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31 March 2008

wild rice

wild rice

We have been eating our share of rice around here lately.

For years -- literally, years -- my wonderful sister-in-law has been quietly suggesting to me, "You really should buy the rice cooker we have." A sleek, sly model, which makes almost no sound, their rice cooker turned out fragrant, steamed rice every time. Having enjoyed a perfect mound of white rice in my brother's home almost every visit, I put the rice cooker on my wish list at Amazon. Someday.

But I never did buy it. You see, I had bought a much less expensive, far less fashionable rice cooker, in a fit of needing to save money. It worked. Sure, the bowl quivered a bit, as the rice bubbled and toiled. And the bottom coil looked more like a rust collection over the months than something that cooked food. Still, I owned it. And then we owned it, when the Chef moved in. We made do.

Then, one night, the damn thing exploded. The Chef plugged it in, and sparks came out of the cord. I shrieked, he leaped, and it jumped away from the wall. We stood there together, panting in fear, waiting for it to come to life and attack us. It sat there, inert. We put it in the recycling bin, eventually.

And then we meant to buy another rice cooker. But the last six months of our life have been a little busy. We waited. We made do with a small copper pot with a lid. After all, what did people do before rice cookers? Surely we didn't need something that newfangled, right?

Then, I started craving rice. For three weeks, all I wanted was a heaping bowl of steamed white rice, with homemade butter, and Maldon salt. It calmed me. I suppose it was bland enough to help with the nausea. It tasted so good. And I dreamed of a machine that could simply make rice for me, something to keep mounds of rice warm and ready for my edible adventures.

So I went online and bought the Sanyo ECJ-F50S Micro-Computerized 5-Cup Rice Cooker and Steamer My sister-in-law was happy when she walked in the door a couple of weeks ago and saw this sitting on the kitchen counter. I am so happy when I see it gleaming near the sink.

Ah, rice.

Whenever someone says to me, "Oh, I'm so sorry you can't eat wheat," I just think, "No problem. I have rice." I swear, as I write this, I am scooping up the last of a fresh-made artichoke risotto, with roasted lamb and briny black olives. Yeah, I'm deprived.

Give me basmati rice, which is grown in India, at the base of the Himalayas. Inherently, it has a slightly nutty taste. Even though it is a white rice, it has a hint of brown-rice taste. Jasmine rice, which originates in Thailand, is generally less expensive than basmati rice. It also smells woodsy, a little nutty, and something — I swear — a little like Playdough. You know that you are eating food closer to the ground than boil-in-a-bag when you eat jasmine rice. Each long-grain rice has its own taste, so I vary the type I use depending on what I am cooking. Curries? Basmati rice. Seared meats with sauces? Jasmine.

And honestly, I'd be happy at breakfast every morning with a steaming bowl of mochi rice — sticky and saturated with starches — sprinkled with gomasio and topped with quivering poached eggs. Heaven.

Still, all that white rice lacks a certain nutrition. So lately, I've been playing with wild rice.

The Chef cooks with it all the time at the restaurant. A few months ago, he was making a roasted quail with wild mushrooms and port sauce. A couple of months later, it was roasted chicken with Seville oranges, wild rice, and bacon. And a few nights ago, he spontaneously created a wild rice with fresh thyme, caramelized onions, and bacon for us. (Again, yes, I am deprived, because I cannot eat gluten.)

As you may know, "wild rice" is a strange moniker, considering that this ingredient is actually an aquatic grass. But the name has stuck, so let's run with it. Its slightly nutty taste and pleasingly springy texture makes it the perfect fodder for any number of other foods.

Heidi just put up a spring wild rice salad recipe on her site, and the photograph alone makes me dizzy to try it.

But I will admit this — I don't know that many variations on cooked wild rice. I'd love to vary my options, since I'm clearly going to be eating plenty of it now.

Do you have any favorite suggestions?

27 March 2008

soon, please

pink petals on pavement

Spring in Seattle? You are so fickle.

Please stop.

This morning, when we woke up, the green lawn was covered in grey-white frost. This made the walk to grab the paper an unpleasant experience in pajamas. The Chef found photos of snow-covered roads from the previous night, online, taken about twelve miles from our home. And this afternoon, when I was speaking with my parents on the phone, they told me that cold rain and heavy snow had just passed over their home. They live 45 minutes away from us, and we had much to say to each other. Just before we hung up, I looked outside the window and saw thick sheets of white snow slanting down onto the green outside.

Ten minutes later, bright sunshine poked through the clouds and made every blade of grass glisten.

I don’t understand. Didn’t we already pass daylight savings time? Why, when it is light until almost 8 pm now, do I still have to shiver while I type this with cold fingers? Why is the dazzling display of pink azaleas on the bush outside our door wilting brown on the edges from freezing several days in a row?


No wonder our landlord, who is a master gardener, suggested that we wait to plant our vegetable garden until Memorial Day weekend.

I know, I know. I shouldn’t complain. I’ve seen the photographs on friends’ blogs — there are vast parts of this country still covered in snow, with no sign of thaw. The Chef laughs at me when I wish for warmth. “Yeah, spring in Breckenridge starts in June.” Even in New York, all the years I lived there, I don’t remember seeing the trees sprout green in Central Park until the middle of May.

Still, the first week of March here was lovely and warm, blue-skied and expansive. Could I have that back please?

Late this morning, I was kind of moaning about this in the car while I drove the Chef to the restaurant. And then I shut up. Because, while we were stopped at a red light, I saw a homeless man huddled into himself in a doorway. The only things keeping him warm were his mangy beard and the cigarette dangling between skinny fingers.

I’m doing just fine.

Mostly, though, I know what this is. I’m growing antsy. Tomorrow, I start my sixth month of pregnancy. Six months pregnant! It sounds significant, doesn’t it? It feels that way, to be sure. My belly has grown outward, like a plump tomato at the height of the season. Every morning, the Chef and I look down at my belly, and he says, “Good lord, your belly has grown, again!” People have started smiling at me as I walk down the street. At first, I thought that they recognized me from all the publicity we’ve been receiving around here for the book. (That’s a funny state of being, when I expect people to say, “Hey, are you the Gluten-Free Girl?” Believe it or not, it happens often.) But when I see their beneficent and genial smiles, I realize, “Oh, it’s just because I’m pregnant.”

I love being pregnant. I adore it. My changing body amazes me. My food cravings crack me up. My slower pace feels right to me now. And the Chef? He’s so deeply involved, already in love with his child. Every night, and most mornings, he leans down into my belly and says, “Hi Little Bean!” in his excited, child-like voice. He has entire conversations with the little one, and I stand above him, my hand on his hair, loving him more.

I know that I will always love this time, and it will disappear far too fast. I should stop wishing for it to go faster.

It’s just this — we can’t wait to meet Little Bean.

LB started moving about five weeks ago. These little fluttery bubbles along the bottom of my belly, which make me grin every time they appear. But in the last couple of days, they have started to feel like real kicks. In several places along my belly, I felt this little thrumming, a quick pulse, a movement clearly from within my body, not on the skin. This evening, as I lay down to watch a little tv (a break from writing, much enjoyed), I felt these little pushes in my belly, and shouted out, “Hi Little Bean!” And then I watched as the left side of my belly wobbled a little, moving outward, and settled back to its place.

Oh my god.

These are, bar none, the most beautiful days of my life. I want to swim in them, and stay here, enjoying.

But if only it were a little warmer, and I could take walks without three layers, and see plants sprouting up from the ground and not worry that they will be frozen soon. I want to see the spring in full bloom. New life. All that hope.

I suppose this must be what it’s like for Little Bean, too. It’s dark in there (but probably pretty toasty warm). Little Bean doesn’t know what this world looks like, just the one inside my body. We all go into our cocoons in winter. I can’t wait for the sun to shine warmth onto my skin. That means we’ll be that much closer to meeting our child.

(And of course, I reserve the right to laugh at myself in July, when I’ll be nine months pregnant, and wishing for cooler weather again.)

This is the world, Little Bean. Sometimes it’s dark and cold. Usually, there’s sunlight, at least sometimes.

We can’t wait to show it to you.

chicken with citrus glaze and parsley pesto


Even in food, we’re in between seasons. The spring vegetables have not arrived in the farmers’ markets (soon, soon) and we’re all starting to tire of the winter vegetables. (Parsnips, I promise I will be excited by you again next January.) Really, the idea of four seasons is absurd. It’s more like twelve. And right now, we are in winter-spring.

For the middle of winter-spring, this chicken dish might just hit the spot. With a lavish glaze of reduced citrus juice, and a splash of green parsley pesto to presage the warm days that surely will arrive, eventually, this dinner helps stave off the rains outside. At least your belly will be warm after you eat it.

(By the way, the mystery ingredient in the photo above is a pile of balsamic pickled red onions. They are tangy and slightly sweet, a decadent surprise for the end of winter. I’d give you the recipe, but we’re saving it for a special occasion. Sorry!)

1 bunch fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/8 cup pine nuts, toasted
½ lemon, juiced
½ cup high-quality olive oil
¼ cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt and cracked black pepper

5 oranges, juiced and strained
1 lime, juiced and strained
1 lemon, juiced and strained

2 chicken breasts (the one photographed above is a breast with half a wing attached)
½ teaspoon kosher salt and cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons high-quality olive oil

Making the parsley pesto. Put all the ingredients, except the oil, into a food processor. Whirl them up. Slowly, drizzle in the oil until the bright-green mixture coheres. If the pesto feels too thick to you, add a touch of water to thin it out.

Making the citrus glaze. Put all the citrus juices into a saucepan. Bring the juice to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and allow the juice to bubble away, slowly, until the juice mixture has been reduced to ¼ cup.

Roasting the chicken breasts
. Preheat the oven to 500°. Season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper. Put the olive oil in a large skillet, brought to heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken breasts. Sear them until they are golden. Flip them. Toss the skillet into the hot oven. Roast the chicken breasts until the internal temperature has reached 150° (this should take about 20 minutes).

Assembling the dish. When the chicken has fully roasted, coat the entire breast with the citrus glaze, using a pastry brush to spread it on. Spoon a few tablespoons of parsley pesto on each plate. Nuzzle the chicken breasts on top. Serve immediately.

Feeds 2.

24 March 2008


dried chickpeas

I'm pretty sure I didn't eat my first chickpea until I was well in my 20s.

How did I survive?

The first taste came from a packaged container of hummus I bought at the Thriftway on Vashon. My little island was a bastion of hippiedom, and so the store stocked foods I had never seen before. Even though I had been a vegetarian for years, I still stuck to the same foods I had eaten all my life, without the meat. Those years of my late 20s, I began to discover how the rest of the world ate. And hummus came home with me, one adventurous evening.

Hummus has stayed with me ever since.

I've learned to make it myself now. Tender chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, sea salt, a pinch of lemon, perhaps some herbs. When I bought a good food processor, I whirled up batches two or three times a week, sinking warm pita slices into the silky golden pillows. Usually, I ate half a batch before I scooped out the rest into a Tupperware container to last me the next few days.

I still love hummus. Today, I just eschew the pita and go for sliced cucumbers or ripe tomatoes instead.

However, it took me until I said goodbye to gluten to say hello to chickpeas in other forms than hummus.

These days, I just can't seem to take in enough protein. The first three months of my pregnancy were the season of meat. The Chef brought home lamb chops, slices of beef tenderloin, roasted chicken, and pork loin, every night. There was fish, too, good fish without mercury or farm-raised pasts, the kind of fish that grows strong brains (or so the literature says). I swear, I was making up for those vegetarian years.

But these days, I'm lingering on legumes; simmering beans in olive oil; cooking up green lentils with rosemary, garlic, and bay leaves; soaking large white beans overnight to slip into soups the next day. Mostly, though, I'm gobbling up chickpeas.

In the late afternoon, for much of the first few months of my pregnancy, I ate one snack in the late afternoon. Shaved fennel salad with lemon and olive oil, plus some fabulous cheese. (Last week it was Pyrenees semi-soft with green peppercorns). In fact, I've had this one so much that the Chef actually said to me, "Enough with the fennel salad. We're going to have to see if there's a kicking-the-fennel-habit support group for you." I laughed. Perhaps he's worried that Little Bean will have fennel fronds sprouting from the ears.

Easy to fix that. I just switched to chickpeas.

Really, it's so simple. Take chickpeas out of a can (make them organic, from a good source. They'll taste better). Rinse them off of that semi-gelatinous gunk. After draining, sprinkle them with Maldon salt, a pinch of pepper, some high-quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and shreds of fresh mozzarella. Eat.

oh heavens, I think you'll want to eat some more the next day.

But the convenience of the can steals the pleasure of working with dried chickpeas. Look at that photo above. Notice the folds and furls, like the forehead of old men. (Actually, as the Chef said when I showed him this photograph, they look like the faces of the two old men in the balcony of the Muppet show.) Dried chickpeas look like tiny dessicated brains, or the thousand folds on the legs of babies, just above the knees.

None of this may be making you want to eat them. But really, you want to. Soak the chickpeas overnight in a goodly amount of water, and then cook them until they are tender. Working with the dried beans makes them much more tasty than the canned ones will ever be.

And I haven't ever eaten a fresh chickpea. But this summer, I'm going to try to find some.

I've worked a bit with chickpea flour, and I want to try more. One of the most memorable bites of our honeymoon in Italy happened in Florence. I ate golden-toasty cecina (the Florentine name for a hot pancake made with chickpea flour), filled with thin slices of prosciutto, drizzled with truffle butter. Need I say more?

(I believe that the taste of chickpeas in packaged hummus is to cecina in Florence as puppy love with the photographs of boys in Tiger Beat is to daily love with the Chef.)

And now I'm hungry for more.

On Sunday, we're having our monthly ingredient potluck. For March, it's chickpeas. That's partly for the vegetarians, to give them a break after the bacon party. But it's also a chance for me to pick up new ideas for my favorite legume.

So, what would you bring? What floats your chickpea boat?

22 March 2008

having a chef around the house

pounding open the coconut

I have to admit — sometimes it’s awfully fun having a chef around the house.

Now, before you start worrying that the word “sometimes” means that we aren’t enjoying each other’s company constantly, let me allay your fears. It’s always lovely to have my husband around the house. I have yet to experience a moment with him in which I wish he were in another room. We are always laughing. Just this morning, I said something so ridiculously silly to him that he threw his head back on the couch and started wheezing into this silent laugh he has, his eyes closed, his head shaking the couch cushions, the newspaper in his hand rattling from the spasms that splashed through his body. This lasted for at least two minutes, during which time I nearly spit out my coffee laughing at his laughter. Little Bean started dancing in my belly soon after, and I’m sure LB was saying, “Hey, let me out! That sounds like a good time.”

Simply, by “sometimes” I mean that he’s not always the Chef around the house. I call him that here, because I did at first, and it just stuck. When I first started dating him, I didn’t want to say his name to my friends until I thought he might be a more permanent presence in my life. (My dear friend Sharon has started dating someone with interesting possibilities, but I only refer to him as “the boy” with her, so far.) By the time he had become the love of my life, I wanted to hide him from the internet for awhile. And when we announced, together, his presence in my gluten-free home, we decided, together, to call him the Chef. It was a bit of a play, the thinnest gauze curtain of privacy, and a moniker that pleased him no end. After all this time, it fits him. When I walk into the restaurant in the afternoon, his coffee in my hand, I call out to the kitchen, “Hey Chef!” He always comes around the corner grinning.

But at home, he is, much of the time, not a chef. He’s a husband, in love with his wife, talking to his child through her belly. He’s a doting son, tearing up as he talks with his parents on the phone. He’s a sleepy fellow, yawning as he rises, scratching his stomach, and stretching into the living room to say hello. He’s a goofball, strange noises emitting from his lips in perfectly timed moments. He’s the morning dispenser of food to the rooster and hen who hang out beneath our bedroom window. He’s a tender lovely man, who takes photographs of the pink azaleas blooming on the bush outside our living room window and sends them to my phone throughout the day to remind me, “Hey, it’s spring!”

And in the morning, he’s a hungry man, saying, “What’s for breakfast?”

You see, even though I live with this loving, tender goofball of a man, it’s not all days of fabulous meals he whips up in the kitchen while I lie on the couch, waiting to be fed. Every once in a while, I receive an email from someone, slightly irate that I make living gluten-free sound so positive. “Yeah, if we could all have a chef around the house, I’m sure life would be fine.” But you see, the irony is, I’m the one doing most of the cooking. And I love it that way.

The first three months of our relationship, he cooked nearly every meal. After a long day of cooking in his kitchen, ten hours on his feet, he came up the stairs of my house and started cooking again. When I weakly protested — not that much — that he must have been tired, and he really didn’t need to, he turned to me as he flipped something in the skillet and said: “This isn’t work. I’m cooking for the woman I love.”

But after three or four months, he would start calling me from the restaurant during a break in dinner service, and say, “Hey, what’s for dinner?”

Some might say the magic had died. I just know he had relaxed and stopped trying to impress me. We were living together and loving each other. And how was it fair that he prepared all the food? How was it fair to me?

I had missed cooking. For the first year I was gluten-free (well-documented on this site), I created something new at the stove every night. Fearless, I tossed ingredients into a pan, broiled or sautéed them, concocted recipes, and danced with my food. When the Chef and I started dancing in our kitchen, I let him take over. After a time, I thought, “No, thank you.” I let go of my intimidation of cooking for him, cranked up the music loud, and started back into that sweet spot of making up dishes and working on old recipes.

ready to make coconut ice cream

So the irony is — the Chef may be in the house, but I’m the chef at home. Our food at home is far simpler than at his restaurant, but we both prefer it that way. (If I had gone too much longer eating rich sauces, buttery mashed potatoes, and beautiful hunks of meat every night, I might have exploded anyway.) A few weeks ago, I had a terrible craving for macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. So that’s what we had for dinner. He loved it.

Still, there are days when he becomes the Chef at home again. The first three months of my being pregnant, when I couldn’t handle much from the nausea, he wrassled up breakfast and rounded up food from the restaurant for late at night. When he’s particularly proud of his fish special for the night (like the seafood stew he made yesterday, with a bouillabaisse made of fish stock, Pernod, fennel, and saffron, filled with fresh halibut, clams, mussels, prawns, and Ling cod), he might sneak a little home for me to taste.

And mostly, on our Mondays off together, sometimes he can’t resist making something up on the spot. Away from the restaurant for a day, his hands start to itch to be back in the food, to feed us.

Like this past Monday, when we were preparing to visit our friends Karen and Shawn. Spontaneously, they invited us over. She was making arepas (Venezuelan cornmeal cakes, which I will share with you another time, because they’re a gift for gluten-free folks), spiced black beans, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Of course we said yes. Could we bring anything?
“How about a pint of that Snoqualmie coconut ice cream?” Karen asked me over the phone.
“Oh yeah. I love that stuff,” I exulted.
“Well, I think coconut would go really well with these cookies.”
When I hung up the phone, I looked over at the Chef, and said, “Hey listen, since we’re going to the store anyway, we just need to pick up a pint of ice cream.”
He shook his head, that sly grin on his face. “No, we’re not.”
I should be used to this. I should know that dart in his eyes, the sudden silence, the little glee dancing in there — he had an idea. But I fell for it again. “Why not?”
“We’re making coconut ice cream, instead.”

You see, this is where being a chef makes him handy. He is completely fearless, and he also has the sense memory in his hands of making thousands of meals. Nothing in food scares him. He is only delighted by the challenge of making something from scratch.

This is how we found ourselves in the kitchen, me taking pictures, as he cracked open a hairy coconut to let the juices spill out. (I wouldn’t suggest actually taking a hammer to one. We staged that photo.) Rich cream, thick egg yolks, shreds of fresh coconut meat, and an extra can of coconut milk for taste — they all fell into his hands and tumbled into a saucepan. I went to the other end of the house to finish another task, and when I had come back, the custard was done.

How does he do that?

It turns out that life intruded on our finishing the ice cream on time. When he’s not in the restaurant kitchen, nothing like that fazes him. We simply took the chilled base and the ice cream maker over to Karen and Shawn’s. Since that puppy runs loud, he put it in the bathroom and let it whirl up in there with the door closed.

“No one has ever brought homemade ice cream to my home!” Karen exclaimed.

I grinned. I’m still thrilled.

After a full meal of soulful Venezuelan food, and hilarity over a highly competitive card game, we all roused ourselves for ice cream. Sweet jesus, as the Chef likes to say sometimes. Dense creamy sweetness, with a mild intensity. Real coconut has a dark taste to it, something slightly unexpected. It all mixed and swirled on the spoon and landed on the roof of my mouth, darting there for a moment, then slid away in taunting surprise. Plump coconut macaroons from Paris, sweet coconut baked treats from my favorite bakeries, and the whiff of coconut suntan lotion from my Southern California teen years —- they have nothing on this. Nothing like a cold swirl of a spoon of ice cream made that afternoon by my husband, the Chef.

On these days, I must admit, it’s awfully fun to have a chef in the house.


Why wasn't this up on Thursday? Those of you who read closely will have noticed that I have switched this site to a fixed schedule: posts on Monday and Thursday, with plenty of room for comments. And yet, this piece did not appear on Thursday. Thank you to those of you who worried at my silence. Little Bean is fine! We just lost our internet for two days, due to the service provider woes. At first, I felt flustered. And then, I realized what a gift this was. Having the chance to disconnect, and simply spend time together, was a blessing for the three of us. But the internets is up and running now. Hello!

Check out Urban Spoon. The lovely men at Urban Spoon really are quite the team. Not only have they created this ever-changing, oh-so-cool city search restaurant guide, but they have also added a feature for gluten-free friendly restaurants in every city they cover. We met many months ago, talked animatedly about babies and food, and laughed all afternoon. They told me yesterday that I inspired this part of their website. So here's your chance, everyone.

Go to Urban Spoon. Find the city of your choice. Under Special Features in that city, you'll find a "gluten-free friendly" category. There you'll find a list of restaurants where readers have eaten safely and received conscious treatment by servers and chefs. You can use that list to make dining choices. But more importantly, add restaurants where you eat. With this, we can create an enormous index of restaurants where everyone can eat well.

In the end, that's what all this is about: eating well.

coconut ice cream


Look, I know how lucky I am to have a chef in the house. But that's why we post recipes like this one, here. I shouldn't be the only one sharing this food with him. And his expertise means that these recipes work. (In fact, anything on this site published after May 2006 is much better than the recipes before I met him!)

That serving of ice cream awoke in me the slumbering need for ice cream while I’m pregnant. I’m thinking there’s much more in my future, soon. Since this recipe is adapted from one by David Lebovitz, I have a feeling I'll be raiding his brilliant book, The Perfect Scoop, all spring and summer, until Little Bean appears.

1/2 fresh coconut, split in half
10 ounces coconut milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half
5 large egg yolks

Strip the cut-open coconut half of its fresh meat. (You can extract it with a small paring knife, but be careful not to cut yourself.) Grate the coconut meat with a cheese grater or microplaner. (Watch out the knuckles!) Set aside.

Pour the coconut milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, sugar, and salt into a medium saucepan. Add the grated coconut meat. Bring this mixture to a small simmer, not a boil. As the mixture is coming to heat, cut a long line down the middle of the vanilla bean, lengthwise. Scrape all the seeds into the creamy mixture, and then throw in the spent pod, as well. Let it all come to a simmer together, and then take it off the heat.

Allow this to steep at room temperature for at least one hour.

Find another medium saucepan in the cupboard and put that in the stove. Fish around for a fine-mesh sieve, next. Pour the steeped liquid through the sieve into the new saucepan. Press down on the coconut and vanilla bean pieces to squeeze out all the flavor you can.

Turn toward the egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together the egg yolks. Pour the warm coconut-cream mixture into the eggs, making sure that you whisk constantly. (This may seem like it requires more pairs of hands than you have, but you can do it.) Push this new mixture into the saucepan.

Turn up the heat again -- no higher than medium -- and warm the custard, stirring with a rubber spatula. Be sure to stir the bottom as well. When the custard coats the back of the spatula, it is done. Pour the custard through the fine-mesh sieve into the remaining cup of heavy cream. Stir it all up.

Leave the custard out to cool for a few moments, and then place it in the refrigerator. When the custard has completely chilled, turn it into ice cream in your ice cream maker.

Makes 1 pint.

17 March 2008

olives, of all kinds


Oh lord, I love olives.

The story in my family goes like this: the first time my father babysat me by himself, my mother came home to find me covered in hives. Why? Apparently, when my father wasn't watching me, I toddled into the kitchen (was I 18 months old? 2 years old? Mom, help me out), found a jar of olives, and ate them all, one after the other. I'm sure that I had not yet been exposed to brines and spices, and my skin exploded with the overload. But it never turned me off olives. Whenever I think about this image -- little Shauna eating an entire jar of olives in one sitting -- I think, "Yep. That's just about right."

The flesh on Lucques olives clings close to the pit, as though suction cupped there, and the greenness dares to be eaten. "You want some of this? You're going to have to work at it."

Every Thanksgiving of my growing-up years, we waited for the lavish feast to appear on the table. The antipasti, if you will, of the meal? A bowl full of green olives, almost suck-puckery with vinegar and salt, stuffed with red pimentos. By the time I hit eight, it was my job to mound the olives in a brown Pfalzgraff bowl and place them in the middle of the table. Two (or twelve) might have never made it into the bowl. We all stared at them hungrily, even though much greater bounty surrounded us.

Do you remember the opening of Amelie, where the little girl plucks one fat red raspberry after another off each of her fingers, until her cheeks bulge with a mouth full of fruit? Well, replace the raspberries with Libby jumbo black olives from a can, and you have me in the afternoons after swimming in the pool.

There's something green-tasting about great olives, even a bit pungent (a touch of paint thinner? warmed vinegar? a little acidic slip down the back of the throat?). The flesh gives, the olive falls apart, soon it's just a faint after-memory in the mouth. But the taste never leaves me.

A few weeks ago, the Chef and I were driving toward a cooking class we were going to teach that night. Rain slathered down on the windshield, cars honked in brute frustration, and we were going nowhere on 405-South. Suddenly hungry, I told the Chef we'd have to grab a snack at the store before we began prepping for the class. He grinned his sly grin, and reached down for the floor. Up came a white take-out box from the restaurant. Inside, a snack he had packed for the two of us. Thick slabs of Drunken Goat cheese, and latherings of the olive tapenade he had just created for the new menu: thick bits of ten different kinds of olives, a touch of lemon, a hint of garlic. Who needed crackers? He smeared each piece of cheese with tapenade for me, and then handed it to me when I needed more. I stopped worrying about the traffic.

I've come to love Cerignola olives stuffed with almonds. But really, it's hard to find an olive I don't like.

This weekend, in Vancouver, the Chef and I ate dinner at a wonderful place called Salt Tasting Room. It's hardly a restaurant. It's more of a charcuterie and cheese bar, featuring local products in particular. We're swoony about the place now. But my favorite bite -- perhaps my favorite bite in weeks -- involved a briny olive broken in half, juice smeared on a piece of Taleggio cheese, wrapped in a slice of paper-thin smoked beef tenderloin, and dabbed with drops of balsamic reduction sauce. Oh, mama.

Little Bean seems to want many foods these days. But olives? Every day.

I may have a hundred memories, but I always love new ideas of how to eat one of my essential food groups.

What's your favorite kind? And how do you like to eat olives?

13 March 2008

how connections led to chocolate chip cookies

Nina's chocolate chip cookies

This afternoon, a fellow writer and food-lover friend spotted something on the menu I might like. A crispy duck salad with green lentils, red cabbage, winter pears, and some kind of creamy vinaigrette. Before I could even coo over the idea of it, Jess looked up at the waiter and said, “Does have that any kind of bread in it? Or any kind of wheat at all?”

I thought for a moment that she was trying to go gluten-free. Later, I realized she was simply asking for me. (And every time someone takes care of me, I love that person more.) The waiter said, “I don’t believe so, but I’ll check.”

Before I left, I said, “I think I’d want one of those too, but it can’t have even a speck of wheat in it.” (Looking at the description of the dish, I wasn’t worried about rye or barley.)

“Oh,” he said, a smile lighting up his face. “I’m learning all about this. My mom has to do that too!”

“Celiac?” I said, as I looked up at him.

“Yes!” he seemed excited that someone knew what his mother is suffering.

“Me too. How long?”

“Just a month. She’s having a hard time.” His face naturally shadowed with sadness.

I pulled out my wallet, fished out my business card, and said, “Hey listen, I write a website all about this, and I have a book. If you think it will help your mom, give her this.”

He seemed genuinely thrilled. In fact, he thanked me several times throughout the meal. As he left, I looked at Jess, a bit sheepish I had just promoted my work like that. But she put me at ease immediately. “Changing one life at a time, eh?”

That’s what it feels like sometimes.

(And by the way, Cafe Presse, where we had lunch, is one of my favorite spots in Seattle for lunch. Great food, fresh ingredients, a French feel. That salad was simply transcendent. I’ve eaten at Presse many times, and every waiter has understood the gluten dilemma. Plus, they make incredible pommes frites, and they only fry those in the oil in the kitchen. No cross-contamination. I may not have experienced any cliché pregnancy cravings, but this baby seems to love Presse pomme frites with fresh aioli.)

I’m amazed, every day, at how deeply we affect each other, and we often don’t know it.

Every time those of us who are gluten-free speak up and sing out our story (instead of silently sulking), we’re changing people’s minds.

I like to joke, these days, that part of my job is talk about my intestines in public. (“What happens when you have any gluten by mistake?” someone asks me, and I start into the descriptions.) I’m not complaining. It’s a hilarious gig. And I have always thrived on absurdity. But most of us aren’t that thrilled with disclosing the details of our “disease” in public. Some elect to stay home instead.

By the way, I have to interrupt myself: I rarely say that I have celiac disease. I don’t have a disease. This is simply the way my body was built, imprinted in my DNA long before I was born. The same may be true for Little Bean, and this baby is still four months from coming into the world. If you define yourself by disease, you might not want to talk about what happens to you if the chefs slip and give you some breadcrumbs by mistake. But me? I explain, in clear terms, because this is simply who I am, and I want to be well.

When I talk about gluten and what will happen when I get some, I never know who might be listening.

Several months ago, in O’Hare airport, in the security line, I started talking to an older gentleman from Georgia. We bantered about something, and he asked me what I did for a living. When I told him about my writing, and the book I had just been in town to promote, his eyes went wide. Turns out he was one of the nation’s leading diabetes educators, and he had been wanting to learn more about living gluten-free. Maybe he bought my book. Maybe someone else who needed the story found out about it from him.

Look, I know how lucky I am. After a lifetime of dreaming about it, I was offered a book deal. When I look over at the copy of my book sitting on the mantelpiece of our fireplace, I want to giggle. But that’s not the point.

We can all do this. Those of you who are gluten-free, have you noticed how much more widely discussed this is these days than three years ago? When I explain my work now, to someone in grocery stores or airplanes, someone always says, “Oh, I know someone with that.” If someone else is next to you, in the aisle with the gluten-free flours, looking puzzled? Strike up a conversation. Maybe you’ll spark someone to create a truly great gluten-free bread. (And then ask for the recipe.)

To quote, in part, Robert Kennedy: “Each time a person…acts to improve the lot of others…(s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples can build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

the house — nearby, a walk away

In other words? Maybe some day each person in this country with celiac can be well. (And eat something like that crispy duck and lentil salad. As Jess said, as we were desperately trying to find any shreds of crispy duck skin still clinging to the bone, “Oh my god, I want to eat my fingers.”)

Changing lives one person at a time. It may be the only way anything happens.

It’s even better when it’s someone you love.

Our friends Nina and Booth had us over to their lovely home for dinner the other night. The Chef loves it when other people cook for him, so he can sit back and relax. But what made me happier still is that, sitting in their kitchen, I knew I didn’t have to explain anything about how to make food for me safely.

You see, the two of them have a gluten-free kitchen now too.

Nina and I met through our dear friend Judy. The two of them went to elementary school together, grew up together, and have stayed friends through every tumultuous and glorious year. Judy was actually the director for my Food Network spot, and she became my friend as soon as we were done shooting. When she came to Seattle last year, to film more spots, she introduced me and the Chef to Nina and Booth. Kismet.

Nina and I started rollerblading around Greenlake in the burgeoning spring air. We talked fast, with our hands (thank goodness we had balance in our bodies) about writing, options for films, translating memories into words, and editors. You see, Nina is a fabulously talented children’s book author. (Little Bean will be the proud owner of all of Nina’s books.) We spoke each other’s language, without need for translation, immediately.

And of course, we talked about food. We never stopped talking about food.

Booth, her husband, had once run a seafood exporting business, bringing Pacific Northwest fish to Japan. Together, they had run a successful coffee company in Atlanta, before that. Nina and Booth know all the best places to find exquisite bites of food, and they were generous in sharing names.

(Some of you who have been reading for awhile might also recognize them as our friends who live half the week on The Island, which we love.)

Soon after we met, Nina started reading this site. Booth did too.

And yet, it took us all at least six months before we realized: “Wait a second. Does Booth have celiac too?”

One day, as we sat in the coffee shop near my old home, I listened as Nina talked about how horrible Booth was feeling. Starting somewhere in the fall, after a long, arduous solo backpacking trip, he had started to descend. Terrible lethargy, headaches, sleepless nights, and this awful aching feeling in his feet. Soon, he could no longer ride his bike. He had been to doctors, who wanted to diagnose him with gout, or thought he had some form of arthritis. When the strange rash appeared, the doctors tried to give him salves for that.

Each one was addressing the individual symptoms. No one looked beneath it to see if they were all connected.

I had been hearing about and witnessing Booth’s pain, and his understandable struggle with this. No one seemed to understand.

Why did it take me nearly four months to ask, “Wait, does he have any digestive troubles?” (You see? I talk about intestines.)

I’ll leave Booth’s personal bathroom issues alone. He’s not writing this piece. But I will say this: what Nina told me confirmed the idea that had been sparked.

Let’s see. He’s Irish. He spends a lot of time in the bathroom, always has. He loves beer, but it makes him kind of sleepy. He can’t sleep through the night, uninterrupted. Headaches. Sudden onset of pain and a terrible rash after a traumatic event….

“Nina, I think he might have celiac. Have him tested.”

She read more about it. (Fans of this site, they never thought it had pertained to them.) Booth did too. They went to the doctor.

And the doctor did the blood test, misread it, said he showed a “weak positive” and congratulated him on not having celiac. Disappointed at not having a diagnosis, he went gluten-free for a week anyway.

The next week, I met Nina and Booth at the grocery store in Ballard. Booth’s eyes were wide open, light for the first time in months. His skin looked clear. He stood up straighter. And Nina looked happier with him than I had seen in a long time.

I glowed. As we slowly walked through the grocery store, I pointed out the places where gluten can hide, and suggested some cereals and flours. But mostly, I found myself beaming. That I could help my friend find health? Better than a book deal.

Booth had started sleeping through the night. He hadn’t taken any ibuprofen in 24 hours, after months of guzzling them down every four hours. Clearly, he felt better.

His rash didn’t go away, though. In fact, it flared even stronger after a few weeks. It nuzzled into vulnerable places and itched so ferociously that he could barely sleep at night. One night, in desperation, he drove to the emergency room. The doctor there took one look at him, listened to his story, and examined his rash. “You have celiac,” he said. “This is dermatitis herpatiformis.”

Finally, a diagnosis.

Booth still struggles. The rash hasn’t disappeared completely. (For those of you reading with DH, how long did it take you to stop suffering with it?) He still wonders, sometimes, if he really does have this. How could he have lived as long as he did and not known this was his body?

That was my question when I was diagnosed as well.

But he’s committed. Call it whatever you want — gluten clearly doesn’t do him any good. And after we began talking, and he started to live consistently without all those problems plaguing him, he began suggesting to the members of his family that they be checked out too. The mother who suffered colon cancer. The sister with some of his same ailments. The brother who had never been well. His three sons, one of whom spent time in Iraq and could not eat a meal without throwing up and having horrible stomach pains. (The Marines refused to believe that anything was wrong with him, and did not investigate.) They have started listening. One of his sons has gone gluten-free with him, entirely. Always a lover of food (he began cooking seriously at 11), Chris is now one of the assistants at the Chef’s restaurant. He’s thrilled to be working at a place where he can put his hands on the food and not worry about growing sick. In turn, he’s feeding other people who are amazed to be eating gluten-free in a restaurant.

Those ripples are extending outward.

So when Nina and Booth fed us, the other night, I didn’t have to examine any packages for her, to detect hidden ingredients. Everything in their home was already gluten-free. We sat in their capacious kitchen, the warm light falling down upon us, eating kalamata olives, Manchego cheese with quince paste, and rice crackers. Nina worked on the chicken curry, Booth cooked the jasmine rice, and we all laughed together. Everyone in the room felt well.

The curry was stunning. The eggplant bharta kicked our sinuses with its spiciness. Even the non-alcoholic fizzy grape juice tasted good to me.

But the best part of the meal was at the end. With a proud flourish, Nina brought forth a plate of chocolate chip cookies. For the first couple of months they were both eating gluten-free (she eats with him, after all), Nina relied on mixes. It’s how I started too. But when I showed her more flours, and told her how I combined them, she started playing.

And just that week, she had invented chocolate chip cookies that made them both howl with delight. Hands grabbed for them that night, and then reached in for more. These weren’t specialty cookies. These were just damned fine.

After months of not having a taste for sweets, something awakened in me. Still-warm, crumbly chocolate chip cookies, the chunks of chocolate melting against my teeth, the whole grains in the flours as generous as the light in the kitchen had been, the dark sweetness of Muscovado sugar — all of it shared with friends.

Little Bean began dancing in my belly.

Isn’t it amazing? How much we all mean to each other?

Nina's chocolate chip cookies II


Nina and Booth gave me permission to tell their story here. And Nina kindly gave me her recipe, so that everyone can have great chocolate chip cookies.

I take no credit for these. I stand in awe. These are all hers.

1 cup teff flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
3/4 cup Muscovado sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 sticks butter- softened
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 bag Ghirardelli BITTERSWEET chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375ºf.

In a large bowl- put in softened butter. Blend in sugars. Mix in eggs and
then add vanilla. Mix all dry ingredients together, and blend into wet
mixture. Blend in chocolate chips and nuts. Put heaping teaspoonfuls onto
cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove to cooling rack.

10 March 2008



People, your voluminous and kind-hearted responses this week have astounded us. My goodness, the comments on our announcement of Little Bean have us choked up, every day. It's marvelous to feel like we're a community, even in this strange world connected by our computers. This little one (who is kicking and getting bigger every day, pronounced by the obstetrician today to be thriving. The whoosh-whoosh heartbeat through the Doppler only made us grin harder) will be born with a huge cheering section waiting for his or her arrival. How many of us is that lucky?

So thank you.

But just as astounding (and far more useful for cooking, really) is the amazing outpouring of suggestions and cooking ideas for Savoy cabbage. I was hoping you might like this idea for a Monday ingredient spotlight, but was not prepared for the rush of enticing-sounding ideas. Goodness, people! I bought another huge Savoy on Saturday, just to try out some of your suggestions. You certainly inspired me.

Let's try another one, shall we?

This is a bowl of Anson Mills cornmeal (in this case, it's ground for polenta). I have only recently started eating this extraordinary cornmeal, milled on demand before it is shipped to each customer. They grow heirloom breeds of corn, buckweat, rice, and wheat, and they do it all organically. The Chef loves this stuff, and so do I.

Now, you may have noticed that Anson Mills does work with wheat in its South Carolina plant. That could give us gluten-free folks some pause. But never fear. I called Anson Mills a few weeks ago, to see if I could really eat this cornmeal. When the man at customer service picked up the phone, not only did he know what eating gluten-free meant without my explaining, but he said that the corn, rice, and buckwheat products are milled and handled in a completely separate room than the wheat products. They also test the air, to make sure that nothing creeps in. That's good enough for me. (And I'm being especially careful, now that I'm pregnant.)

You see, not all cornmeal is gluten-free. The dear folks at Bob's Red Mill make some of the best gluten-free flours in the world, in a dedicated gluten-free facility. But their cornmeal (and their masa harina) is manufactured in the other room, the one with all the gluten. We really need to look at every commercially-processed cornmeal, carefully.

(If you haven't tried it yet, you should splurge and buy some Moretti polenta, which is made in the Lombardy region of Italy. Those folks know what they are doing.)

So this cornmeal is rather special, for a variety of reasons. But cornmeal itself is a treasure.

When I was little, one of my favorite breakfasts was my mom's cornmeal mush. She was born with a Pennsylvania Dutch background. (Until I was much older, I thought that everyone said "read off the table" when it was time to clear the dishes.) That cornmeal mush must be from that rich history. She made something close to polenta the night before, spread it out in a casserole dish, and let it chill overnight. In the morning, she cut thick wedges of the sunny yellow stuff, put it on the electric griddle, and slathered the hot mush in Aunt Jemima syrup. Oh, I couldn't get enough, especially when bacon slices swam in the syrup pool.

Actually, I haven't had any in awhile. Might be time.

So the question is now in your hands. What do you like to do with cornmeal?

06 March 2008

Little Bean

Danny and Shauna, aged one year and 18 months

For over a year now, I have promised him that — if this ever happened — I would announce it with this sentence:

The Chef has knocked me up.

(There you go, my love.)

I know that these are pretty incongruous words to write about the most awe-inspiring, hilarious, and life-changing experience we have ever undergone. But really, when it comes to describing what it is like to be pregnant, with the love of your life, for the first time at 41 years old? There are no words.

We’ve been keeping this secret for awhile. I’m halfway through my fifth month of pregnancy, actually. Oh, our families know, and our closest friends. And in the last month, I have been sharing the news with those of you whom we have met in cooking classes and promotional events for the book. At a certain point, I had to share. I have quite a little bump going now. It’s pretty clear when you see me.

But even more than that, these past four months have been some of the most astonishing of my life. There were the first 12 weeks, when I felt nauseous all the time, as though some little devil with a pitchfork were poking at my stomach every three minutes. Ha ha, you’re nauseous! And the exhaustion so penetrating that I found myself drifting away to sleep at least three times an afternoon. (Thank goodness I work from home, and I can do this. I feel deeply for those of you in offices and classrooms. How did you manage?) These were days I wanted to write about, to explain them to myself, and commiserate with you.

Mostly, there have been ineffably beautiful moments in these past few months. The first time we saw the baby, a little tadpole swimming in waters deep in my body. And that little heart thrumming, a sweep of hummingbird wings beating against a small circle. The first time we heard the heartbeat, tiny horse hooves pounding out their rhythm. The longer ultrasound, when we saw the baby’s spine, ten toes wriggling, small hands furling, and even a quick wave at us before a turn. We have been full of happy tears and in a place beyond words.

And in the last two weeks, I have felt the baby moving in my belly, the first small kicks of a tiny creature no bigger than an avocado. It feels like champagne bubbles bouncing against my abdomen. And every time I feel this, I stop and gasp, and then rub hello back.

For someone who loves to share stories (and how), these most important stories have been difficult to silence in writing.

But we decided to wait for the right time until we shared this with the internet. In the first trimester, every pang and stretchy ache made me worry about a miscarriage. I have been healthy for nearly three years, after cutting out gluten, but would those years of un-diagnosed celiac take their toll on the baby? If I got gluten through unintentional cross-contamination while I was pregnant, would that catapult my system into letting go of the embryo? And then there were all the tests. Would they reveal abnormalities, truths beyond our control? These were days far too tremulous, and too much ours, to share.

There are no guarantees in life. We still don’t know that this will all come out well. But the doctor called this morning, with the final test results. Everything is normal. Our baby is healthy.

We have been dancing all day.

And so, this feels like the right time, finally. We’d like to introduce you to Little Bean.

we are so damned happy

We call the baby Little Bean because there’s a little human being in my body. This makes me walk around in a constant state of awe. How do our bodies do this? How is it possible that in five months we will be holding a child, someone born from us and our love? And knowing that every human being I see on the street, in cars, in the stores where I shop for food, came from this same awe? This makes me love humanity, even more.

And in a funny way, every pregnancy book I read (and there have been plenty) likens the size of the baby to food. When we first read that the little one was the size of a fava bean that week, we fixed on the name. Little Bean.

(As an aside, we do now know the sex and name of the baby. We’re keeping that to ourselves until the birth. Some things still need to be private.)

Speaking of food, eating has been spectacularly weird. I could write for pages about the food aversions and cravings my body has been surging through for the past four months. Perhaps, in another context, I will. Suffice it to say this. Ice cream, cookies, and homemade pie? No thank you. Sweets have totally turned against me. I didn’t have a bite of chocolate for nearly two months. I didn’t want it. I didn’t know who I was.

Now, I like them some. But I still haven’t been interested in that pregnancy cliché: sitting up in bed with a pint of ice cream, late at night. I tried, once, to eat some, just because I felt so removed from the process I was supposed to be undergoing. Five bites of coconut ice cream and I put the pint down.

What have I wanted to eat? Meat. That bacon party happened for a reason, after all. My body has craved protein as though I am a Russian weightlifter at the Olympics. Pork, mostly. But all meats. Beans. Nuts. Safe seafood. Eggs. Cheese. (God, I hate the fact I’m not supposed to eat unpasteurized or raw cheese. Meat cooked less than well-done. No raw eggs — this takes away homemade mayonnaise and cookie dough. And also, missing sushi is nearly killing me. I’m having sashimi delivered to the hospital when Little Bean is born.) Yogurt. And milk. Good lord, I’m drinking three glasses of milk a day, avidly. And I don’t even like milk. Or I didn’t.

One of the funniest parts of this? The days when foods I have always loved suddenly seemed repugnant. One morning the Chef made us roasted potatoes and eggs, the way he does most mornings. He makes the best roasted potatoes I have ever eaten, and on some days he threads roasted onions through the pile of them too. That morning, I took one look at the plate, and then used my fork to shove every sliver of onion to the side.
“What are you doing?” he asked me, incredulous.
“I don’t know why, but I just can’t have onions right now.”
“Okay,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He had already learned not to question this.
So had I. I have learned to trust my body, deeply.

That’s why I could stand the two weeks when suddenly every vegetable seemed repugnant to me. The texture of salads grossed me out entirely. What? This isn’t me.

But now, it is. (Vegetables came back, thank goodness.) Maybe this is all just preparation for the days when we have a child, and I’ll have to give up control of my life almost entirely!

(Still, this doesn’t really explain those two weeks when I needed a Tootsie Roll every day.)

All this absurdity and daily changing? Not to mention the sleepiness, the growing belly, the unexpected inability to stand up without starting to tip over these days? They are all worth it.

We’re having a baby.

And in the midst of this, I never forget how blessed I am.

You see, at 41, the charts and statistics insist that my chances of becoming pregnant were quickly diminishing. And I know that there are — and I feel the deepest empathy for —millions of women out there who are struggling to become pregnant. IVF, drug treatments, surrogacy: they were all looming in our future. That we became pregnant after only five months of trying? Oh my, what a blessing.

Five years ago, I suffered with a fibroid tumor that grew to the size of a grapefruit in the span of six weeks. The bleeding, discomfort, and pain were nearly unbearable. It became so bad that I stumbled into the emergency room one day, where the doctor who examined me explained what was happening to me. And then she told me I needed a hysterectomy, that day. Crying, I asked for a second opinion. The second doctor, several days later, said the same. I would have given in, but some stronger voice within me knew that I wanted children, even if it seemed unlikely. I asked everyone I knew for a doctor she trusted, and then I found mine. She told me she only needed to open me up, take out the tumor, and sew me up. I left the hospital with my uterus intact. This baby would not be inside me without that doctor entering my life.

And of course, for all those years, I suffered with celiac disease without knowing what it was. Now, I know, from reading and speaking with people, that undiagnosed celiac can be the source of multiple miscarriages and infertility. (In fact, to anyone reading who is suffering these problems? Ask your doctor to test you for celiac.) If I had met the Chef earlier in my life, we might have tried, in vain, for years. And all because of gluten.

The readiness is all. Thank goodness I met him when I did.

And he has been, without a doubt, the best partner I could ever ask for in this. All those pregnancy books? All they talk about is the woman’s experience. But he feels this as deeply as I do. He has the ultrasound shot of Little Bean saved as the opening photo on his phone. He makes me whatever food I want, and pushes away the ones my body disdains. He is tender and loving, funny and willing to cuddle whenever I need it. He is my best friend, without a doubt. Having a child with my best friend in the world feels like the biggest gift there is.

I’m writing this tonight, because we wanted to share this with you. All of you reading, who have left kind comments and vulnerable letters before this? You are part of this. Without this community, we would not be who we are. Literally. This feels like the most exultant news we can ever share, and we are so happy to be sharing it with you.

Still, even after I publish this, and this is public knowledge, this will go back to being private. The Chef will come home from the restaurant, and I will read this to him. He’ll probably cry. And then we’ll go into the kitchen, to start to make dinner together. As he does every night, he will kneel on the floor before me, lift up my shirt, and talk to the baby through my belly. “Hi there!” he’ll say in his cartoon voice. And then he will tell the little one all about his day, and how much he can’t wait to meet him or her. He’ll hold the baby close with his words. He’ll kiss my belly, deeply, trying to reach that little one. And then he’ll look up at me, and I’ll hold his head in my hands, and we’ll smile at each other. No one else will ever share this.

Just me, the Chef, and Little Bean.

pork and beans for Little Bean


Only six weeks into my pregnancy, as soon as the nausea began, the food aversions and cravings began. And what did I want to eat, most every meal of the day? Protein. And plenty of it. If I could have chosen, I would have eaten slabs of meat at every meal. Luckily, I also feel even more deeply in love with beans than ever before. Combine the two, with a bit of garlic, rosemary, and good olive oil, and you have my perfect pregnancy meal.

This will feel like an alarming amount of olive oil in this recipe. Frankly, it is. But, remember a few things before you flinch away from making this delicious recipe. One, you don't have to buy the expensive olive oil for this recipe. We all know the stores where big jugs of extra-virgin are no more than $8. Feel free to use that oil. The other is that you will have a large quantity of olive oil left over at the end. Drain it, and save it. Sear your favorite meats in it, or vegetables. Don't let it go to waste.

Barring that, you could always use duck fat or pork fat for this dish, if you wanted. (I sure wouldn't mind.) But make sure you find a fat with flavor, as this will make the beans tremendous.

In this case, we used heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, one of the coolest food growers around. Steve Sando grows incredible heirloom beans, most of which you have probably never eaten before. Instead of letting these old varieties fade into the dust, he has been growing them, and selling them, to grateful customers across the country. When we were in San Francisco in November -- just before Little Bean showed up in our lives, actually -- Steve gave a bag of Black Calypso beans to our friend Tea, to give to us. Frankly, they are so beautiful that we waited for the right time to cook them.

Making a meal to feed Little Bean? That was the right time.

16 ounces high-quality beans
4 cloves garlic, papery sheath removed
2 stalks rosemary, chopped
24 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 pork chop (fat on, and don't go for the extra-lean)
salt and pepper to taste

Soaking the beans. Soak the beans in hot water for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

Boiling the beans. Drain the beans of their soaking water. Rinse them clean. Put those beautiful beans into a large pot. Snuggle the garlic cloves and chopped garlic into the beans. Cover the beans entirely with olive oil. Then, add an inch more of oil. Turn the burner on and put the beans on the heat.

Searing the pork chop
. As the olive oil is starting to come to a boil, sear the pork chop in a hot pan with oil brought to heat. When it has seared well on both sides, plop that pork chop, whole, into the beans. Let them nuzzle together.

Allowing the beans to simmer
. When the olive oil has come fully to a bubble, turn the heat down as low as it will go. here's the hard part — walk away. Do something else and forget the beans. You won't be able to eat them for hours. Simmer the beans for at least six hours, by which time they will be full-to-bursting soft, and the pork will have fallen apart and become one with the beans.

Eat. (The Chef especially likes these with sour cream dolloped on top.)

Feeds 6.

03 March 2008

Savoy cabbage

Savoy cabbage

We are starting a new feature here at Gluten-Free Girl. (I know the title says Girl, but this site is really a joint effort now, between me and the Chef. Everything has changed with him, including what I write here. Of course I write we now.

As those of you have been reading know, I love stories. I love the stories that curl up into the sky like curlicues of smoke from a chimney, as people gather together and share their experiences. Food starts stories. Who grew this? What were the weather conditions and family crises that gave bloom to this? Who picked it for me? How did it get here? And what was the experience around the table when everyone ate it?

Of course, food also blooms stories of love, falling down, noticing the world, and bacon parties with friends. Food is, it seems, about so much more than food.

But in the end, it all really comes down to the food around here. Much as I have enjoyed the chance to write about our lives, the small realizations and the moments of hilarity, I am still utterly in love with food.

All the best meals start with great ingredients.

And so, on Mondays, we'll be offering a photograph, an incentive to cook. (And most weeks, it will be far less writing than today's.) We would love to hear your ideas. What would you cook, if this were in front of you? What great meals have begun with this humble ingredient?

So, let's begin.

Savoy cabbage. Its dark green, crinkly leaves just called for a photograph the other day, late in the afternoon, when I brought it home from the farmers' market. (This one was grown by the good folks at Nash Organics. I bought it from a cheerful woman at the University District farmers' market.) Any farmer that grows a beauty like this should be proud.

I don't know why Savoy cabbages aren't more popular here in the U.S. than they are. When I lived in London, these luminous green heads popped up everywhere. I understand why people eat them regularly there. Milder in flavor than traditional green cabbage (and far less bitter than kale or its cousins), Savoy cabbages have sturdy leaves that cup liquid like hands outstretched.

Besides, doesn't it look like something Willy Wonka grew this in his chocolate factory? Oompa loompa food.

And I can't help but sing the Beatles' song, Savoy Truffle, when I'm cutting one. "But you have to have them all pulled out before the Savoy cabbage!"

The other night, I made a traditional Italian bread soup, with some stale gluten-free bread. (It goes stale quickly. That's easy to find.) Again, Jamie Oliver inspired us. I boiled the Savoy cabbage with red and lacinato kale, in chicken stock, for five minutes. Anchovies and bacon snuggled together in the roasting pan until the anchovies had melted into the crisping pork. Mix those together, and you already have a meal. Layer the toasted bread, the meaty cabbage, loads of Fontina and Parmigiano cheese, and then repeat. Fill the pot with the chicken stock and slide into the oven for 40 minutes. When the Chef took his first bite, late at night, he said, "Holy god."

I love that reaction.

And so, what would you do with Savoy cabbage?

(I love the community that develops in the comments section. You all have as much to say as I do, and you inspire me with your food ideas. So, fire away.)