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25 September 2008

imagining her future

heirloom tomatoes

Sometimes you catch a glimpse of what your life might be like someday.

This weekend, the Chef's brother Kevin came into town for a day, on his way to Whistler for an avalanche control conference. His daughter, the Chef's lovely niece Kelly, drove up from Eugene with her long-time boyfriend James to spend the day with us as well.

Who am I kidding? Really, they were all there to meet Little Bean.

I understand. She's hard to resist. With her cooing alone she could conquer the world. These soft sounds rush from her lips and we are mesmerized. She smiles and everything stops. If she giggles, we talk about it all day long. And in between those dazzling displays of babyhood, Little Bean furrows her brow when she's confused by why our mouths are moving and these sounds coming out. She cranes her head to follow the light in the room. She eats, she swings, she sighs with delight when we dance with her, she listens to stories like nobody's business.

She is, we know, like all babies at nine weeks old.

We don't care. We think she's tops.

And so did the Chef's family. Once Kevin arrived, we spent the day playing pass the baby, from one set of loving arms to the next. Hours passed, in conversation and concentrated staring at that little face, as they do when I'm at home alone with her, all day.

Every evening I look up and think, "Wait, how did it get to be 7 pm again?"

(Between caring for this being I love beyond words, and reading political blogs far too often when she's asleep, and attempting to write every evening — the Chef and I do have a manuscript due to the publishers at the end of December after all — my days are full full full. Each day feels three minutes long, in the best way.)

And so the day rushed by too fast, once again.

But one of the moments of the morning has stayed with me the most.

James and Kelly are more centered and compassionate, funny and loving, at 25 and 24 than most people in their 40s. They are both incredible athletes -- skiing in the winter, trail running the rest of the year -- and more fit than I will ever be. And they are both without a stitch of arrogance. If I were their age, I would hate them. They have it so together.

But they both grew up in small towns, in grounded families. They were both taught to respect other people, to listen deeply, to not always assume they are right.

So we're standing around the kitchen, talking about food. What else? We had just eaten pancakes, with Skagit River bacon, our fingers still sticky from jam. Thick mugs of coffee sat on the table. Little Bean was napping in her swing.

The Chef and I proposed we go to the farmers' market, even though the rain slated down outside. Kelly and James had just discovered the Saturday market in Eugene, and they spoke about local produce in the tone of the recently converted. We all talked about the joy of developing relationships with farmers, knowing where our meat comes from, and the taste of fresh food. Oh, the taste of a peach just picked that morning.

At this point, James' face grew soft with remembering. He talked about going out to the garden of his family's New Hampshire home, and picking green beans and eating them, snapped out of his hand. He recalled the strawberries, the fresh vegetables that made his little-kid mouth water. There was no sense of obligation there. He actively, avidly, loved the food from his parents' garden.

"And my dad used to make fried green tomatoes," he said, in this voice filled with longing. He'd dip them in egg, coat them in flour, and fry them up for us." On top, a dollop of melted cheddar cheese.

That did it. The Chef and I knew what we wanted to make for dinner that night. Along with steelhead salmon, shrimp cocktail, roasted potatoes, and salad, we had to have fried green tomatoes.

There were so many lovely moments from that oh-too-brief visit with the Chef's family. But it's that moment that has stayed with me the most. James, in remembering, was no longer in our kitchen. He was walking in his family's garden, a little kid again, feeling safe and exploring, eating real food and loving his life.

I've thought about it for days. That's the way we'd like Little Bean to look back on her childhood someday.

We have so many hopes for our daughter. We're trying not to turn them into expectations, because that only creates disappointments. But we can hope.

I hope she never does that nose-dive of self-confidence that seventh-grade girls go through sometimes. I hope she doesn't pretend to play dumb just to fit in.

I hope she always asks questions, never takes anything at face value, even our opinions, and resists the urge to give in to shiny statements and attack ads.

I hope she learns how to throw a mean curve ball, and leaves the boys amazed with her triples over the third-base line.

We both hope she learns how to love humanity, even when it's hard to do sometimes.

We have so many hopes. That's part of what fills the days, isn't it? The gorgeous attention required to be in the moment with her. And the endless possibilities we can dream for her.

But in an elemental sense, I think what I'd like for her most is that, at 25, she's as kind and clear as those kids are, and in remembering the food she ate as a child, her face grows soft with remembering.

We really need to learn how to garden.

fried green tomatoes


You can't really call this a recipe. I'm sure everyone has a favorite way of using those green tomatoes that never went red at the end of the summer. But maybe this will just be a reminder to go grab them from your tomato plants bent over from the weight of the season, and make some of these for dinner.

green tomatoes (or orange or red, if you wish), as many as you want to eat
salt and pepper, pinches of each
good olive oil
eggs, beaten
buttermilk (just for proportions, we used 1/4 cup buttermilk to 2 eggs)
P.A.N white cornmeal (the same kind you use for arepas)
grits (we like Anson Mills)
your favorite cheddar cheese (oh, the jalapeno one from Estrella Family creamery)

Turn on the broiler.

Slice the tomatoes (or cut the plum ones in half). Bring a skillet to heat. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Dip each tomato slice in the beaten egg-buttermilk mixture. Dredge the slice in the white cornmeal, and then the grits. Put the slice in the skillet.

Repeat with as many tomatoes as you can fit in the pan.

When you have browned both sides of the tomatoes, put a little cheddar cheese on top of each slice and slide the skillet under the broiler. Watch it closely.

Eat them up. Yum.

18 September 2008

granola bars are for grabbing

homemade granola bars

For years, my brother has made fun of my father. About string cheese.

You see, my father simply grabs a stick of string cheese and takes bites. To my brother, this is ridiculous. "Why buy string cheese, then?" he queries, a little querulously. The point of string cheese is not the taste, which is bland grocery-store mozzarella. It's the novelty factor, the chance to rip tiny shreds of salty whiteness and dangle them above the lips. You miss all the fun when you simply bite down and chew like it's cud.

My father, who runs more toward the prosaic than the poetic on such matters, simply answers, "But it's convenient."

This is the point at which my brother and I scoff, and say, What's so great about that?

Well. Andy, if you're reading this, I have to tell you: since Little Bean was born, I eat my string cheese like Dad does.

In fact, I think I ate 1/3 of my calories when I was pregnant in string cheese. When I was out and about, and ravenous again, it was hard to find something I could hold in my hand and eat as I walked, something that didn't have gluten in it. When in doubt, I grabbed another string cheese.

However, when I walked through the world slowly, with the enormous belly, I still relished the chance to dangle a slender thread of cheese above my mouth.

Now, home with a baby (a darling-hearted baby), I'm gobbling my string cheese in bites, not shreds. I feel sort of guilty, and I know what I'm missing, but really, there's not much else of a choice.

Eating is still pretty interesting around here. Little Bean is bigger now, no longer a newborn, and her sleeping habits are more and more predictable. But if I take the time, during one of her naps, to make an elaborate meal, I'm asking for her to wake up. She always does. And so, I snack and nibble.

I can't tell you how many half-eaten salads were left around the house the first weeks that Little Bean was home. Soup seems easy, but soup is hot. I don't want to spill hot zucchini-lemon-egg soup on my daughter's forehead. Full meals can only happen at breakfast and dinner (at nearly midnight) when the Chef is here. And so, for most of the day, I need food I can hold in my hand.

Sandwiches were, of course, invented for this purpose. And I can have sandwiches, on gluten-free bread. Only, I haven't had the time to make much bread from scratch, my favorite gluten-free bakery is quite a long car ride away, and the sandwich bread from Whole Foods is about $9 a loaf. We're spending our money on wipes and diapers these days. Overly priced loaves of bread are a splurge item now.

There's cheese, of all kinds, which can be bitten in small portions. I'm in love with the stick pepperoni made by Brent at Olsen Farms, and I buy some every Saturday at the farmers' market. But if I eat cheese and pepperoni all day long, I won't be able to leave the house through the door, eventually. There are hard-boiled eggs, handfuls of walnuts, and carrot sticks with hummus. (Plus, the occasional coffee cup full of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.) And fruit. Fruit is the world's gift to new mamas. However, after 12 Italian plums in one day, I lose my gratitude for that gift.

This is the time in which my passion for good food is truly tested. I'm sure many people give in to tv dinners, fast food, and packaged snacks at this point. I feel the lure. Here's where having to be gluten-free comes in handy. I can't.

Instead, I eat simply. I still insist on the best ingredients for myself. Little Bean's big debut into the world was at the farmers' market, and we've been back to one a couple of times a week ever since. Red Haven peaches from Rama Farms have bristly skin and juicy flesh. The sweet Italian sausages from Skagit River Ranch make a great lunch with rice. The fat heirloom tomatoes from Billy Allstot have broad shoulders and wild colors. This is the time of year when food doesn't need much fixing anyway.

Every time I eat, I feel like I'm teaching my daughter how to be in the world. So many people have told me, "Oh, wait until you have children. You'll have to give up this making food from scratch, everything fresh, a different recipe every night stuff. Eventually, you'll settle for the chicken nuggets too." May I politely say? No thanks.

There may not be many five-hour, tasting-menu degustation experiences in the near future for me and the Chef. It may be months before I prepare a meal that requires more than several steps in the kitchen. But I'm not settling for frozen foods and snacks that don't taste like much of anything but fats and salt.

Right now, for awhile, I may have to eat my string cheese in bites. But if most of my food has to fit into my hand, I still want it to be the best palm-shaped food I can find.

homemade granola bars II

Gluten-Free Granola Bars

Granola bars are perfect for this particular eating dilemma. Packed with nutrition, sweet with dried fruit, and compact for the hand, power bars and granola bars have taken over the land. However, most of the commercially packaged ones have gluten in them. And other kinds of bars, while mostly good, grow bland after awhile.

So I set out to learn how to make my own. While the Chef held the baby and played with her, I set up in the kitchen: all ingredients arrayed out; saucepan, casserole dish, and big bowl waiting; good music on the player. While he's home, I sometimes take my space and make the kitchen my own again. Half an hour later I was dancing to Bill Frisell and patting down the last of the granola mix into the pan. Life felt good in that moment.

There are so many ways to make granola bars. I was inspired by Heidi Swanson's recipe in Super Natural Cooking and a dozen more I found on the internet. This is really only a template. Find the fruit you like best. Play with cereals and grains. Use honey instead of agave. Just find a way, as I did, to make these. They're sweet and nutritious, crunchy and chewy at the same time, and really quite addictive. And with their density preventing me from eating more than one at a time, they'll be around for a bit, waiting for me in that emergency situation where I have to eat now, but there's no time to eat.

2 cups rolled oats, certified gluten-free
1 cup hazelnuts

1 cup agave nectar syrup
1 cup muscovado brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup brown rice cereal
2 cups mixed dried fruit (here I used mangoes, raisins, and cranberries)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line a small casserole dish with parchment paper. (If you want thick granola bars, use a small casserole dish. For thin ones, choose a larger casserole dish.)

Slide the oats and hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and into the oven. Let them toast, turning them once in a while, for about ten minutes.

While those are toasting, put the agave nectar syrup, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and sea salt into a saucepan. On medium heat, bring the syrup to a slow boil. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the toasted oats and hazelnuts, the sunflower seeds, brown rice cereal, and dried fruit. Pour the syrup over this concoction and stir it all up, making sure everything is evenly coated.

Pat the mixture into the casserole dish, on top of the parchment paper. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Put the dish into the oven to bake.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want the bars to be. Allow them to cool for at least an hour before cutting them up into bars. (You'll probably have to hack at them a bit. These aren't soft granola bars.)

Feeds 20.

11 September 2008

clafoutis! clafoutis! clafoutis!

fruit from the backyard

I baked something today.

Ordinarily, this would be quite an ordinary statement. Something unremarkable, hardly worth remarking on. After all, I’ve been baking all my life. And after going gluten-free — aside from the first, three-month mourning period — I’ve baked more in the last three years than most of the years before it. There’s something satisfying about scooping flours into a measuring cup, cutting butter into small squares, inhaling a whiff of vanilla flavoring before adding it to dough. When I am anxious or wandering, all I need to do is bake, and I am home.

However, with a newborn in the house, there’s not much baking going on. Sure, I could bake up a storm in the mornings, when the Chef holds our daughter, and looks down into her eyes and smiles. However, I’m far more likely to want to sit beside him, and coo along with him, or at least take photographs of these papa/daughter days. This, I tell myself, is why the kitchen is such a mess. Because I’m entranced by the sight of my darling-hearted husband holding our daughter in his arms.

Well, that and I’d rather sip my coffee slowly while cringing at political blogs as he puts her down for a nap. To sit, unencumbered (other than with unnerving campaign news) while the Chef takes care of the baby? A sigh of relief, a soft silence, a little space alone. And then my arms start to miss her, and I pick her up again. The dishes? They can wait.

And when I’m home, alone with the baby, during the rest of the day, baking seems out of the question. Holding her in my arms and standing in front of a hot oven? No, thanks. Or putting a batch of cookies into bake, and having to let them burn because she is crying fervently for mystifying reasons? (I know. I could just let her cry, but I’m no good at that. I’d rather sit with her, and soothe her. Cookies for myself feel pretty selfish in that moment.) I think I’ll skip that scenario.

However, as Little Bean has grown more predicable, and content, I have felt that urge to bake return to my hands. She coos on her playmat, staring at black-and-white faces, making conversation, for at least 45 minutes. She’s fine. And in fact, she seems to like some space. And I would like to bake again.

Having a baby means that my former identity has been obliterated, for awhile. My life will never be the same. I welcome it. I adore this daily practice of love in action. But really, it is time to start baking again.

So I’ve been perusing my baking books, looking for a recipe to adapt with gluten-free flours. Warm crinkly ginger cookies? Thick cinnamon rolls with a nub of vanilla buttercream frosting? Angel food cake? Or zucchini bread to use up all the baseball-bat-sized squashes squatting in our garden?

And then it came to me. Clafoutis.

I grow a little obsessed with words sometimes. The sounds of them rebound around my mind, in an endless tape loop, until I write them down. Prestidigitation. Corby Kummer. Mellifluous. Fandango. Please don’t say an unusual-sounding name with a certain euphony to me, unless you want me to walk around repeating it all day long. (And please tell me I’m not the only one who does this sometimes.)

Well, for days, I have been repeating the word “clafloutis” in my head. It reminds me of that silly song from “The Sound of Music.” [oh my goodness, as someone pointed out in the comments, I must be tired. This song is from The Music Man. However, I do enjoy the image of this being in the Sound of Music, instead.] Do you know the one? “Shipoopi! Shipoopi! Shipoppi!” The big dance number, grandiose and nonsensical to the plot of the film, full of exuberance and sung out loud. When we were kids, my brother and I giggled about this song, because, of course, it contained the word poop. That alone made me sing it in my head for years.

And so, I’ve been singing clafoutis to the tune of Shipoopi. Can you blame me?

Also, the towering Italian plum tree in the far corner of our backyard has bending branches heavy with fruit. Every time I take a stroll with Little Bean, I reach up for one of the egg-shaped fruits, dusty with pale purple, which burnish to a dark shine with the touch of my fingertips. These plums are golden-green inside, slightly tangy tart, and much more sassy than typical fat plums. Last year, we missed them all, since we were headed for our honeymoon in Italy. This year, Italy feels very far away. But at least there are plums.

This afternoon, my parents came to see Little Bean. I could be coy and say they came to see me, and they will say that too. But really, it was all for the baby. They perch on the couch and hand her back and forth between each other, marveling at her tiny toes and waiting for her giggle. (She did giggle the other day, for the first time, in the middle of a check-up EEG. What kind of kid laughs for the first time with 42 electrodes attached to her head?) I remain so utterly grateful that they are entranced. Their presence gives me the chance to slip into the kitchen and do something decadent.

And so, today, I made a clafoutis. With a name like that, I assumed it would be difficult, sophisticated. Instead, this recipe calls for nothing more than mixing ingredients in a blender, and coming up with something like a thick pancake batter. That, I can do.

By the time my parents had to leave, the clafoutis rang out from the oven, golden brown and bubbly. I put the baby in her swing and bent my legs to pick up the pie pan. (It doesn’t weigh nearly as much as the baby, of course. My body remembers how to pick up Little Bean and transfers the knowledge to everything else.) I wanted a bite, but it was too hot. Besides, the baby called out for food first.

It’s funny that clafoutis is a French dessert. It feels and tastes so British instead. Clafoutis reminds me of the lovely burnt sugar taste of sticky toffee pudding, without the stickiness, and plush custard texture of each pappy spoonful. This is comfort food, the kind that a nanny with sturdy shoes would serve for elevenses. Ignore the name — this is food for the people.

You really should make some too.

It took all my reserve to save the rest of the clafoutis for tonight, so I could feed the Chef after work. I might just make another one for breakfast tomorrow morning. Cherries, figs, perhaps even peaches that would melt into softness underneath the crust — almost every fruit would work for clafoutis.

And me? I’m just happy to be baking again. I’m going to start tackling baked goods I haven’t made yet, gluten-free. I need projects to push me into the kitchen. If you have suggestions of something you’d like to see on this site, let me know.

I’d like to tackle puff pastry and graham crackers and great chocolate cake in the months to come. By the time Little Bean is eating sweets (years from now), I want to be baking her the foods she will associate with her childhood.

This child won’t feel deprived without the gluten. Not with a mama who bakes.

plum clafoutis

Gluten-Free Clafoutis, adapted from Julia Child

When I wonder what to make, I skip back to Julia Child. How much would I have loved to have met her? I thought, for a few moments, about forcing myself back to cooking by making all her recipes, one by one. But someone else has already done that, and I just don't have the time.

But her clafoutis recipe? Eminently do-able. Truly. All you need is a blender, a pie pan, a hot oven, and some fruit you love, right now. You can't go wrong.

Here, I used sweet rice and amaranth for the flours. The sweet rice is inconspicuous, finely textured. And the amaranth is slightly nutty, a little sweet, and perfect for baked goods. However, you could probably use any gluten-free flours you like. Experiment to find your favorite ones.

Oh darn. That means more clafoutis for you.

3 cups Italian plums, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup amaranth flour
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Toss the chopped plums with the honey and let them marinate for a bit. Set aside.

Throw the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and two flours into a blender and puree them up until the batter resembles a slightly thick pancake batter.

Pour a thin layer of batter onto the bottom of deep-dish pie pan. Put it in the oven and let it bake until the layer has set.

Spoon in the honeyed fruit, evenly, over the bottom layer. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar. Pour in the remaining batter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top is lovely and crusty.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Feeds 4.

04 September 2008

a fresh start

lunch at 5 pm

There's something heartbreaking about September light in Seattle. The trees are filled with light, liquid and soft as baby's hair.

I love the fall. By the calendar, January is the beginning of the year. All that grey and cold hardly feels like a fresh start, however. If we throw away the calendars and look at the world around us, certainly May marks the start of the year. Everything blooming. Fruit back in the markets. But I'm hard-wired this way: September is really the start of it all.

September means new pencils with blunt ends, thick notebooks with the pages not yet besmirched with words, clothes still crinkly from never being worn. As a student, which for me meant nearly thirty years, the start of school meant cracking open the spine of a fat textbook for the first time. Even if it was for an economics class, the inky smell of those glossy pages thrilled me. (I still remember the purple words and nose-biting odor of the mimeograph machine, fondly.) And as a teacher, which was another decade for me, September meant an entire ocean of new faces, stories to tell, classrooms to pace, the chance to do it better this time.

That's what's appealing about schools, and teaching in them in particular. Even if June ended in tears, September meant coming back to the place you knew before, but wiser this time. Every year, I taught One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and lessons on indefinite pronouns and the word ineffable the first day of classes. Even though the students were new to me, the classrooms a blank space, I knew the rhythms of my year before I went in.

Teaching school was the safest fresh start I ever had.

But this September? Everything has been blown wide open. Any notions I had of schedule? They're gone, replaced instead by a crying baby whom I pat and shush, jiggle and kiss. The hours of the day are measured out in the light falling through the living room window, as we sit together on the end of the couch. I have never learned so much, so fast, as I have these six weeks. And this knowledge? It won't end up in textbooks, or be written about in The New York Times. Now, I know how to rub my daughter's back like I am smoothing out air bubbles from badly laid wallpaper, in order to relieve her of gas. I know the sound of her voice, a little chirrup, when she talks to the black-and-white stuffed orca that lies on her playmat on the floor. I know the sound of her cries, insistent and bleating, at 3:30 in the morning, and I can tell within twenty seconds if she needs food or if she's merely bored.

Next September, I won't start again with another newborn. I'll just keep learning her instead. I don't have a lesson plan here. There is no attendance to take, no state mandates to fulfill, and no test that shows my competency level. (There's also no merit raise being offered.) Nothing here is safe, in a way.

I love this September most of all. The light. Oh, the light.

September sunlight is heartbreaking because the beauty is ephemeral. The green leaves filled with light will fade and fall within a few weeks. It's easy to take summer for granted. These weeks insist on a different kind of attention.

Everyone has told me how quickly these days and years go, these moments of being with a child and holding her. I believe them now. Little Bean is six weeks old. Within a few days, she'll be seven weeks. She has changed so much from those frail days in the hospital. Today, she is robust and booming, highly alive. She gained 2 1/2 pounds in the last three weeks. The Chef and I both swear we can watch her grow bigger on the changing table beneath our hands.

She smiled at me last week. Every late night was worth it, after that.

Right now, as I write, I can feel her breathing on my chest, as she sits curled up in the carrier attached to my body. And I had to pause from writing to lean down and kiss the top of her head.

I can't imagine life ever feeling staid again.

But here's the deal. There's fear in these wide-open spaces. Where do you go when you can go anywhere?

Before Little Bean arrived, I swore to myself, and wrote here, that this would not become a mommy blog. Hundreds of other women have written those before me, and they have done such a hilarious, helpful job that I can't imagine the world needs one more. And this is, at its heart, a site about food. How food connects me with the people I love. Kitchen disasters. Unexpected tastes that zing on my tongue. Recipes that don't work. Saying yes to life by forgetting everything and simply tasting my life.

Oh, and some gluten-free food.

How does a baby fit in with that?

For the past few weeks, I've been struggling with what to write here when I return. How can I just go back to telling stories about food and offering recipes as though my life has not been split open, along with my heart? How can I not tell the hilarious stories about this darling baby, like the fact that she calms down and grows fascinated when we put her in a basket on the kitchen floor next to the dishwasher running? And the fact that she hates the loud clatter of dishes being loaded into the machine, and cries every time, so I rarely have the chance to put her next to her favorite spot? How could I not tell the harrowing stories of the ICU, and pull at everyone's heartstrings, and process the most terrifying days of my life through the words I write here?

I don't want to go there.

The truth is, I haven't known what to write. You see, food has changed for me, and for the Chef, since this sweet, feisty creature entered our lives. In the hospital, we lived on cold hash browns and styrofoam cups full of Dr. Pepper from the cafeteria. Since we have been home, I have been grabbing handfuls of food I could reach before the baby woke up. Bananas. Walnuts. Tuna straight from the can. And sometimes, corn chips gone stale with salsa from a jar. Garbanzo beans with lemon juice and olive oil feels like an elaborate meal when you are learning how to be with a newborn.

I'm not cooking much, these days. I miss it. I know it will come back. But there's no time — and I have subsisted on too little sleep for weeks on end — to set up a mise en place or create new dishes by flourishing flavors. Certainly, I don't feel like the younger woman who started this site, who wrote every day, voluminously, about food history and new grains. There's spit-up on my shirt more often than salt.

But in these surreal, beautiful days, food has meant more to me than ever before. While the Chef and I huddled in a hospital room, a pint of blueberries, brought to us by a friend, sustained us for hours one afternoon. Within the sterile air and beeping machines, the coolness against our lips and the smell of loamy earth lifted us out of that place.

When Little Bean was a few weeks old, we tucked her in the carrier and walked her around the farmers' market on a late Saturday morning. The smell of Red Haven peaches was enough to make us giddy. But more so, we met friends, and ran into fans of this site, and talked to our favorite farmers about how having children shoves us into a different world. We both left grinning through our exhaustion.

And at nearly 5 pm one day a few weeks ago, after the baby had needed to be cuddled for hours on the couch, I stumbled into the kitchen. Knowing she would slumber in her swing for at least an hour, I fired up the stove. Pasta water bubbling, goat cheese smearing on my fingers, and tomatoes from the garden releasing their acrid smell — these all felt like celebrations. And so, as the evening began, I finally ate my lunch, on the couch, next to a burp cloth, a binky, and my cell phone. I needed it close by, to answer it immediately, in case the sing-songy ring tone woke her up. It didn't. That pasta tasted like victory.

Mostly, though, I look down at Little Bean eating, her mouth gulping in great swallows. She looks up at me with her blue-grey eyes, and I realize I don't need anything more. This is food at its most elemental, without any adjectives.

Food is how we live, and grow.

And so, I don't know what I'll be writing here. I just know that I'll be writing. September this year means a return to writing. Aside from taking notes on some days about the baby and her funny habits (believe me, most from the first week are incoherent), I have not written anything finished since those urgent postings when we lived in the hospital. I don't know where I'm going, but I have to go there now. I could easily allow the days to slip through my fingers, focusing only on her.

But I don't want my daughter to have a mama who doesn't do the work she loves.

So I guess I'll figure out my new voice as I lay words down on this white space. I know, as always, that I want to focus on the light. And the food, in whatever form it arrives.

I had no idea what life would be like before our daughter arrived, yelling out her song. I didn't know what I would write when I sat down this evening to fill this space.

Here I am.

cold lasagna for breakfast

Gluten-free Lasagna

On the days the Chef works at the restaurant, food is somewhat haphazard around here. Whatever I can grab and hold in my hand while feeding a baby, or patting her down to sleep, satisfies me. In the evenings, he has been bringing food home from the restaurant. Last night, we had braised balsamic rabbit for dinner while watching Jon Stewart.

I know. I appreciate that not everyone with a newborn has such a gift as this.

But on the days he does not work, we tag team taking care of the baby. Papas are just as important as mamas, after all. And we work in the kitchen when she sleeps, putting together foods that can last me all week. Like this pan of lasagna he made for us last weekend.

There are a thousand ways to make lasagna. Some of us like a splash of red wine vinegar in the sauce, or honey. Nutmeg adds an extra zing. A pat of butter can make a sauce as smooth as the sun slipping down behind the horizon.

But this sauce, this lasagna, is fairly straightforward. And to my surprise, that’s why I like it even more than the fancy pans I have eaten before. The sauce tasted light, with each component part singing out, instead of stifled into one taste.

Of course, you can add or subtract whatever you want. This is a start. Everything is starting now. Do with it what you will.

I can tell you, however, that this lasagna — cold — makes a damn fine lunch with a baby.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef (don’t go for extra lean)
1 pound ground pork (or veal)
1 ½ onions, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoons basil, chiffonade
2 teaspoons oregano, chopped
6 tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 medium can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
salt and pepper
1 package lasagna noodles
3 large balls fresh mozzarella
2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Brown off the meat with 2 tablespoons of the oil in a hot pan, on medium to high heat. When it is evenly browned, drain the meat. Set aside.

Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. Toss in the onions and garlic. Sautee over medium heat until the onions and garlic are translucent. Next come the herbs. Sauté until fragrant.

Scoop in the fresh tomatoes first, and sauté them for three to four moments. Slide in the canned tomatoes. Add ¼ can of water. Simmer for 25 minutes over medium heat.

When the sauce has reduced and begun to thicken, put ¾ of the sauce in a blender and puree it. Return the pureed sauce to the pan and fold into the chunky sauce. Spoon in the browned meats. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Find your favorite gluten-free lasagna sheets (we used Ener-G foods in this case, but Tinkyada is great too). Cook them according to the package directions, minus a few minutes. (Most pasta companies direct you to overcook the pasta!)

Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a large casserole pan. Add a layer of lasagna noodles, then mozzarella cheese, freshly grated parmesan cheese, and then sauce. Repeat until the pan is filled. Make sure the last layer is cheese.

Bake at 425° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lasagna is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly on top.


Feeds 8.

01 September 2008

"I Love Food" by Sharon Anne Jensen


Today's post comes to us thanks to Ms. Sharon Jensen, who has been my fabulous, most beloved friend since we were in high school in the early 80s. We've come a long way since we ate cherry Yoplaits and Its Its bars for lunch together, my dear.

Sharon has been kind enough to write us an exploration of just why it is she loves food so much.

This will be the last guest blogger for a bit. I'll be back with a new post on Thursday. But in the meantime, take it away Sharon....

I love food. I love it, love it, love it. I think about it ALL THE TIME. Not in a creepy, unhealthy way, just in a....okay, so maybe it's in a creepy, unhealthy way. Whatever. But all I know is I get absolute joy from eating delicious things made with delicious ingredients. And I'm always thinking of the next meal, usually while I'm still eating the current one. I'm already super excited about breakfast the next day as I'm digging into my dinner. That's the way I roll.

I think it says a lot about me that the first thing I think of when someone mentions a specific holiday is the food that I will eat. Not the excitement of family getting together, not the happy memories that will be created, but the homemade caramel pecan rolls on Christmas morning. The nine-ingredient Ramos Gin Fizz that my Dad makes on the 4th of July. The cranberry ice and the sage stuffing on Thanksgiving. YUM!!! And most of my serious friendships, the ones that will stand the test of time, are all based on food. If you want to be a close friend of mine, you'd better like to eat. 'Cause otherwise, what will there be to do? I can honestly say that Shauna, my best friend in the whole world, is the one other person whom I know loves food as much as I do. That's why we are kindred spirits. Yes, love and support and loyalty is nice. But sharing bowls of homemade coconut ice cream with grilled peaches in basil butter? Even better. Therefore, our friendship is true and real and will last.

My love affair with food is the one thing that hasn't changed in my life.

Maybe it's because I started young. My mother served steamed artichokes with melted butter and lemon as far back as I can remember, and this was in small-town South Dakota in the 70s. What?! My friends didn't even know what an artichoke was. And we would have fresh cantaloupe, lightly dusted with salt, for dessert. Or sometimes she would serve fresh strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar, because she'd had that in Europe or something. I actually thought that was kind of gross, as I was not a sour cream fan as a child. I mean, sour cream was for baked potatoes. (This was before you could easily get creme fraiche, which is really what she wanted). But still, I somehow knew it was very sophisticated. But my mom served it because it was delicious, not for the hip factor. And we always ate pieces of cheddar cheese with our apple pie or mincemeat pie (so British!), which, when I mentioned it at school, as a kid, EVERYONE thought was super weird. All I knew was they were sure missing out on the classic combination of salty, sharp cheddar cheese with sweet apples and cinnamon...pure heaven! Oh sure, we also had the usual casseroles made with canned cream of something soup. I mean, it was the 70s. I think it was the law. But she also made amazing pot roasts and roasted chickens, and twice baked potatoes, and strawberry rhubarb pie. And I was lucky, because she made the BEST homemade baked goods (the best apple pie I've ever had, the best birthday cakes, the best peach cobbler, the best chocolate chip cookies, etc.). As I grew up, my mom was responsible for introducing me to bagels, lobster, all kinds of fish....foods that I often had tried long before my friends had. She's even responsible for making all us kids love peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which my friends had never even heard of! It was so exotic! Unless you were Elvis! This was the late 60s/early 70s, so maybe it was exotic.

Also, we didn't have a lot of processed foods in our house, which I now know was definitely unusual. My mom didn't buy store-bought cookies or snacks, or even soda. She made cookies from scratch, so why would she buy some? So it was always a "treat" on 4th of July and New Year's Eve when I could gorge on chips and dip and soda. (Hello stomachache!) And we were only allowed a sweet cereal once a week, for our Saturday morning cartoons (the rest of the time we had oatmeal or Cheerios or Oat Flakes or Grape Nuts....boring!!). My sister and I would spend hours each week deciding which yummy box of sugar we would consume that weekend. (I always wanted Fruity Pebbles and she often preferred Honeycomb. There were fights. There were tears. Sometimes there were bruises). I also remember that we would make our own popsicles. And ice cream sandwiches! Place a ton of vanilla ice cream in between two graham crackers, press down gently and let the ice cream ooze out the sides. Eat the ooze first. Then bite into it. You'll never go back! That is still one of my favorite desserts.

Now I realize how lucky I was. And so I really have to thank my mom for giving me an appreciation for food that's fresh and real, not made in a factory. Thank you Margaret Jensen. And I can't even really think of one dish that was her "signature" dish. She just cooked a lot of different things. But there are certain foods that I associate with her, my comfort foods, I guess. Her homemade meatloaf. She made the all-time best grilled cheese sandwiches, with whole wheat bread of course (which I always had to have with Campbell's tomato soup made with milk). And her spaghetti and meatballs, meatballs made from scratch of course. This was somehow unbelievably good, even though it was a simple dish. I couldn't get enough!

warm rice with milk and peaches

And then there was warm rice served with milk, brown sugar, and raisins, or fresh fruit. To this day, she's the only mom I know who served this. My friends in South Dakota all thought I was weird when I would ask them how their mom did rice and milk. I don't even know where she got this idea or when she started it. All I know is, when I was feeling sad or sick, this would always do the trick.

All you do is make some rice (white rice is what my mom used in the early days, and then later she would often use brown rice - both are delicious). Put some into a bowl while still warm. Pour milk over it like it's oatmeal (I like to slightly heat the milk first). Sprinkle brown sugar and raisins on top. (In Shauna's photo, we used fresh peaches instead.) Let the brown sugar sort of melt into the rice. Eat. Freak out over how yummy it is. Then when the rice is gone, you're left with this fantastic sweet, nutty, warm milk. Enjoy!

Yeah, it's pretty much just another form of hot cereal. Not that original. And yet. And yet. Mmmmmm. It'll make everything better. Just like a kiss from Mom.

Thank you, Shauna, for letting me be a guest blogger this week. It's an honor, and I love you dearly! Now I have to go and eat something....