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31 March 2009

a love so big, bigger than food

eating with a sick baby in the house

We haven't been that interested in food around here.

Oh, maybe I should re-state that. We're always interested in food, in the sensory pleasures of it, and the politics of it. (If you haven't read this piece about the price of off-season tomatoes, oh gosh. Click over.) If nothing else, we have to eat.

So let me start over, because I haven't been that good at expressing myself lately. I stumble over words and stop in mid-sentence. Lack of sleep renders me sloppy and mute.

There haven't been many meals that take hours to make around here. Or even complete meals. It just hasn't mattered as much as...

walking Little Bean up and down the hallways in the middle of the night, propped up on our shoulders so her poor little nose can drain. Or rocking her in the green chair, until she falls asleep on my chest, and I sit there all night long, holding her, keeping myself awake so I don't drop her. Or sitting in the sauna we're calling the bathroom, the steam rolling across the shower curtain bar in puffy clouds toward her nose, so it can clear enough that she can drink something.

Rice and vegetables and whatever meat is in the fridge. That's what was in this bowl. I can't describe it. It was good to eat, after listening to her sob and not knowing what to do.

Little Bean looked up at us with these sad, worn eyes, asking for help, and we walked through the house broken-hearted. We breathed, for her, seeming calm, so that she could stop heaving sobs through a stuffed-up nose, only making it worse. And then, when she slept, we walk into the living room and burst.

For a couple of days, she stopped eating. Our kid. No food.

Poor little tuckered pumpkin.

(Those of you who wrote to me when I was pregnant, angry that this might become a mama blog? You might want to come back later.)

* * *

It's hard to be parents sometimes. But this enormous love we feel, accompanied by a thin thread of constant worry, means that we have chosen this life where our happiness is tied to this small, snuffling creature. And there's no way to describe it. I feel like I barely write about her here, or anywhere. The number of sentences since she was born are so small, only crumbs compared to the warm bakery. I can only write around the edges of her, of my love for her.

This befuddles me as a writer.

It's two different worlds, the time before, and after. No matter how much I love my husband, my family, my friends, before Little Bean arrived I was alone in my mind. And now, I will never be alone in my mind again, because the thought of her is always there. Always.

Even with the crying, the steamy shower bathrooms to make her nose run, scary nights, and driving around the island for two hours just to make sure she gets a good nap, I have never been so happy in all my life.

* * *

A couple of days ago, Little Bean would only stop crying after half an hour (poor little bean) if I put her in the Baby Bjorn and walked her around. We walked slowly through the backyard, back and forth, the suddenly warm Sunday air good on both our skin. I walked more and more slowly, trying to meditate, breathe in her pain, breathe it away, calm myself.

And then I looked up and saw the cherry tree and blue sky. There are buds up there. Soon, there will be blooms. And perhaps by the time of her birthday in July, she will be eating cherries from her own backyard.

* * *

Last night was hard. Little Bean's cough turned for the worse. She looked depleted, after an entire day of not drinking anything. So we went to the emergency room with her, fervently hoping she'd recover quickly.

It was hard, of course. You don't need me to tell you that. But one of the blessings of those first two weeks of her life is that nothing feels that big to us. We knew she needed hydration -- she didn't even have tears when she cried! -- and that can be really dangerous. But we just figured we were headed to help.

We could even laugh about the fact that, because of all the craziness, we hadn't eaten all day, and so we grabbed the only portable thing in the kitchen -- a Niman Ranch ham steak -- before heading to the ferry. So there we were, driving our daughter to the emergency room, tearing off pieces of ham with our hands, cracking up.

I feel so grateful to have Danny, every day, but particularly in these moments. He's just the best.

She's fine, now. She has a nasty viral infection, and one of the side effects of it in babies is a lack of interest in food and liquids. So we just have to give her liquids all the time. But she got some at the hospital, and she's doing so much better now. We caught the 2:10 ferry home, she slept the whole way there, and through to 9 this morning. She spent much of the day giggling at Itsy Bitsy Spider, bouncing on my knee playing pony girl, and looking up at us with clear eyes. We seem to have turned the corner.

We moved slowly today. We were supposed to have been on a plane to Colorado, where I was meant to speak at the IACP conference on Wednesday. Instead, we napped, talked on the phone, twittered away.

And doesn't the world always look more beautiful after a night in the emergency room, temporarily, for these mundane details and her giggles?

* * *

Our marriage started with a yes. It will continue, this yes, through moving stories and baby's coughs and late nights with spit up on our shoulder instead of kissing until dawn and greeting the dawn with a smile instead of grumbling and quince blossoms and dirty dishes and the love that just continues to grow.

And making food.

After the chaos of last night, it felt good to stand in the kitchen this afternoon, the sun coming through the window on my fingers, chopping onions.

Somehow, I had not cooked since we arrived in this new home. This sight -- food lined up, spoons and spatulas, measuring cups and Dutch ovens -- made me so happy I had to take a photo.

* * *

Little Bean will be fine, soon. We'll never be the same. We're honed by every cry, every time she lifts up her arms and wants to be picked up, every time she wakes in the night. We are here. And thankfully, so is she.

It feels like life is finding its own balance again.

24 March 2009

Messermeister knives

Messerschmidt cooking tools.

Are you looking for a good chef's knife? Some new tools for the kitchen?

Come on by Gluten-Free Girl Recommends to see some of our favorites.

22 March 2009


broccoli puree

Island time moves slowly.

We drive down long, curving roads, expansive fields out the window, talking and laughing, sitting in silence sometimes. Ramshackle wooden barns, horses tossing their heads toward the sky, placid ponds surrounded by pygmy goats — they all flash by the window. Little Bean giggles and trills this new noise at the back of her throat, something like singing and purring at the same time. We are headed to the store.

The morning stretches long. Little Bean awakes somewhere near 5, but after a bit of patting and dancing, she stretches out in her crib, talking to her mobile while we sleep, a bit more. The coffee smells good, coming from the kitchen. Our new house may be strewn with boxes, but the kitchen is ours now. With cookbooks lining the shelves, and pots and pans in their places, the sunny yellow room at the heart of the house feels spacious and calm. We have cooked and cooked, from the first morning we awoke here, to the sound of Douglas firs swaying in the wind.

Tiny diced potatoes roasted in lard (from an island farm) and slow-scrambled eggs with goat cheese make the morning very fine indeed.

As I do the dishes, I see bursts of daffodils out the kitchen window, little fistfuls rising, splashes of yellow against black dirt. So welcome.

We amble slowly through the back yard, finding scraggly patches of thyme and purple sage. Raised beds lie waiting, for the Italian plum tomatoes we are planning, the bunches of lettuce greens, the kale and leeks, the green shoots we anticipate pushing through the earth. We have never really gardened before. This year, we will learn. (I'm not expecting much, though.)

We read the newspaper. Little Bean plays on the floor, rolling like a skirmish of a dust storm, grinning. We talk through the day, plan menus, take a few more books out of boxes and find a home for them on shelves.

Stately green trees against grey-sky wind. Birdsong seeping through the window. No airplanes overhead or cars going by. A napping baby.

It's nearly noon. Time to venture into town — three or four streets' worth of businesses, past it in the time it takes to turn toward each other in conversation and then look out the window again. We pull into the grocery store parking lot, again, already familiar with all the aisles. We're shopping in small portions, each day, for now. We just like the excuse to drive along the water and watch the seagulls rise off whitecaps. (Every day, about 20 times a day, we look at each other and say, "Wow. We live here.") And when everything feels new, the grocery store feels familiar.

At home again, I read Little Bean books on the floor of her new room — finding a sunny patch unencumbered by boxes — and watch her eyes widen. She reaches when we are done, holds the edges in both of her hands and holds the book above her head, studying it. And then, slowly, she brings it toward her face...and tries to chew on the corners, slobber running down her chin.

The Chef is in the kitchen, just outside the little one's bedroom, blanching the broccoli we bought at the store. He dunks it in the boiling water and lets it bob for a moment, until it yields tenderly to the fork. I hear the big blender whirling on, a slow-building sound that becomes the loudest one in the neighborhood, for a few moments. He comes in the room, brandishing a plastic dish full of bright green. He pureed the broccoli with the blanching water for Little Bean.

The next morning, she leaned her entire face toward me, mouth open wide and tongue out flat. She cannot get enough of the cold broccoli puree. The little red spoon goes in her mouth mounded with the green and comes out clean. Within a few moments, the entire bowl is gone.

We're not silly enough to think she will always love her vegetables. But in this first week of living on the island, before our work begins in earnest again, we're grateful for the time to blanch and puree some broccoli, just to watch our daughter's delight in eating another new food.

And you? What are you doing with your broccoli?

p.s. The magazine you see next to the broccoli puree is the April issue of Kiwi magazine, a lovely magazine for parents. This is their annual food issue, and I'm proud to say that I have the final essay of the magazine, a piece about feeding Little Bean food for the first time. Everything in it makes this issue worth buying.

p.p.s. I thought I was going to faint with exhaustion this week, but it was this surprise instead. This website was named one of Gourmet magazine's favorite food sites. Gosh a mighty, thank you. This was such a lovely gift the week after moving.

12 March 2009

moving food.

fast lunch, so satisfying

I am surrounded by boxes, strewn across the living room floor like pennies flung out a window late at night. Forgive the strange similes that only I can understand. I'm a little bit tired.

We're moving in two days.

Luckily, we're not going far. No overseas adventures, or cross-country endeavors. We're not being forced. We haven't lost our house.

We just want to live on the island, now.

Not that island, the one I have written about here before, although this island is much like that, in spirit and slowness. All the islands of the Puget Sound have this magic to them: green trees, long winding roads, small towns with only stop signs, driftwood beaches, views of mountains, and quiet. We have been longing for it. And this weekend, we will be living it.

I've lived on this island before. Those of you who know this area, or who have read my book, will know the name. It's only a 20-minute ferry ride from Seattle, which keeps the small town open to larger possibilities. When I was in my late 20s, I started my teaching career on this island. I fell in love with it almost as soon as I set foot on it. One evening, driving back to my house in the darkness, I was seized by happy sobbing. I knew this was home, down to my toes. Growing up in southern California, I never felt at home. This was, in my bones, the place I belonged.

I left it, however. It's hard to live on a rural island when you're 30, and single, no matter how much you love it. My feet needed to leave, to live in Manhattan instead, and then London, and circle back closer, to Seattle. All those years, my heart yearned for the island, but I still hadn't found him. I promised myself I wouldn't move back there until I met the man I loved as much as that island.
Or until I had given up and accepted that I would live in a ramshackle cabin filled with cats.

(This is the point at which the Chef looks at me, raises his hand shyly before my eyes, and says, "Hi.")

The first time the Chef and I visited the island, to spend the afternoon with my brother, my sister-in-law, and Elliott, we were maybe five minutes off the ferry when the Chef turned toward me and said, "Have you ever thought of living here again?"

That's when I knew. We'd be living on the island someday.


Something about Little Bean being born impelled us toward the island. City life has been exciting, a constant rush of things to do and restaurants to visit. But once we became parents, we started dreaming of more quiet. We want her to grow up a small-town kid, just like the Chef did. We want her to be familiar with long rocky beaches and working farms, tree swings and blackberry bushes on our daily hikes. We want her to know her neighbors, and be able to ride her bike for the afternoon without us worrying. We want her to feel at home.

We're moving home.

And so, we're happy. With the idea. With the life we will start living on Monday morning, when we wake up in our new home.

But moving? Moving takes it out of me.

We've been hefting boxes and exhausting ourselves. So much living has gone into our kitchen, and we have been dismantling it, day by day. And mostly, we have been trying to winnow down our possessions, give at least half of them away, because we are not our things. And having a baby means too much clutter, anyway. (She needs her own house.) When I feel a little pull about giving away boxes of books I have been collecting since I was 15, I think about how happy I would be to find a clean copy of the Penguin edition of Anna Karenina at the thrift store. (When am I going to have time to read it again?)
Letting go means we have a cleaner home.
Someone else will feel happy for our things, for not much money.

Besides, I have been opening boxes still sealed with the tape I hastily placed in our last home. They have been sitting in the basement ever since, untouched. What was in one box? Scratch pieces of paper with menu ideas two years old, along with the first draft of my book proposal, a stack of birthday cards, the Cartier pen the CFP gave me, one juggling ball, a letter I wrote to the Chef from Alaska, a pair of scissors, and paycheck stubs. That kind of box. If we hadn't missed any of it in the past nearly two years, we didn't need them. (okay, I kept the letter. and the pen.)

So, every day, we fill the car with boxes of books, onesies that now fit Little Bean like she's the Incredible Hulk about to burst from her clothes, the spare pastry cutter, and more wine glasses than we ever need. Today, some good friends came to our house to tuck every last possession we had decided to cleave away from ourselves and drive it to the thrift store on the way to their play. They took the coffee table the Chef brought into the house, the one he bought at the Fremont Fair and painted black and white like zebra stripes. I always hated that table. (Thank you, Llysa and Andrew.) It feels good to give away.

If only this were putting things in boxes, it would be okay. But to do most of it with Little Bean on my lap as I go through all my books and try to decide which half of them I can give away forever, because she's unnerved by the mess and the change in things and needs to be close? This move is new.

Top it off that she hasn't been sleeping, returning to a newborn state, waking every two hours, crying piteously. We have been walking like zombies through the obstacle course of boxes in the living room, trying to figure out what to do for her. This morning, we had confirmed what I had begun to suspect: she has her first ear infection. Poor little pumpkin. All this and being in pain too?

We can't wait to be in our new home.

And so, food has been simple this week, nothing revolutionary. I've enjoyed it more, in a way. We haven't been prepping a cookbook or dreaming up recipes to share here. We've just been eating: roasted chicken legs; millet and quinoa porridge; salads with goat cheese and pomelo slices; pasta salad with spinach and smoked gouda. Sustenance, to help me through the task of reading painful old poems (Oh no. Please don't ever let me try to write another stanza. I was so bad at it.) and throwing away student papers from 1994 (why, for the love of goodness, have I kept those all these years?). We're trying to become organized.

I'm trying to avoid this scene that Betty MacDonald wrote about in Onions in the Stew (a book about moving to the same island where we will be living soon):

"......I packed. Don carried and drove. I started out very methodically. 'Books--reference' I marked on the outside of a carton. 'Sheets---towels' I marked on another. 'Silverware' another. When Don attempted to help I said kindly but firmly, 'You had better let me do it, dear. I know exactly what I am doing and I want things to be orderly.'
'Living room draperies' I wrote on a neat newspaper bundle. 'Candles, vases, bric-a-brac' I marked a carton. Then somehow I began running out of enough of the same thing to fill a box---also out of boxes and newspapers---also out of strength. By the end of the day I was rolling a jar of mayonnaise, a heel of salami and a half-filled bottle of Guerlain's Blue Hour perfume in my tweed skirt and not even stamping the bundle 'Perishable.'"

I won't be surprised if I find a half-wrapped salami among our possessions on the floor of the moving truck our friends will fill on Sunday morning.

Moving, no matter how stressful, does have a beauty to it. I've been forced to take quick glances at all the lives I have lived. The young girl in Pomona, with the gap-toothed grin and glasses, red-faced from eating gluten in every picture, and not knowing it. The earnest young college girl, studying hard and always with her hand raised high in the air. The hopeless year after college during the last major recession, working at a bookstore at the mall. The eager teacher, determined to change everything and exhausting herself in the process. A woman in her 30s, walking fast down the streets of Manhattan, drinking it all in. Someone misguided and giving up her life for the happiness of others in a lavish home in London. A woman starting to know herself, returning to Seattle, and a simpler life. The woman born the moment she realized she shouldn't eat gluten anymore, and everything came alive. The one who met the Chef. A woman in love, then loving more quietly, every moment of the day. Mama.

It's funny, isn't it? How we talk about our life as a single unit? I've lived five hundred lives already, since I was born in 1966, each rushing to meet the next, and turning away from the last. There have been so many strained stanzas, impassioned dances, and anguished missed chances I am now glad I missed. For years, I have been winnowing, not just my possessions, but my expectations. I love being in my 40s. I love being his wife, her mama. I love this life.

I can't wait for the next one to begin.

As you can imagine, we're going to be pretty busy this next week, moving on Sunday, cleaning the old place, and setting up our new home. Forgive our silence, for a bit. We need some time to settle in and feel the change before we can begin sharing it here.

sometimes quick food is the best.

Red Pasta Sauce for a Busy Week

Earlier this week, I threw together a pasta sauce while packing cookbooks and talking on the phone to Tea. Normally, this is not how I like to cook -- glancing sideways while watching the pan. Cooking calls to me because it forces me to focus. But we were hungry from cleaning and moving, and I had no time to talk to my friend during the rest of the day. No other choice.

Sometimes food tastes better with less scrutiny. Not expecting anything, I just threw in a pinch of this, a bit of that. (This recipe, therefore, is only the roughest guideline.) When we sat down to eat, the Chef took his first bite, and then said, "Man, sweetie, this is good." And so, here it is.

The meals I throw together without thinking too much are much better for having good ingredients around the house. Mustapha's red pepper salt is a blend of Moroccan poivron rouge, piment fort, and fleur de sel. It's something really special, a clean bite of heat and sweetness, salt that does something far more than what is expected. I'm making all our pasta with a little toss of it from now on.

8 ounces gluten-free pasta of your choice (this one is Manicaretti)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, peeled and fine-chopped
1 teaspoon fine chopped fresh rosemary
pinch red pepper salt (or equal parts hot chile pepper and sweet paprika)
pinch nutmeg
pinch pepper
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 sausage of your choice, already cooked and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
pinch lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan

Cooking the pasta. Fill a large pot with water and enough salt to make the water taste like the ocean. A glug of olive oil helps as well. When the water is boiling rapidly, throw in the pasta. Cook it until the texture is just shy of al dente (soft with just a little bite). Drain immediately. Put the hot pasta back in the pot.

Making the sauce. Bring a large saucepan to medium-high heat. Pour in the olive oil. Toss the onions in the hot oil and stir. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent, yielding to the touch of your spatula. Put in the rosemary and cook about 1 minute, or until the room begins to smell of rosemary. Pinch in the red pepper salt, the nutmeg, and the pepper. Stir until the onions and rosemary are coated with these seasonings. Pour in the diced tomatoes and allow them to cook for a few minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and almost evaporated.

Put 1/2 of the butter in the tomato sauce and swirl until it is all melted. Toss in the sliced sausage and cook until it is evenly heated. Pour in the chicken stock and allow it to bubble and combine with all the other ingredients. When the sauce has reached the thickness you desire, reduce the heat to low.

Stir in the remaining butter and the pinch of lemon zest. Stir to combine.

Put the cooked pasta in the sauce. Stir to coat it entirely.

Plate up the pasta and top with the Parmesan.

Feeds 2

11 March 2009

how to sear fish (a video)

Before I met the Chef, I baked all my fish. I timed it out, a minute per inch of thickness, or some other rule I had read in a magazine somewhere. It came out tasting bland and "healthy." I convinced myself I was feeding myself well.

And then I tasted the first piece of fish the Chef seared for me and I realized I had been cooking out the flavor, eating it too well done. I've never gone back.

In this little video, the Chef shows you how to cook the snapper fillets we cut up last week. Once you see it, you might try it yourself. You'll never think of fish the same way again.

I apologize for the sound quality, at times. I don't know why I didn't realize that sticking a tiny video camera into a skillet full of sizzling fish would dampen the sound of the Chef talking, but I know it now. Also, the same focus issue as last week. (Here's a secret. We filmed last week's and this week's on the same day.)

Never mind all that. Just watch him work. And then eat a great piece of environmentally safe, delicious fish. Enjoy.

10 March 2009

Bariani olive oil

Bariani olive oil

Are you looking for a good olive oil that won't cost half your paycheck? Bariani olive oil is pretty darned affordable for such a fine oil.

Come on over to Gluten-Free Girl Recommends to see what we think of it.

09 March 2009

winter root vegetables

winter root vegetables are still here.

We have roasted and boiled, pickled and pureed, shaved and grated, slivered and sliced. Gratins, mashes, salads, and eaten out of hand. We have done everything we can with winter root vegetables.


We have been good and patient. We grab our vegetables every week from the farmers' market, with the occasional foray to PCC or a local store for something else in season, late in the week. We would never think of eating corn or raspberries in the middle of winter. We eat what the farmers dig up and hand to us in sleet or slushy snow. We enjoy this.

But March? Oh March, you are the hardest month. In December, the first parsnips excited us. Yippee! Look, they're back. Last week, the Chef said to me, "I don't think I can do it. I can't eat one more parsnip." But we did. And still smiled as we cooked.

However, when we saw a tiny bag of miner's lettuce last week, on the forlornly empty table of Foraged and Found, we pounced on it, even if it did cost $6. We ate it all week, trailing green stems for small salads, just so we could eat something besides a root with our dinner.

It's hard to imagine, but asparagus is coming.

It snowed in Seattle today. We're not done with this yet. I give it at least four weeks before all the stands at the market are back, peeping with greens.

And so, we trudge forward, begrudgingly loving what is in front of us.

I could use some more inspiration. What are you doing with winter root vegetables?

p.s. If you need a little lift of spring, take a look at the April issue of Martha Stewart Living. There's a big spread on living gluten-free, with three vividly photographed recipes (chocolate cake with pink frosting!), and a little piece written This was more unexpected delight than I could say. It almost makes me grateful for parsnips again.

06 March 2009

Friday food photo

sunlight through the window

Sunlight, through the window, makes me happy.

05 March 2009

cooking again.

cooking again.

I have missed cooking.

Oh, I have been dabbling, slowly stirring scrambled eggs with a touch of cream on low heat, until the yellowy curds pile up like pillows on an unmade bed. Some mornings, I toss the potatoes into salted water and wait long enough that I can run a knife through their centers and pull it out without a hitch. (Sometimes, I imagine the scene from Romeo and Juliet, where Tybalt stabs Mercutio who heaves a little sigh, a gasp of surprise, and then topples over. But that’s only when I am feeling stressed. And remembering fourteen, when I was desperate to figure out how I could marry the impossibly beautiful man who played Romeo in the BBC production.) I glug canola oil into a glass jar, already 1/3 full with flecks of pepper, pinches of salt, a small spoon of sharp mustard, and champagne vinegar. Before I mix it up vigorously, tossing it back and forth over my shoulder like I’m mixing fabulous cocktails in a sleek metal container, I lean the jar under Little Bean’s nose and let her sniff. These days, she opens her mouth and tries to eat it.

So I’m in the kitchen. I’m talking with the Chef, working out what we will eat that day, what we should write, and wandering over for a kiss. And sometimes I’m dancing to Stevie Wonder songs in afternoon sunlight so sudden through the windows that I swoop up the baby from her highchair and twirl her around, past the shelves overstuffed with jars of grains, around the window above the sink, and swimming past the stove with pots simmering. That room is full of joy.

But these past few months, and if I’m being honest — since Little Bean was born — I have not been cooking the way I used to do.

The Chef is at home.

I’m never going to complain about having a chef for a husband. A few months before Little Bean was born, I was driving to an early-morning doctor’s appointment, and I heard two morning DJs with screeching voices and guffawing laughs talking about something. I don’t remember what. The woman suddenly burst out, “Can you imagine? Being married to a chef? He’d make you breakfast every morning. Oh god, I’d never leave the house.” I laughed out loud. Somehow, I had become the object of her envy. And I’d have to say, I agree. It’s good to be married to a chef, particularly mine.

He roasts sweet potatoes for Little Bean at night, so that the soft puree will be cooled for her lips in the morning. He lingers over breakfasts, throwing in a touch of curry powder with the yellow chanterelles, making every bite as surprising as spots of sunlight on the wooden floor in January. When I say we really ought to try eating a few dinners without veal stock sauces or homemade aioli, he puts a plate of pan-seared Dover sole, brown rice with lemongrass, and cumin-roasted carrots before me at the end of a long writing session. He’s the kindest man I know.

But with him at home, no longer in a restaurant kitchen, the days conspire to move him toward the stove. Little Bean needs a diaper change, and then some giggling squiggly time on the bed reading The Giving Tree or Sandra Boynton books. Between Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, emails, and essays, I could sit in front of the computer and never be done. We take a long walk to the coffee shop 30 minutes away, read The New York Times while Little Bean naps in her stroller, and then walk back to the house, our skin tingling with invigoration, and Little Bean giggling at the trees overhead. And suddenly, it’s time to start dinner, and we need to chop vegetables and begin searing the meat before the Bean’s bathtime, or we won’t eat until midnight. He looks at me as I pick up the baby and sling her on my hip, and I look back. “You cook tonight. I really have to tackle that recipe.” And so we are sitting in separate rooms, a shout away from each other, and I am writing, and he is cooking, and Bean is kicking. All is well. Except, another day has passed, and I haven’t stood in front of the stove, again.

I know. I’m sure that some of you would like to kick me right now.

But the thing is? I really love cooking. Eating is fantastic, one of the best parts of being awake. (And as my friend Matthew has said, you get to do it three times a day!) But cooking — the process of thoughts throughout the afternoon of what to make, the slow chopping, the simmering, the dreaming? That’s almost better than eating. Tackling a new recipe and then taping it into my giant black notebook, because I certainly want make that one again — that made me feel more capable than my job ever did. For years, the stove was my sustenance, the place I skipped to after a long day of teaching, or on Sunday afternoons instead of grading papers. In the kitchen, I stop thinking. I breathe in the smells. I sing along with Johnny Cash or Talking Heads, songs I know in my toes instead of learning new ones. I chop sloppy, I sometimes don’t clean up as I go, and I enjoy every damned moment of it. Cooking slows me down. There are times that nothing makes me happier than standing in the kitchen in my bare feet, warm air from the opened oven ruffling my hair, and my fingers feeling that the cake is done. It’s the relaxed time of the hands.

My shoulders are hunched from too much time in front of the computer.

So I don’t know exactly how to negotiate this. Certainly, the Chef needs to keep cooking. We cook side by side, but sometimes he can’t help but give me advice. I listen. He’s right. I learn so much from him. But sometimes I just want to cook, and not worry if I’m doing it well.
We talk about it, over roasted chicken and potato salad, our feet up on the coffee table, the television muted in the commercials of Jeopardy. He wants to teach me, gently, to make food more efficiently. I want to let go and not worry if I’m any good at all. He wants to feed me. I want to feed him. We don’t figure it out in ideas of 140 characters or less.

But we’re in this together. And the food tastes good. He stuffed the chicken with fresh herbs and preserved lemons as I read Madeline to Little Bean, again. I threw together the potato salad, after looking at Molly’s recipe to refresh my mind. They were both on the same plate, the new creation and the cherished dish handed down from one generation to another. We cooked, together. That’s all that really matters.

The process.

seared tofu

Seared Tofu

The Chef hates tofu. It's anathema to him. Or so he says. Because, I just recently found out that he has eaten tofu exactly once. Our friend Daniel, a vegan for decades, seared cubes of tofu to a perfect sizzle, the insides rich and meaty. The Chef looked puzzled at first bite, and then told me, "That's good." From the way he talked about the stuff, I assumed he had eaten plenty of bad tofu, and made his choice. No, that's the only time he's eaten it. And he liked it.
"Why do you hate it, then?"
"It just seems weird."
Hm. I'll convince him, yet.

I love tofu. I adore the crisp crust that develops with a good sear and the soft custardy insides that heat around the tongue. I love how clean I feel when I eat it. I love how quickly I can gobble all that protein and not feel too full.

So the other day, the Chef was gone all afternoon on a catering gig. And I cooked. Tofu.
Little Bean looked confused when I stood in front of the stove. That told me something.
Mama needs to cook more often.

I will say, however, that the Chef's lessons and skills have seeped into me. After watching him sear and braise meat, and throw together sauces that leave my toes curled for how good they taste, I guessed at this method of cooking tofu. I loved it. Dark with oyster sauce and rice wine vinegar mingled, soft and warm, this tofu was so satisfying that I could have this every day for lunch (with a side of sauteed spinach).

I'll help the Chef to love it yet.

16 ounces extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons oyster sauce (make sure it's gf)
3 tablespoons fish sauce (again, gf)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 nub ginger, freshly grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons dark sesame oil
kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Preparing the tofu. Put the block of tofu on a cutting board, propped up to slope down toward the sink. (or, you could just use a plate.) Top it with a sturdy plate. Weigh the plate down with a couple of your favorite textbooks or heavy tomes. Allow the water to seep out of the tofu for at least an hour. Drain off any remaining water. This will keep the tofu firm when cooking, instead of watery.

Making the marinade.
Combine the oyster sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, 3 tablespoons of the sesame oil, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir them up well. (These measurements are only guesses. Use your senses for your own taste.)

Marinating the tofu. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1 inch each. Toss the cubes of tofu into the marinade. Coat the cubes well and allow the tofu to marinate for about an hour.

Preparing to cook. Preheat the oven to 450°. Pull out your cast iron skillet or a large sauté pan. Bring it to high heat.

Cooking the tofu. Pour in the remaining sesame oil. When the oil runs around the pan and starts to smoke a bit, put the tofu cubes into the hot oil. Be careful. The oil will sizzle. Stand back and creep forward when the danger has passed. Place all the tofu cubes in the skillet. Cook about 4 minutes, or until the bottom of the tofu cubes have browned. Turn the cubes, carefully and brown the other side.

Pour any remaining marinade over the top of the tofu. Slide the skillet into the oven and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tofu is piping hot.

Serve immediately.

Feeds 2.

04 March 2009

how to fillet a fish (a video)

It's Wednesday. And that means it's time for another Chef video.

This week's video is how to fillet a whole fish. I must admit that I have never done this by myself. The idea daunted me. But after filming the Chef doing this — and making him go much more slowly than he has in decades — I feel confident I can fillet a fish now.

So will you.

Just two notes.

1. The natural sound effects of this might bother those of you who choose not to eat meat or fish. Sorry about that. There's no other way around it. This is real.

2. We are still learning the mechanics of this tiny camera. We love it. But in shooting and editing this video, I have realized it is definitely not ready for its close-up. Sorry about the fuzzy focus on the pinbones. But you'll get the idea.

And now, away we go.....

03 March 2009

Secret Stash Sea Salts

Secret Stash salts

Oh, you want these salts.

To find out more about Secret Stash sea salts, head on over to Gluten-Free Girl Recommends.

02 March 2009



Winter slips into spring like toes dipping into warm water. We don't know if we can believe it. Will we freeze?

Sounds like those of you in the Northeast coast of the United States are nowhere near spring, except in days fluttering off the calendar. A foot of snow on the first day of March? You won't want to hear about how heart-stopped the billowy white clouds were against the blue sky in Seattle.

The other day, while walking with the Chef, we spotted the first purple crocus, amidst beauty bark. I stooped to pick it up. Little Bean sat in the Baby Bjorn kicking delightedly against the Chef's belly. She turned toward me and I offered her nose the crocus, to smell. She tried to eat it, her mouth open wide like a baby bird waiting for the first worm of the day. (I didn't let her eat it, by the way.) I know that crocuses have no discernible smell. I just wanted to her drink it in -- spring is coming.

Soon, there will be warm air blowing through the windows and wafting the white curtains. Can you believe that someday we will walk around in sleeves pushed up our arms, ice cream dripping onto our fingers, and lemonade with fresh rosemary waiting?

No, I can't quite feel it either. The heater is still rattling behind me, the light is only creeping slowly into the morning, and we all have jackets sitting slouched on the back seat of the car, just in case the air grows too cold for our walks.

We're in the nether region, neither here nor there. It's no longer full winter here (sorry, New York and Boston), but it's certainly not spring. The trees are bare, like cold hands eager to feel the air without gloves. Strong shoots of green appear in places, but mostly, the dirt yields only mud right now. We're not there yet.

This time, this potent time of longing, feels like a slow thawing, dripping and dripping, starting to open. It's only after you start to thaw that you feel the freezing behind you.

I've been thinking about Emily Dickinson this evening, the great and granite balm, the toughest woman I know (if only through her words). This one came back again.

"After great pain, a formal feeling comes --
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions, was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round --
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought --
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone --

This is the Hour of Lead --
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow --
First -- Chill -- then Stupor -- then the letting go --"

I am trying to thaw. My god, this has been a hard year.

I'm fine. And I don't want to explain. Life is more hilarious and sure than ever. Little Bean sat up on her own today, for the first time, swaying on her legs and correcting with sweeps of hands in the air. The Chef made roast pork, which he had brined overnight, with roasted carrots so sweet they brought tears to my eyes. We are, without a doubt, happy and here.

But some years are too painful to feel them all, as you live them. Later, it comes back.

So tomorrow, I will stand at the stove, feeling the low heat caress my face, and stir the baby leeks we bought at the farmers' market, in butter and oil, with just a pinch of salt. Probably a few tears will slip in, too. I'll wait, tempted to take them too early, and let them cook, slowly, until they are nearly melted, a soft smeared mess. Maybe some fresh mozzarella cheese, in shreds I will tear with my hands. A few splashes of balsamic vinegar, dark against the white. And wait, until they have all become something new, together.

Maybe by the time I am ready to eat them, it will be spring around here.

And you? How will you eat leeks?