We had a huge bag of kale in our refrigerator. What to do with it, besides make kale chips again? Make this dish. I made it three times in one week. In fact, when Danny came home from work one night I had this ready for him on top of brown rice. It wasn't until he was done eating, delighted, that he realized we'd had a meatless Monday. You don't miss it.

The chicken and white bean chili up there was pretty great too. The recipe was simple to follow and came together in about 15 minutes. (Believe me, now that I have an active toddler, I know how important that can be sometimes.) What I like about the recipes in this book is that they are filled with good ingredients like garlic and jalapeno peppers, and some unexpected ones, like tomatillos. We opened the giant jar of roasted tomatillos we had left over from last summer's canning party and enjoyed this chili immensely while we watched Top Chef Masters. It was even better for the next day's lunch.

I'll be honest. The first 1/4 of the book still didn't do much for me. It's full of information that might be useful to some of you, information about how many calories should come from each food group at every meal, and a chart about alkaline and acid-producing foods, and suggestions for drinking warm water and lemon juice at the beginning of every day. I really like my coffee, and I'm a little wary about anyone having "the" way to health. I'm not so fond of this kind of information in my cookbooks, but you might be.

However, I can't wait to make the roasted poblano-asiago soup soon.

food from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour cookbook

If you are gluten-free, you must have heard about Elana Amsterdam's book The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. Elana has done a wonderful job of promoting her book, a book that is clearly a work of love.

I was lucky enough to meet Elana at FoodBlogHer back in September, so I have to say that I consider Elana a blogger friend, a fellow gluten-free compatriot. She's lovely. Her book has helped so many people that we wanted to showcase it here.

In case you don't know this yet, Elana uses only almond flour in her book. The good folks who make blanched almond flour should be sending her thank you cards every day, because I'm sure she has driven up the consumption of almond flour singlehandedly in the past year. She talks a great deal about the nutritional value of almond flour versus other flours and why she uses it. Almond flour is very low in carbohydrates, which makes it good for those trying to avoid too many carbs. People on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet love Elana's book, for example.

I had never really used almond flour before I encountered Elana's blog. I'm grateful to her for bringing it to me. I love the protein and fat almond flour can add to baked goods. Sometimes I use it in pie crusts, in rhubarb streusel muffins, in chocolate chip cookies, and for making meatballs and meatloaf. And these days, I don't ever make bread without using almond flour. It's magic for bread.

Here's the thing: I don't really love almond flour as a stand-alone flour. I know why Elana has created an entire cookbook using only almond flour. As she wrote, "The recipes in this book are simple and easy — some contain six ingredients or less, and can be prepared in well under an hour." I know that is immensely appealing to many of us. I know that sometimes, when you read this site, you might feel overwhelmed with the superfine brown rice flour and four others, the xanthan gum, the different techniques. It makes sense to me that Elana would create baked goods with so few ingredients.

However, I have to say that I prefer baked goods with a combination of flours and some gums. I've made some of the baked goods in this book, and while they are good, the ones we make taste better in our kitchen. They feel lighter, with more of the mouthfeel of familiar gluten goods. It's a personal judgment. All cookbooks are personal, in the end. There isn't a single cookbook I have ever held in my hands that pleased in every single recipe. You might like Elana's chocolate chip cookies better than ours. That's cool.

I will tell you, however, that many of the recipes in this book pleased us enormously. Danny and I made Elana's turkey burgers, a play on the Mar-a-Lago burger popularized by Oprah, made with Granny Smith apples, scallions, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, and almond flour as the binder. They were wonderful. Danny doesn't like turkey burgers. Give him beef or pork every time. This one, however, he ate happily. And did so again the next day.

However, nothing we made these past two weeks made him as happy as the eggplant parmesan from Elana's book. I never would have thought to dredge the eggplant slices in almond flour, but I will from now on. The almond flour gave the eggplant a crisp crust and savory taste. We ate this for days, licking our fingers, and it only improved with each night in the refrigerator.

This book is worth the price for these two recipes alone.

food from The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: Whole Foods Recipes for Personal and Planetary Health is another title that might not inspire visions of delectable meals. Healthy? Yes. Well-meaning and earnest? Certainly. But gustatory pleasure? Well....

yes. Pleasure and spiced bites and surprises with every mouthful. The recipes in this book are wonderful.

Now again, I have to tell you that Danny and I know Ali Segersten and Tom Matlerre, a bit. We met them both at a gluten-free conference in Bellingham before Lu was born, and we admired them both. Tom is a talented nutritionist, with a Master's from Bastyr here in Seattle, and he knows his stuff. I love his passion and intensity, his desire to help everyone eat well. Ali, the soft-spoken of the two, was once a personal chef before their children arrived. She has a wonderful food sensibility, emphasizing healthy and delicious both.

These two are so healthy that they glow. I'm serious. You know how some people seem to exude health through their pink cheeks? That's Ali and Tom. Compassionate and genuine, these two are wonderful people. If they lived on the island, we'd be having them over for dinner all the time.

However, wonderful people don't necessarily create great cookbooks. In this case, these two have. They have recipes for lentil and brown rice casserole, sunflower burgers, and tempeh fajitas, so the book has a definite vegetarian bent. But we were intrigued by the fall stew with Moroccan spices, the smashed yam and black bean quesadillas, and the coconut lime chicken with almond dipping sauce. It's clear that Ali and Tom love food.

Danny and I have been talking about this a lot lately. We both feel that healthy food comes from celebrating. A celebration of the fact that asparagus from nearby is in season so we eat it every day this month, and sometimes every meal. A celebration of the fact that we can afford fresh food from the farmstand and our weekly small farmers' market. A celebration of tastes and unexpected spices and the joy of sitting down at the table with our daughter. "This is a nice, healthy book," Danny just said about The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook.

He's right.

We made the zucchini and potato hash for breakfast and loved it. Danny's happy with any dish that involves potatoes, after all. It was simple and tasty, with the addition of kale, which we would not have thought to add. When we have zucchini in our garden this summer, we'll probably be making this again and again.

Danny was particularly taken by the Rice Noodles and Red Cabbage with a Spicy Cashew Sauce. Honestly, I think he expected this to be crunchy-hippy-tofu cookbook, so he cooked it reluctantly. His face softened when he took his first bite. The flavors were bright and spiced well, the cabbage was crisp against the plush texture of the noodles, and the whole dish tasted like a clear afternoon with nothing to do. We've been using the sauce on millet and rice and other dishes all week as well.

Ali and Tom worked hard in this book to create dairy-free and egg-free options for the recipes as well, which many of you will be happy to know. They have a 28-day elimination diet plan, a schedule for introducing solid foods to babies, and suggestions for how to stock your pantry well. There's a lot of advice and information here, and it's offered gently, without a didactic tone.

Seriously, if you want to glow like these folks, you'd do well to buy this book.

food from Gluten-Free Cooking

Finally the book I probably love the best is the one I bought first.

Karen Robertson's book, Cooking Gluten-Free, is a marvelous cookbook. It's filled with sophisticated recipes like Mustard-Crusted Black Cod with White Asparagus, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Leek-Potato Puree, and a Seville Orange Vinaigrette.

It sounds like Danny food.

In fact, I bought this cookbook about 5 years ago to the day, within a month of first being diagnosed. Flipping through this book made me feel hopeful. With the judicious inclusion of chef-created recipes, this book made me feel like I could perhaps eat in a restaurant again, after all. (Of course, I married a chef.) I dreamed of Roasted Asparagus Quesadillas with Cactus Salsa, and Tomato Bread Salad, and Cranberry Soufflé. I made her Jerk Chicken with Cilantro Mango Salsa and posted it on this site back in 2005. (That was back when I still copied down recipes from other people and published them. I stopped doing that shortly after, thank goodness.) Someone wrote to me just last week, saying she had found that post and made the chicken and loved what I created.

I didn't create that. That was Karen Robertson.

Karen self-published Cooking Gluten-Free back in 2002, long before this current spate of gluten-free cookbooks flooded the market. She was a pioneer. And now, five years later, going back to her book, I realize she always had it right.

Her all-purpose flour mix, adapted from one by Wendy Wark, is close to the one Danny and I have been working up in our kitchen. It has taken me five years of working and thinking and understanding the flours before I could come up with an AP mix. (We'll be sharing it with you soon.) But Karen had a great one in her book all along. See that photo on the left? Know what it is? Flour tortillas. I had forgotten the recipe was in this book. I mixed up a batch of all-purpose mix, added oil and water, let the dough rest for 10 minutes, and turned on the cast-iron skillet. Flour tortillas. When Danny came home, I gave him one. "Shut up!" he said, mock slapping my arm. "Honey, these are great. They're flour tortillas."

They're not mine. They're Karen Robertson's.

For lunch yesterday we had chile rellenos with mango salsa. That was a good lunch.

Cooking Gluten-Free is filled with interesting, sophisticated recipes, both ones donated by dozens of chefs like Tom Douglas, Charlie Trotter, and Suzanne Goin and Karen's original recipes. Like Danny and me, she believes that there is much more to gluten-free life than baked goods, so the bulk of her book is savory recipes. However, her baked goods are flawless. I'm making her carrot bread tomorrow.

Self publishing a lavish hardback book, like the one I bought in 2005, has become expensive. For quite awhile, Karen's book was out of print, which is why many of you have not heard of it before. It's back, however. Karen is publishing the third edition as a CD. You can pop it into the computer and read it on your screen, but you can also print out individual recipes easily. Here is where you can order Karen's digital book online.

And if you're gluten-free, or just love food, you should definitely order Karen's book.

* * *

So you see? If you are just becoming aware of your need to live gluten-free (or your friend or husband or daughter or mother), there are a wide array of options for you here.

And, in September, there will be another gluten-free cookbook on the market. We think you might like it too.

We're giving away a copy of every one of these books. If you'd like to own one, just tell us why you want a good gluten-free cookbook in your hands.

15 May 2010

Greek Gods Yogurt and Mary's Gone Crackers

We are honored and pleased to announce the two latest sponsors of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Greek Gods yogurt and Mary's Gone Crackers. We think they're both wonderful companies that make great food, food that also happens to be gluten-free.

As I wrote when we first announced sponsorships on this site, "...we will be limiting the number of sponsored ads here, keeping them only to companies we truly love, the ones who make food we eat happily and do business in a way that makes sense to us."

We have been big fans of Greek Gods yogurt around here for awhile. In fact, so is almost everyone we know. Shauna's brother, our friends Nina and Tita and Sharon and a dozen more people exclaimed, when we told them about this upcoming sponsorship: "Hey, I have that in my refrigerator right now!" We're not surprised this yogurt lives in so many kitchens.

We love the thick mouth feel of this yogurt. It makes fantastic smoothies, which Lu drinks eagerly. Lately, as we have been trying to make this a healthier spring, we've been eating Greek Gods plain yogurt, a bit of honey, and some homemade granola for breakfast. It's a great way to start the day.

Have you ever eaten the fig-flavored Greek yogurt? How about the pomegranate? These flavors are particularly good and such a welcome innovation over the same endless mixed berry yogurt offered in small cups in the dairy case at the store. (I only wish the fig yogurt came in a large container, because we would eat it every day.)

With summer coming up, we think there will be plenty of dill-yogurt sauces, homemade ranch dressing, fruit salads with mint-lime-yogurt dressing, and fresh cherry smoothies around here. In our house, those will all be made with Greek Gods yogurt.

We hope you will buy some quarts of thick, delicious Greek Gods yogurt as well, as a way of supporting a sponsor of this website.

If you're gluten-free, you must know about Mary's Gone Crackers.

By that, I mean you probably know about them already, since they make some of the best and most widely distributed gluten-free foods in the US. And if you don't about them already, you must find some.

Mary's whole grain crackers are one of the few packaged foods that are always in this house. Always. Made of quinoa, brown rice, flax seeds, and brown sesame seeds, these crackers are good for you. But they also taste good. I am been nibbling on some with a skim of peanut butter as I am writing this, which is one of my favorite filling afternoon snacks. And — I kid you not — Lu begs for these, saying "Chip! Chip!" (She seems to think these are potato chips. We'll keep it that way for now.)

The crackers come in a variety of flavors, as do the Sticks and Twigs line. Plus, now they have cookies: chocolate chip, gingersnaps, and n'oatmeal raisin. These are great foods to have in the car when you are communting, or in an airport, or going somewhere where you don't know if you can eat gluten-free. That's why I always carry the crackers with me. I know these will fill me up.

Plus, Mary Waldner is a fellow gluten-free baker with a great success story. We love this company.

So if you haven't already, go out and buy some food from Mary's Gone Crackers. We think you'll have them in your kitchen from now on too.

We are all a community here. We hope you will help to support the companies that help make this community feel well-fed by clicking on the links over there to the right when you can.

14 May 2010

how to blanch

As Danny explains at the end of this video, we're going to be doing these "The Chef Shows You How to..." videos all through the summer and fall. (And beyond.) Our intent is to demonstrate every technique that is suggested in our cookbook so you don't feel intimidated by any recipe.

Today, the chef shows you how to blanch:

And since we're doing Danny videos today....

Quite awhile back, we talked here and on Twitter about some spring quinoa cakes Danny made at the restaurant. Well, he did a video with Good Bite about them and we'd love to share it with you now:

So go blanch some vegetables, then make spring quinoa cakes with them!

p.s. Someone wrote to ask if Danny had suggested adding matzoh to the quinoa. Nope! It's masa.

12 May 2010

roasted asparagus frittata

roasted asparagus frittata III

It is finally spring around here.

This may have been the mildest winter in Seattle history, weather-wise, but it was a long one in this house. I've written about that here before. No need to repeat.

The sun is out now. It might have been cold these past few weeks (37° at night, Seattle? Really?), but the sun has been shining. We're funny in this area. As soon as the temperature rises above 58°, we throw off our sweaters and bare our skin to the sun. At the first hint of warmth, it's time for a picnic.

My new friend Tamiko came over last week, with her two darling daughters. When Lu saw them through the front window, as they were walking up our driveway, she threw her hands into the air, jittered them around in excitement, and started giggling. She loves these girls, who are in turns serious and silly, tickling each other and reading on our couch. Whenever they come over, she is clearly jazzed.

So am I.

it was a bubble magic day

After all, we hung out in the backyard, in the sunshine. There were floral print dresses, food-smeared faces, paper crowns, spins on the tricycle, baby plants to pat and try not to crush in the garden, giggles, stories, twirling around with arms straight out while looking up at the sky....

we had bubbles in the backyard

...and there were bubbles. Bubbles bouncing, floating, popping and toppling all over themselves.

"I don't know what it is," said Tamiko, "but when bubbles are around kids, it always seems like magic."

Yes, the magic of adults remembering to relax and allow themselves to be as mesmerized by that lone bubble rising toward the top of the trees as the almost-two-year-olds were.

I hope there are lots of bubbles this summer.

the lilac tree is in full bloom

Plus, the lilac tree was in bloom.

Last year, when this lilac tree was in full bloom, we were in the hospital with Lu for her surgery. By the time we came home, we had missed most of the blooms.

This year, we are here.

roasted asparagus fritatta

The food was simple. Tamiko brought over a big bunch of thick asparagus stalks, grown in Washington State. This time of year, we eat asparagus every single day: roasted, blanched, eaten raw in salads. I cannot get enough of this vegetable that tastes like verdant green. Tamiko suggested a frittata. We had eggs. I pulled out the cast iron skillet, some leftover Mizithra, the salt and pepper, the smoked paprika, and started cooking.

When the frittata was firm and golden, the roasted asparagus bursting out of the surface, I ran it out to the back deck to take photographs. It looked good. I liked the colors. Besides, I have learned — if you want to let hot food cool for little mouths, take a few rounds of photographs.

We divvied up the frittata and handed every child a hunk of it. They all stood, munching, not moving for the first time all afternoon.

"Hey!" I joked to Tamiko. "I think I have my next blog post."
She agreed.
On the way home, her oldest daughter said to Tamiko of me, "She makes good recipes."
I've rarely heard higher praise.

I thought I might just write this up, and leave it here. A sweet story of spring, a recipe for roasted asparagus frittata with smoked paprika. That's enough, right?

Except, that when I started to write this, I remembered: I have a frittata recipe on this site already. Mildly concerned that it might be an asparagus fritatta — I had a vague memory of spring vegetables — I went on the search. And found this.

I wrote this piece about a spring vegetable frittata in June of 2006. Almost four years ago, now. Really, about four lifetimes ago. I wrote about a picnic I had with my favorite senior writing class, a group of students so talented and hilarious that I wanted to say my own farewells before graduation.

Those students are about to graduate college now.

I wrote about teaching and shared stories and little moments in the classroom that would stay with me forever.

I haven't taught in a high school classroom since.

I wrote about the little secret I had been keeping: I had just been signed by a literary agent.

She and I talked yesterday about my third book, the one that was due at the end of August (ack!), the one she negotiated for me to be moved to next spring instead (whew). I don't know how many conversations I've had with that wonderful woman since I signed with her. Perhaps there will be hundreds more over the years, because I intend to keep writing books for the rest of my life.

I hinted at another secret, one I would tell soon after. I had just met Danny.

We talk nostalgically now about those early days, when we lost sleep because we just couldn't keep our hands off each other. Now, we lose sleep because of this darling daughter of ours, a being in our lives we hoped for but didn't dare to dream before we met. That's her up there, munching on her frittata. She eats with joy.

Reading that post again, one I honestly had almost forgotten, I was struck by the memory of that June 2006 frittata. I didn't make it. Danny made it for me. I stood by the stove and watched what he did and took notes in my little book. I wrote up the recipe on the site and called it mine.

Now, I'm sort of horrified by the way I wrote that recipe. (And the length of that post. My goodness I used to write really long entries here.) More than that, I'm struck by this: when I made that frittata last week, I didn't open up a book or call Danny for advice. I turned on the stove, roasted the asparagus, threw a bunch of eggs in a bowl and beat them, pinched in some salt and pepper, slapped the skillet around on the stove, threw it in the oven and called it done.

Every single part of my life has changed in the past four years. Truly. This may be a small part, but it feels important: I cook now. I cook like I'm breathing, like I'm picking up Lu when she falls down and cries, like I kiss Danny when he walks through the door at night, like I write. Cooking has become part of me, part of my muscle memory.

I love cooking far more than I did four years ago.

My friend Tamiko is a writer. She hasn't known that clearly for many years. She has been dwelling in academia (she teaches at the same university I attended, the same university where my father teaches), teaching literature and language, and raising her daughters. However, just this year, she has discovered something beating in her that needs to be heard.

As she and I have talked, over Twitter and on my couch, it seems that she has grown more clear that she wants to write. I've watched her happiness grow wider these past few months. She doesn't know where it's going yet, but she just started a blog, which she calls Kiku Girl. (She gave me permission to share this fledgling with you.) She's a phenomenal writer. She's finding her way through her words, through assignments to herself and pointed memories.

I'd like to invite you to meet Tamiko. But I'd also like to urge you to find that something beating in you that needs to be heard. It's in there, whatever it is.

When I started writing here, five years ago this month, I wrote out of urgency, a pulse that pushed me toward stories and sentences. I didn't know how to write recipes. I wrote too much. I had no idea who was reading. I certainly never expected to meet my husband, my agent, my writing career, my daughter, and my life because of this site.

You just never know. I certainly don't. And when life feels narrow and too strictured, like it did at times this winter, I'll remind myself of how much can change from one frittata to another.

the edge of the frittata

Roasted Asparagus Frittata

1 bunch fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
7 eggs
1/2 cup grated Mizithra (or a milder cheese like Parmesan works fine too)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preparing to cook. Preheat the oven to 400°. Pull out your largest cast-iron skillet (or sauté pan).
Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper until they are frothy. Be ready. This goes fast.

Pan-roasting the asparagus. Snap each stalk of asparagus at the point on the woody stem where the stalk wants to break. (Trust me. It will feel obvious.) Set aside the woody bits for an asparagus stock, if you want. Cut each stalk into large slices, about 1-inch long.

Set the cast-iron skillet over high heat. Pour in the oil. Add the asparagus stalks to the hot oil. As the asparagus heats, it might spit a bit. Wait and let it cook for a minute. Push the skillet around on the burner to toss the asparagus and force it to change positions. (If the thought of this scares you, it's also perfectly fine to use a spatula in the skillet.) When the asparagus has turned bright green, it's time to beat the eggs.

Making the frittata. Pour the beaten eggs over the roasted asparagus into the pan. Tilt the pan around on the burner to allow the runny eggs to run around the pan and fill in the empty spaces.
When it looks as though the eggs have started to set, lift the edge closest to you, gently, up from its place, with a thin rubber spatula. Lift up the skillet to tilt it toward you and allow the uncooked egg to run underneath. Place the skillet on the burner again and swirl it gently to distribute the egg. Cook the eggs for forty seconds or so, continuing to lift and tilt until the egg on top is no longer runny.

Sprinkle the Mizithra cheese and smoked paprika over the surface of the frittata. Slide it into the oven. Bake the frittata until it is firm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Watch it closely.

Gently, guide the rubber spatula around the outside edges of the frittata to loosen it. If you want, you can now flip over the frittata onto a waiting plate for a lovely presentation. Or, if you're at a picnic like we were, put the cast-iron skillet on the deck when it has cooled, bring a knife and some small plates, and dig in.

Feeds 8.

11 May 2010

Ready for Dessert

rosemary polenta olive oil cake

I love David Lebovitz. Have I mentioned this?

Well, apparently, I have mentioned how much I love David Lebovitz, just a few times in the last five years. Why do I keep wanting to tell you about how great this man is?

It could be his charm, his debonair style, his kindness, his sharp wit, his impeccable sense of good chocolate, his funny-as-hell writing, his love of butter and sugar creamed together, his evocative photographs, his self deprecation, or that he has his very own iPhone app. Those are all lovely, plus there's much more.

(He did say once that he was going to marry me, but that was before Danny, so I've let that go.)

You know the real reason I love David Lebovitz so much and tell you about him over and over again? Because he's a baking god.

David's new book, Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes is his best yet. He took his favorite desserts from his first two books, which are now out of print, updated them, wrote hilarious headnotes, and added new confections as well. The first night after it arrived in our home, I took this book to bed with me. (Danny understood.)

We've been baking out of it ever since, trying as many recipes as we could and then giving away the goodness as fast as we could. Everything that David created was so tender and sweet, lush and perfectly seasoned that I could have eaten everything. Thank goodness, I didn't.

In fact, most of the recipes we made were trial runs for the desserts Danny made at his restaurant. You see, David's recipes convert to gluten-free like a dream. See that towering golden cake up there? That's a rosemary olive oil polenta cake with a lemon syrup. That's gluten-free. And it's moist and yet holds, unusual with the rosemary yet very old, comforting and surprising both. Danny has been making this at the restaurant for a couple of weeks now.

Oh, have I mentioned that Danny is making gluten-free desserts for The Hardware Store? And many of them are dairy-free too? Before this cake was a caramelized rhubarb upside-down cake. Also David's. Danny's thinking about making the nonfat ginger cookies for ice cream sandwiches this summer, because David wrote that they make the best ice cream sandwiches he has ever eaten. Next week, there might be an apple-frangipane galette or a chocolate-cherry fruitcake with tomato jam. Who knows? We do know we're turning to David for inspiration first from now on.

Now, I know that we'll have this book in our house for decades, until the spine falls apart and we have to put it together with duct tape. I'm never letting go of this baking book because every single recipe works. It is one of the few baking books I will keep forever in our home, along with Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. This is my baking bible now.

You should buy it too.

peanut butter chocolate chip cookie

One of the things I love about David's desserts is that they are essentially humble. Oh sure, there are the occasional flourishes where you can tell he's an especially talented pastry chef. (He did work at Chez Panisse for years, you know.) Mostly, though, he understands what people crave and offers recipes for sweet creamy buttery salty baked goods with quality ingredients and not that much fuss.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to bake cookies with Lu. Nothing impossible. No new recipe. Just a peanut butter cookie. We make the flourless peanut butter cookie sometimes, but I felt in the mood to make a softer peanut butter cookie, one that melted on the teeth. David had one, of course. I simply mixed up equal parts of superfine brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and sweet rice flour and put them in my kitchen scale. When they added up to the number of grams David's recipe called for in all-purpose flour, I stopped. I threw in a teaspoon of xanthan gum. That's it. The rest of the recipe was exactly the same.

This is where I want you to stop and really listen. Ready?

Every single recipe of David's that I tried required no more fiddling with gluten-free flours than I listed above. Because David's baked goods are so precisely made and meticulously written, they all work. And because lists his ingredients in grams, which are more precise than ounces, you can use the same amount of grams of your favorite gluten-free flours, add a bit of xanthan gum, and you're done.

You can bake. You don't have to add an extra egg, or milk or something with protein. You just make his recipes as written, substitute gluten-free flours for the regular flours (and when he calls for AP flour and cake flour, just add up the total number of grams and use that amount of gluten-free flours) and start enjoying cakes and cookies again.

You won't need me soon. Just buy yourself a kitchen scale and David's book and you can bake gluten-free, contentedly, for years on end.

See that peanut butter chocolate chip cookie? Want one? Buy Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes.

gluten-free black and white cookies

Black and White Cookies, gluten-free
, adapted from Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where they talked about the black and white cookie? Or the scene in Sex and the City where Carrie nibbles on a black and white cookie while talking about her Russian lover? Sense a theme? These are New York cookies. If you've never lived in New York, you might not ever have seen these. You have two options: you can fly to NY and try to find some or you can make these.

And if you're gluten-free, you couldn't eat the ones in NY anyway. They're full of gluten.

The cookie part is soft and cakey, instead of crisp and buttery. It's a little like a tea cake, a tiny cake smooshed down to the size of the palm of your hand. These are from David Lebovitz's recipe. And they are evil.

Because they are so good. A soft, cakey cookie with a hint of lemon, thick frosting with cocoa powder on one half, vanilla on the other. Oh lord. I waited until friends came over to frost them so I could give almost all of the cookies to them. (The cookies are good but the experience of eating them isn't complete without the frosting.) I saved one for Danny, though.

I might have eaten one myself too.

70 grams superfine brown rice flour
70 grams tapioca flour
70 grams sweet rice flour
60 grams potato starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
90 ml (
6 tablespoons) whole milk (I used soy milk for these)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
115 grams (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
130 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

250 grams (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons plus 2 more teaspoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
45 ml (3 tablespoons) water
20 grams (3 tablespoons) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

Whisk together the brown rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, and potato starch together. Add the xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl, mix the milk, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla, and the lemon zest.

If you have a stand mixer, pull it out here. (If you have a large bowl and biceps, you can do this the old-fashioned way too.) Cream the butter and sugar together in the stand mixer on medium speed until they are smooth. Beat in one egg at a time, letting the mixer run between each one. When you have added both of the eggs, mix in half of the flour mixture, then the milk mixture, then the rest of the flour mixture. Mix until they are all combined.

Drop 2 tablespoons worth of batter, which will be quite thick, onto the baking sheet. Make each mound of batter 2 inches apart from each other. Bake the cookies, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the cookies feel just set in the middle, about 15 minutes. Let them cool on the baking sheets.

To make the frosting, mix 2 cups of the powdered sugar with 2 teaspoons of the corn syrup, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla, and water until the frosting is smooth. (This might take a minute in the stand mixer.)

Take half of the frosting out of the stand mixer and put it in a separate bowl. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar into the small bowl of frosting and mix until it is spreadably thick.

Add the cocoa powder and the remaining 2 teaspoons of corn syrup to the frosting in the stand mixer bowl. This will be your "black" frosting. If the frosting feels too thick to spread, add a teaspoon of water at a time until you have reached the desired consistency.

Turn over all the cookies. You're going to frost the bottom of the cookies, the flat part. Using a butter knife or small spatula, frost the bottom half of each of the cookies with the white frosting. Spread the black frosting over the second half of each cookie. Let the cookies sit for a minute.

Voila! A black and white cookie.

Makes about 22 cookies.

07 May 2010

Friday island photos: driving to the grocery store

heading into town. see the ferry in the distance?

It's late morning, somewhere around 10. Lu is not due for her nap for a couple of hours. The sun is out.

Let's go. Let's go to the grocery store.

everything a blur of green

Most of the drives we take on the island include flashing blurs of green. Most of the island is fields and forests, with a few houses tucked in behind the stands of trees. Try to take photos and I have this.

that's the farm I wrote about

Here's the farm I wrote about last month. It's on our drive into town, which means that we can keep checking in on the state of the farm. There's a profusion of green plants these days.

stop signs don't happen often, so we need lots of warning

There aren't that many stop signs on the island (and only the four-way stop in the middle of town has a flashing yellow stoplight). Most of the time, it's open road. When one approaches, you want to know it.

watch out for deer

We see the Deer Crossing signs far more often than stop signs. Believe me, you need these as a reminder.

During the summer, nearly every yard you pass has a pair of deer chewing on plants. (Most gardens are fenced in the middle of a field around here, to keep the deer out.) On warm nights, we drive slowly down the hill toward our house. Deer dart out all the time. I really don't want to hit one.

Not a day goes by from spring to fall without seeing deer around here.

out on the open road

It's open road.

It's fully spring. Every tree has leaves. Everything is finally here.

time for a curve in the road

Time for a curve in the road. Climb a little hill, wait for the houses to disappear, and pass the clutch of stationery bikes parked on the side of the road, and then we see...

Tramp Harbor


This is Tramp Harbor. (I swear.) This open swath of water, the waves breaking into the shore, the Cascade mountains lining the bottom of the sky on clear days, the sailboats in the distance — this is part of our drive into town.

I will never grow tired of this view. Usually, at some point when we drive by this view, either Danny or I sigh and say, "Can you believe we live here?"

I still can't.

I used to jump off this dock at night

And I've lived here before.

I used to jump off this dock on dark nights in summer, the hot air just starting to cool, the phosphorescence glimmering green in the water. My friends and I looked down, took a deep breath, held hands, and jumped.

That cold water was a shock to the lungs, every time. We came up roaring.

I haven't done that in a long time. But I think of it every time we pass this dock.

my favorite beach

That is my favorite beach on the island, possibly in the world. KVI beach. It has an official name. I don't know what it is. Everyone calls it KVI because those radio towers belong to a Seattle station with the call letters of KVI. I don't listen to the station, but I love that beach.

When I was a teacher here in the 1990s, I used to go to KVI on warm days and grade papers up against the bluffs.

people love to bike on the island

Here's a sure sign of spring. Bikers on the road. In the summer, some roads are thick with packs of men and women in matching jerseys and intent expressions, pedaling hard down the road. You have to drive slowly, and on narrow roads there is no chance to pass them.

Another chance to practice patience.

all kinds of green now

I love this road. When I lived in New York, and rollerbladed Central Park, sometimes a certain curve would remind me of this road. It always made me sigh.

that's the high school where I used to teach

That's the high school where I used to be a teacher.

the main highway

Now we're on the main highway. 40 miles an hour. That's the Country Store on the left. That's really the name. The Country Store.

We bought Ozette potatoes there a few weeks ago, to plant. I hope they grow.


We're closer to town now. That's Minglement, the coffee roaster/health food store/gathering place for the community. When I taught high school here, this was the roasting plant for Seattle's Best Coffee. About 11 am, in the middle of teaching Greek and Latin roots, I would stop to sniff the aroma coming in the classroom. Hmmm. Guatelmala roast.

Now, we buy gluten-free flours and oats there, along with island eggs and meat. I love that front porch.

it's still mostly green on the main highway

More blur. Even on the main highway, this close to town, there are still fields and trees. Always trees.

that's the fish shack on the right

You might remember that last year I wrote about the fish shack on the road where we buy salmon and halibut directly from the fishermen. There it is, on the right.

Open every weekend.

there are lots of churches on the island

There are a lot of churches on the island. A lot. This is a small town, after all.

the movie theatre

There's one movie theater. It always reminds me of the movie theater in The Last Picture Show. They play current movies, though.

Someday I will see a movie in a movie theater again.

Casa Bonita

This isn't really on the way to the grocery store. It's one block over. The day I took these photographs, we had to make a quick stop at the post office. And so, this.

This is one of two Mexican restaurants on the island. I think it's the better one. When it first opened, we all piled in, because the food was authentic, the cooks direct from Mexico. After awhile, it started to go downhill, toward Tex-Mex, toward the standard tastes of American expectatations of Mexican food. I didn't go for years.

Now, though, it's back to fiery and alive. Every time I have been, I've left smiling.

the latin store on the island

Next door, the island's Latin store. Truly.

It's meant to serve the immigrant population who have come here to work in the restaurants and work on the farms. We go in for spices and other foods, however. I love that this little small town on an island, which could be entirely homogeneous, is not all white. Not by a long shot.

finally there

Here we are. At the grocery store.

It's quite a drive.

Can you blame us for going nearly every single day?