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28 April 2010

asparagus salad with walnuts and Mizithra

raw asparagus salad with toasted walnuts and mizithra cheese

Thank you.

For days I have been speechless. The stories that arrived on the comment section of the post I put up last week left me in awe. All day Thursday, when I wasn't with Lu and Danny, I was reading comments, emails, and messages you sent me. I wish that I could hug you all.

Before writing that piece, I felt like I was living in a small frightened silence. The act of writing it felt like singing. Hitting the publish button felt like liberation in a chorus of voices.

Your kindness has left me feeling completely at peace.

Every time I have gone for a run since I published that piece, I have been running with you. So many of us struggle with our weight, or how we feel about our bodies, or how little we take care of ourselves in the face of busy days and crises — but we rarely talk about it out loud. And if you write a food blog, eating too much or eating mindlessly is the thing you don't talk about.

Thank you for talking, for sharing yourselves with me, and with each other. This has been a revelation for me. Truly.

And now, I'd like to share this asparagus salad with you.

* * *

We've been eating plates of salads around here, at nearly every meal. It's spring time again. Tulips are in full bloom and English peas are back in season. Green vegetables are back at the farm stands and the markets. Finally, we can say our sweet farewells to the starchy root vegetables of winter, knowing we'll be happy to see them again in October. But for now? Buh-bye parsnips and rutabagas. Don't let the door hit your butt on the way out.

These salads have been more than a frenzied celebration dance of spring, however. (At least three times a day, Lu calls out for us to gather around and fling our arms in the air with her, bending our knees to the beat of Talking Heads or They Might Be Giants. Spring feels like these spur-of-the-moment dance sessions.) We love vegetables around here. We're just declaring that love more clearly these days.

I've been looking at food differently since I published that post last week. Somehow, before this, I had forgotten to slow down and enjoy my food. Eating bits of cookie dough from the refrigerator when I felt stressed out about deadlines meant I never tasted it. I inhaled it. Sitting down at the table for a meal with Danny and Lu, the sunlight coming in, and the hunger starting to nibble at the edges of my stomach, I am much more grateful for what is before me.

I've been enjoying my food more fully this week than I have for years. I've been eating exactly what I want.

When I really listen to my hunger, instead of the anxious appetite of stress and mindless finger foods, sometimes I want pork ribs that have been braised in Danny's Chinese barbeque sauce. Sometimes I want a square of dark chocolate. And sometimes I want asparagus, tarragon, a lemon-juice vinaigrette, and some small curlicues of Mizithra cheese.

* * *

A few days ago, Danny came home from the restaurant with stories. "We made this spaghetti tonight, a test for this couple who is getting married. They wanted spaghetti with browned butter and this really tangy cheese, something from the Mediterranean."
"You mean Mizithra?" I said.
"Yeah! You know it?"
I laughed. "I do. And they must have been to the Spaghetti Factory."

When I was a kid, the Spaghetti Factory was a fancy restaurant. We didn't go out to eat often, other than fast food. For me and my brother, a trip to the Spaghetti Factory meant staring in awe at the faux-Tiffany lamps, the high ceilings, and the train cars filled with diners. They had actual, old train cars from the 1910s, in the restaurant. If you're a kid, that is about the coolest dining experience you can imagine. Sometimes, even though we were hungry, we put our names in for a reservation and waited until we found seats in the train car.

(I can't remember if my brother and I ever convinced my parents to put in our name as the Donner Party or not. I think not.)

When we reached our table, we were greeted by a chipper waiter and a basket of crusty bread dripping in butter. We grabbed at it immediately, because we knew that more was coming. One of the lures of the Spaghetti Factory was that ever-replenishing basket of garlic bread. (To my horror, the one time we went with my creepy uncle, he insisted that his timid wife dump the entire basket of bread into her purse, so they could eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.) As we waited for our Shirley Temples and the menus, we ate one slice after another of garlic-so-good-oh-the-butter-and-the-parmesan-cheese bread.

Eventually, we opened the menus and scanned them, in a cursory fashion. We had to look, to be polite. But it was always the same. I wanted the spaghetti with Italian sausage. (I still love that stuff.) What did my brother and mother get? Spaghetti and meatballs? I don't know, because my dad's order was so unusual that it has obliterated the rest. Spaghetti with browned butter and Mizithra cheese.

Have you ever eaten Mizithra cheese? It's delicious. It's a hard sheep's cheese, vivid white and eventually crumbly. It's equal parts milky sweet and tangy like salted yogurt. Apparently young Mizithra has no salt, a sweetness on the tonuge like milk straight from the cow. The only one I've ever eaten is the aged Mizithra, however. It has the distinct honor of being the only cheese I don't want to eat on its own. A bite of Mizithra without a cracker, a salad, or some gluten-free spaghetti? No thanks. My tongue curls against my mouth to prevent that entry. It's an intense taste.

So as a kid, when I saw the plate of mounded spaghetti in front of my father, a pile of pasta without red sauce, I always thought it was weird. He offered tastes. I turned him down.

However, when we went to the Spaghetti Factory in Newport Beach, at the end of a long day of bodysurfing and spreading baby oil on our skin for a better tan (ouch), I wanted that spaghetti my father ordered each time. I wanted whatever food could be set in front of me.

I squirmed in my seat to move away from the sand trapped in my bathing suit and the sunburn line glowing warm along its edges. Other than Fritos and a can of bean dip, or a hot dog or two, we had eaten nothing all day long. Instead, my brother and I been so joyfully jumping waves, flinging our arms toward the sky when the ocean smashed against us, that I had forgotten food. I was only sun on my head, sand shrinking beneath my feet, the triumph of riding a sytrofoam boogie board into the shore. I spent the day outside, moving my body, and I didn't want to eat.

Until we reached The Spaghetti Factory, that is. As I sat in that dining car, waiting for my Italian sausage and spaghetti, anticipating the cold scoop of Spumoni ice cream in a metal bowl, I could hear the hunger rumbling in my stomach.

And to my surprise, that hunger felt good. Alive.

* * *

This last week, I've been feeling that hunger again, the hunger of waiting to eat, of anticipating a meal, of true stomach rumbling. No mindless nibbling. I've been eating every bite at the table, with the people I love, sun coming through the window, and my body exhausted from moving so well.

This asparagus with tarragon and Mizithra tasted better than almost anything I've eaten this year.

Raw Asparagus Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Mizithra

This salad was inspired by a recipe in
Melissa Clark's book, The Skinny: How to Fit into Your Little Black Dress Forever. (It came into the library the day after I wrote that I was intrigued to read it, which I took as a sign to pay attention.) So much of what she and her writing partner talk about in the book resonates with me. I especially like their dual urging to eat exactly what you want, then add vegetables:

"Use veggies to satisfy your hunger. Fill up on them before you dive into that ooey-gooey-decadent treat. Want a root beer float for dinner? Have a pile of sauteed broccoli rabe first. How about that burger with a fried egg on top? Swap out the fries for a salad or sauteed spinach. Need the fried calamari? Add a fennel-and-orange salad or a big bowl of vegetable soup to it. The bottom line? Vegetables are your friends."

We already love vegetables in this house, but it's good to welcome good friends to the house in droves. Clark offers a recipe for thinly sliced brussels sprouts, toasted walnuts, and Manchego cheese. When I asked Danny if he wanted to eat it, he said, "Yeah. Next January! It's spring." So, asparagus instead. After the memories of Mizithra, we added it here. No offense to the first recipe. I'm sure it's great. Right now, however, this is about the only salad I want to eat.

1 bunch asparagus
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, leaves removed from the stem
1 cup walnuts, toasted
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Mizithra cheese, shaved into small curlicues

Preparing the asparagus. Remove the woody stems of the asparagus stalks. Bend the thick end of each stalk and look to see where it wants to break. Break it off there. (Danny says you can knee-cap it.) If you want, you can save the stalks to make asparagus stock. But that's another recipe. Slice the asparagus stalks into 1/2-inch pieces, leaving the tips whole. Put them in a large bowl. Add the tarragon leaves.

Toasting the walnuts. Put the walnuts into a small skillet. Set the skillet over low heat (and we mean LOW). Allow the walnuts to toast, tossing them every few minutes, until they are browned and you smell toasted walnuts, about 10 minutes.

Making the vinaigrette. Put the lemon juice, zest, and a pinch of salt and pepper into a small bowl. Stir while you slowly drizzle in the olive oil. (You can also do this in a jam jar with a lid or with a stick blender if you want the dressing to be fully emulsified.)

Finishing the salad. Drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over the asparagus and tarragon and toss. (You know your own tastes best as to how much you want to use.) Plate the asparagus on small saucers. Add the toasted walnuts and the curlicues of Mizithra. Eat.

Feeds 2 to 4 people, depending on how much they want to eat.

26 April 2010

gluten-free rough puff pastry

I have made a lot of puff pastry in the last month.

When I first went gluten-free — 5 years ago this week — I thought that I might never eat bread, pasta, or in a restaurant again. I certainly never thought I would eat puff pastry again.

Of course, before I went gluten-free, I had never made puff pastry by hand. Why should I? There are sheets of it for sale in the freezer section of every grocery store. If you can eat gluten, recipes that call for puff pastry are so easy. But making it myself? That seemed like something for a pastry chef. Not for me.

In the past month, I have made so many batches of puff pastry that I have lost track of how many. 8? 10? I don't know. A lot.

And boy, have I learned.

I have learned that the dough for rough puff pastry should not be a smooth easy ball when I first pull it out of the food processor, like pie dough. It shouldn't be so wet with butter that the dough gloms onto the rolling pin as I try to work with it. I have learned to not roll over the edges of the dough as I am doing turns, to give it the best chance of puffing and making layers I can. I have learned what the word turns means in puff pastry. I have learned to work with cold dough and cold hands and a cold rolling pin, if I can. I have learned to put a tart dough made out of puff pastry back in the refrigerator before I bake it, so the butter doesn't melt all over the pan.

I have learned to live with the imperfections of this. I have to learned to love puff pastry.

I have learned that after I publish this recipe, I don't want any more puff pastry for awhile.

It's your turn.

learning the process

Over the last six weeks of making puff pastry at least 3 times a week, I have been guided by wise voices.

My friend Helen and I collaborated on this, via email and in person. She came up with an extraordinary gluten-free puff pastry, made in the traditional manner. If you haven't seen it yet, you must click on that link and try her recipe. Helen is not only a pastry chef, but she's also a patient friend, listening to my questions about butter and ratios and rolling out dough. I can't imagine undergoing this entire process without her.

My friend Jeanne, of the blog Four Chickens, made an incredible-looking gluten-free puff pastry recently too. Have you seen her vol au vents? Her step by step tutorial was so helpful to me. Also, if you have never been to Jeanne's blog, you should know that she's an incredible gluten-free baker and kind woman. Go on over to make one of her cakes.

My friend Ashley made an incredible little video on making traditional puff pastry. I must have watched it a dozen times in a row one night, trying to figure out the process. She's another pastry chef. Why not learn from the best?

However, each of those beautiful women were making traditional puff pastry, with a dough and a big block of butter to work into that dough. It's really not that hard to make traditional puff pastry — I don't want to give you that impression. It's just that Helen and Jeanne had already done it. I wanted to make something different, something a little quicker.

Rough puff pastry.

from rough to ready to roll

Rough puff pastry is just that. It's rough. It's not nearly as refined as traditional puff pastry, but it's also not quite as fussy. (And I have learned that most pastry chefs are making rough puff pastry for restaurant service, it seems.) Don't think, however, that you'll pull this recipe for rough puff pastry together in 15 minutes. This takes time. It's a project. This is not the food to make when you are rushing to put dinner on the table.

If, like me, you enjoy a challenge and the feeling of taking nothing but flours and butter, with a little water, and making magic? You're going to want to make this rough puff pastry.

I found Molly Stevens' guide to making rough puff pastry on Fine Cooking incredibly helpful.

"When teaching how to make rough puff pastry, I've found that the only tricky part is getting my students to believe that the crumbly pile of butter, flour, and scant water will actually become a smooth, workable dough. The temptation is to add more water to bind the dough, but excess water would only make the dough tough."

Well okay then! Rough and imperfect and even ludicrous looking? I can do that!

Every evening, I was studying recipes and learning techniques, from Ashley's take on quick puff pastry, and Gordon Ramsey's rough puff pastry recipe, and a professional pastry chef's take on puff pastry at British Larder. This post at Kitchen Musings on how to make rough puff pastry showed me that I didn't need the thousand layers to make puff pastry beautiful. I could do this.

I dove in.

For awhile, I was using variations on Michel Roux's rough puff pastry recipe, courtesy of Helen. They worked. Most of the photographs you see here are of doughs and treats made with those recipes. I quickly learned that I don't like tapioca flour in puff pastry — too soft — and I definitely don't want the bean flours in there. And after a couple of batches of puff pastry that left the Silpat dripping with butter after baking, I realized that gluten-free puff pastry requires less butter than the traditional. That was big.

After one attempt after another, based on French recipes or ones I found on the internet, I felt like I had the feel of rough puff pastry. It really is rough when it begins. Look at that top photo. It's barely more than an assemblage of flours and butter, marginally held together with ice water. How is that going to become something I can roll out?

It does. Trust me. The first few batches of puff pastry I made began as smooth balls of dough. They ended as overly wet, leaden pastry, with only the faintest hint of layers. It was only when I switched to making this in rough fashion that I started to see air in my pastries and crunch in my teeth.

Then, David Lebovitz's new book, Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, showed up in the mail. Oh, David. You save me again. The book is phenomenal (we'll tell you more about it soon). I trust David with all things pastry. He has a recipe for rough puff pastry that uses 2/3 all-purpose flour and 1/3 whole wheat. This appealed to me, since I like to use a combination of starches and whole grain. I fiddled with the flours and the calculator until I found what I liked.

I found my recipe. And now you have it too.

some of the foods you can make with puff pastry

Now, we can eat palmiers and beef wellington and salmon en croute and chicken pot pies around here. (And oh, have we been. Glad that's coming to an end, actually.)

In fact, most of the treats we have enjoyed these past few weeks were ones I baked late at night, for the dinners I share with Danny at 10 pm. I threw in the photo of salmon en croute for you here, even though it's in that hellish yellowy light. The rest we'll leave up to your imagination.

apple turnovers

With gluten-free rough puff pastry, you can make apple turnovers to surprise your love when he comes home.

"Oh baby!" Danny told me when he saw these. He kissed me for five minutes after the first bite.

savory palmiers

Once I had the hang of this — after failing and laughing and being frustrated and finding my way only by doing it again and again — I realized how easy this is. Time. Patient hands. Good butter. The right flours. Waiting.

Then, there were savory palmiers with mustard, cheddar cheese, and black pepper. Lu chomped on these on the back porch on a sunny day, for a snack, then asked for more.

I certainly never thought, when I first had to go gluten-free, five years ago this week, that one day I'd have a child who would eat palmiers made from my gluten-free puff pastry. I sighed when I heard her say, "Yumma!" This is, in the end, why I do this.

puff pastry dough, ready to go

Now you can too.

Soon, you can have gluten-free puff pastry dough like this, waiting in the refrigerator. Make up some palmiers or a quick tart for lunch, or apple turnovers. (I'm pretty sure you could use this dough to make homemade pop tarts, too.) Pot pie. Ah, the sound of chicken pot pie.

If you are recently gluten-free, and you feel like the world is closing down on you, think again. Anything is possible.

Start baking.

Gluten-Free Rough Puff Pastry, adapated from David Lebovitz's Whole Wheat Puff Pastry recipe from Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes

It begins as butter chunks and flour, then ends as a pliable dough, ready to go. It's magic. Truly.

Now, it's yours. You'll notice I have suggested substitute flours in the recipe in case you cannot eat one of these. Bake by weight and you'll be able to play.

Play and let it be imperfect. Don't expect to be good at this the first time. I promise you — this is a project you will master eventually. Allow yourself time in front of the kitchen counter, more than just once. And then let me know how it goes.

345 grams (3/4 pound or 1 1/2 cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter
137 grams (4 7/8 ounces or 3/4 cup) potato starch (or tapioca flour)
137 grams (4 1/2 ounces or 1 cup) cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
52 grams (1 7/8 ounces or 1/3 cup) superfine brown rice flour (or sorghum)
52 grams (1 7/8 ounces or 1/3 cup) superfine sweet rice flour (or millet flour)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
180 ml (3/4 cup) ice water

Prepping the butter. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. (I slice each stick into tablespoons, then cut each of those in half.) Arrange them on a plate, making sure they are separated. Put the plate in the freezer until the butter is frozen, at least 1 hour.

Combining the flours. Mix the potato starch, cornstarch, brown rice flour, and superfine sweet rice flour together. Whisk the flours together to aerate them. (I like to whirl the flours in the food processor for a few moments, to fully combine them.) Add the xanthan gum, guar gum, and salt. Stir to combine.

Making the rough dough. Put the combined flours in the bowl of a stand mixer. (This batch was too big for my standard-size food processor, or I might have done it there. You can also do this by hand, with the help of a pastry scraper.) Add the frozen butter. Now, this is where you're going to think that David Lebovitz and I are crazy. When you turn on the mixer, on the lowest speed, the butter will fly and your stand mixer will sound like it is suffering. Keep going. Turn it off and on a few times until the edges of the butter pieces have started to soften. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the ice water and turn on the mixer again. Let it run until the flours have absorbed the water. This dough is going to look crazy ragged and unfinished, like the first photo in that collage up there.

Rolling out and turning. Pour the dough onto a Silpat or piece of parchment paper about the same size as a Silpat. Knead it together with your hands for a moment or two, just enough to bring it together.

I like to put a piece of parchment paper on top and roll this out to a rough rectangle, with a rolling pin. (Aim for roughly the size of a piece of notebook paper, with just a bit more length.) You might like to pat it down with your hands. Roll from the center outward, going both ways. Take care not to roll over the edges. Go gently. At the end of this first rolling session, the dough will look like the photograph in the top-right-hand photograph in that collage up there.

Gently, using the edges of the Silpat or parchment paper, fold the bottom third of the dough toward the middle, then fold the top third on top of it. Eventually, this will look like a book. Right now, it might be hard to distinguish the folds from each other. Have faith. Proceed.

Rotate the dough one-quarter turn to your right (clockwise). You have now completed one turn.

Again, roll out the dough to roughly the same size as a piece of notebook paper, with just a bit more length. Go gently. This will take your biceps and your patience. In these early turns, you're going to think this is impossible. Keep going. With each turn, the dough will become smoother and more cohesive. Once you are done rolling, fold the bottom third up, and overlap the top third over it. Try as best you can to align the edges.

Rotate the dough one-quarter turn to your right (clockwise). You have now completed two turns.

Follow the same process, rolling carefully, then turning, until you have completed four turns. Believe it or not, by the time you are done with the fourth turn, the dough will look like the photograph in the bottom right-hand corner. (I cut the ragged edges off in that one, to make a nice neat rectangle. You don't have to do that.)

Wrap the folded dough in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Finishing the dough. Pull the puff pastry dough out of the refrigerator. Generally, I let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes before working with it again, since it will be hard from the cold. Don't let it sit out too long, however. You want the dough to be cold but pliable. Complete the fifth and sixth turns, following the same procedure as above. Wrap the dough in plastic again and refrigerate for at least another 2 hours.

And there you have it. Rough puff pastry, gluten-free.

This batch makes enough for 2 large tarts or 1 beef wellington or 2 salmon en croutes or dozens of little palmiers. Experiment. You'll find your way.

This dough does well in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 1 month.

21 April 2010

carry that weight.

lemon meringue pie I

I have been afraid of writing this.

This morning, at 4:45 in the morning, I lay awake in the bed in the dark grey light, Danny asleep beside me, Lu asleep in her room. I couldn't sleep for thinking what I might say in this piece, something I have been meaning to write for awhile, but could not. I need my sleep.

You see, it has been tougher in our lives in the last year than I have let on here. This site is about baking and the goodness of life and funny stories and loving each other and cooking with a darling kid and falling down and helping others and the work of a chef and different flours and saying yes to it all.

It has not felt like the right place to talk about terrifying life decisions, watching a baby in pain, living on the ragged edge of desolate sleep deprivation, worrying about cancer, taking a pill that saddens our lives into something we never expected, and coping with it all in old, familiar ways.

This is a site about food and the joy of it.

I have been eating too much food. And now I want to talk about it.

strawberry rhubarb pie II

We live in food around here. Danny and I talk about dinner, about dishes he might create, about the childhood memories of standing in the kitchen making dinner that Lu might have one day. For the past year, we have been cooking and baking on double time, testing and re-testing recipes for our cookbook. We have a darling toddler who loves to bake with me, and who is so active that she grows loudly grumpy if she doesn't eat every three hours. Between making breakfast and falling into bed, food is a huge, joyful part of our lives.

But it's hard to live a life of food, under the best of circumstances, and not put on weight. There's slurping and nibbling and licking off of fingers and tasting and going back for more. It's part of the job, part of the joy. With more mindfulness and rest, I might be able to do better at it. But this year? This year I have been a bit of a wreck.

It started a few months before Lu's surgery. Hell, it started 12 hours after her birth, when she stopped breathing beside me and was rushed to the ICU. I was strapped to the bed, because I had undergone a c-section that afternoon and the suffocating leg cuffs that help prevent blood clots were circling my calves. I watched them race our daughter away from us, then I saw the code-blue lights flashing and the trampling sound of what must have been a dozen doctors and nurses running toward her. I couldn't go to her. I thought she had died.

She lived. She lived in the ICU for a week, with a breathing tube and feeding tube in her. We couldn't hear her voice for a week. When she first fed, she got my milk through a syringe. Danny and I never left her side, unless the nurses ordered us to sleep on the single cot in the room. If we cuddled into each other, we each touched part of the cot, and the other part of us falling off. There wasn't much sleep. I didn't eat much, either. Food felt foreign to me, removed. I lost 30 pounds in 1o days. By the time we finally returned home, all my pre-pregnancy clothes fit.

I realize now that just screwed up my system for awhile.

We could breathe again. She was alive. She was going to be fine. But as we sat her in the kitchen in her little bouncing chair as we cooked recipes and wrote them down for the cookbook, ate rich dishes for breakfast lunch and dinner or we would never finish the manuscript in time, we knew there was this cloud hanging over us. Her surgery.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of this. She's fine now. But still.

Food tasted like a rich gift in those dark winter months. The cakes we developed were soft on my lips. The bread was so much better with a slather of butter. The dishes finished with sauces were so good that I kept going back for more.

Then, Lu stopped sleeping. She had started sleeping through the night when she was 10 weeks old, from 7 pm to 7 am. Every night. After the terrifying tumult we had been through after her birth, we figured we deserved it. Also, the first draft of the manuscript was due. Her sleeping allowed us to finish it.

Then she stopped. No matter what we tried, she cried piteously as soon as we lay her down in her crib. We lost more sleep every night. We couldn't figure out why.

After her surgery, her neurosurgeon told us that her brain was pressed so tight against her skull that it actually relaxed into space. She couldn't sleep because of the brain pressure. We didn't know that yet.

We moved to the island, a welcome moment but moving is always stressful. Just as the lilacs outside our bedroom window came into bloom, it was May. It was time.

It has been almost a year since Lu's surgery, thankfully. Back then, we didn't want to say what exactly happened. It was all too raw. But it might help one of you reading, if you are going through the same thing. So here it is.

She was born with a condition called craniosynostosis, which meant that the soft spots in the front of her head had already fused before she was born. This is what caused her breathing problems that propelled us into the ICU the night of her birth. Luckily, it was just a genetic anomaly, unaccompanied by anything else. But there was no room for her brain to grow, and without the surgery she would have suffered brain damage and blindness. The decision was easy. The dread of it was agony. They told us she would need to have this surgery when she was 11 days old, so we lived every day with her knowing this was coming.

In an 8-hour surgery, they lifted her skull bones off her head, re-sculpted them to be bigger and a better shape, fused them all together with space-age polymers, and put them back on her head.

We waited, barely breathing, until we could finally see her. She was alive.

Then we waited in the hospital with her, on duty by her bed and sleeping in a small cot again, until we could leave a week later. She didn't adjust well to her pain medication and we had to go back to the emergency room and stay another few nights. And then we all came home.

And then no one slept for another 1o months.

Lu woke up every hour, on the hour, all night long, every night, for 4 1/2 months. The doctors had warned us this might happen, but we didn't expect it to last this long. I don't know how we did it, thinking back on it. And even when she started sleeping for a bit longer of stretches, because we brought her into our bed to cuddle between us, so we could soothe her back to sleep quickly, she still didn't sleep that long.

For a solid year, I did not sleep for longer than 3 hours at a time. Not once.

There was a lot of pie for breakfast.

pie crust

Pie is comfort. Food became comfort again, instead of the singular joy of eating healthy and living in my body that it had been after my celiac diagnosis. In a time of crisis, I went back to old habits — eating without thinking, filling my mouth with sugar and carbs and dough for comfort, not paying attention. Hell, I couldn't pay attention to anything with much focus those days. I was just so tired. Danny was beat-down tired too, but I tend to hear Lu cry earlier than he does. In those days, she could only sleep if she was cuddled up against me, sometimes on my head. In the mornings, I walked like a zombie into the kitchen and grabbed a hot cup of coffee and whatever we had baked the day before. And then I kept eating, all through the day.

Everyone I know who has a toddler does this a bit. The kid leaves behind some scrambled eggs and you grab them and eat them instead of throwing them away. Spoonfuls of oatmeal, a cube of cheese, a handful of crackers — there was always food lying around. No good letting it go to waste, right? Throw dark-circles-under-the-eyes sleep deprivation to the mix and there's no counting how many bites went in without my thinking. I couldn't think about me or my weight or exercising (yeah right) when our baby was healing and we had to earn more money to pay rent and the edits of our cookbook were due. And god, I needed more sleep.

(Now I know that many studies show sleep deprivation can cause weight gain. "Women who skimped on sleep — getting five hours or less a night — were 15 percent more likely to become obese than women who got seven hours of sleep per night." Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life Sleep deprivation produces more cortisol, which makes more hunger and anxiety both.)

The summer meant lots of fresh vegetables and picnics with friends, slices of watermelon and huge salads. I was okay. As the fall descended, my diet went right into braises and breaded foods. I started to feel lousy about my health, my body, but I had to just keep going. I didn't have the time or energy to worry about me.

Just before Thanksgiving, I went in for my annual mammogram. With a breast-cancer-survivor mother (along with her three sisters), I don't play around with this. They had always been fine before. A suspicious set of mammograms led to a biopsy the day before Thanksgiving. Those results led to an MRI. That led to a more extensive surgical biopsy.

Around them all, I baked and baked and baked some more. If you made anything from this website for Thanksgiving or Christmas, just know that was from me turning fear into love through my hands. I had to think about someone else besides myself. I thought about you at home for the holidays, wanting cinnamon rolls.

I don't have breast cancer. But it took a lot of scary moments until we knew that for sure.

And then we weren't in the clear, after all.

Based on my family history, and what they found in the surgery, I'm officially in a high-risk category for developing breast cancer. In fact, I have a nearly 50% chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some point in my life. Nearly 50%. That's just too high.

My oncologist gave me a list of things I can do to minimize the risk. Not smoking. (I don't.) Not drinking (Danny quit after Lu was born, so I wasn't drinking much. Done now.) Exercising. Eating well. And going on Tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen is an estrogen inhibitor, given to women after they have survived breast cancer. It's also recommended for women who are at high risk. Taking it for five years can reduce the risk of developing cancer by nearly half.

Taking Tamoxifen also means you cannot be pregnant while you take it.

I'm 43. If I take the tamoxifen for 5 years, I will be 48. Taking that drug meant not being able to have more children.

We adore Lu. That's probably clear in everything I write. We also always hoped (and pretty much assumed) we would have two kids. We had the names picked out long before Lu was conceived. And now, we had this choice: take our chances and try for another or take the drug and let go of our expectations.

There was a lot of grieving in December and January. A lot of rugelach and graham crackers and homemade mayonnaise and World Peace cookies. A lot of comfort food. Danny and I both were bereft.

One day in January we were at the Children's Museum in Seattle for the birthday party of the son of dear friends. I went into the bathroom, still pretty raw with emotion. I saw this gaggle of girls, about four years old, gathered at the sink. They were elbowing each other for room, laughing and talking and discussing important matters. I stood and stared. I suddenly saw Lu at that age. I ran out to Danny, crying. "I don't want to miss it. I don't want to miss a minute."

I've been on the Tamoxifen for the last three months.

We let go.

In the midst of this, another doctor's appointment turned up worrying signs, enough that I was sent for a pelvic ultrasound to make sure I didn't have ovarian cancer. And just last week, after intestinal issues of some mysterious nature, I had a colonoscopy to make sure I didn't have colon cancer.

(This is, by the way, the hardest house to fast for two days in. Ay, the food everywhere.)

Luckily, I don't have either. This has been the year of Shauna not-having cancer. Thank goodness.

But shit, this has been hard.

All through it, we were working on our cookbook, even down to the last moment. And being the parents of a sweet, active little girl who grew healthier by the moment. She is healed now, completely. And finally, she is sleeping. For the past six weeks, Lu has slept from 7 pm to 6 am, with maybe a brief rising somewhere near midnight.

Finally, finally, this year is coming to an end.

And I haven't made a pie in awhile.

first halibut of the season, with sorrel sauce

It's spring again, the time of re-birth. With halibut and sorrel, quinoa and chard, everything feels more healthy in the world.

Me? I'm trying to change my habits, deliberately.

Last month, I started running. If you know me, you know that's pretty unexpected. I've always hated running — the knees, the bouncing of the boobs, the repetitiveness. But actually, I've always been scared of running. It just seemed like something I could never do.

My oncologist told me, directly: you must exercise. Every one of us should. "Daily exercise is the other pill you have to take. Studies have shown it has a much bigger effect on diminishing the risk of cancer than any diet. Do it." My other doctor told me that studies have shown that people with higher body mass index who exercise are in much better shape, and at lower risk of developing cancer and heart disease, than those with lower BMIs who don't move. I'm already in good health — my blood pressure is consistently ideal — but I could be healthier.

So I'm moving. I'm doing the Couch Potato to 5k program, walking and running in this gradual process, three times a week. To my utter surprise, I love it. I love leaving the house with the headphones on, walking down our street to see Mt. Rainier, being washed with the smell of lilacs by that one bush, then entering the forest trail to move my body. Our lives are busy. I work from home. I'm the mother of a toddler without any childcare. I don't have much time to myself. Feeling my feet on the dirt is one of the best parts of my day. Breaking a sweat and feeling the muscles in my legs grow strong makes me much happier than that second piece of cake ever could.

I once told a friend of mine: "I've realized that happiness is movement in the body and stillness in the mind." I'm learning it once again.

On the other days, I'm doing this Jillian Michaels - 30 Day Shred, which kicks my ass, but a little less every day. I'm doing some weight training, some yoga, some long walks. I just make sure to move for at least 30 minutes a day, six days a week. And the rest of the time, I'm running after a toddler.

Movement makes me feel alive. I'm moving.

pea shoots and fava bean seedlings

And I'm out in the garden every afternoon with Lu. That doesn't feel like exercise, but I'm moving my shoulders and bending my back and growing more limber by the day. There's a funny stubborn place when I'm not exercising, a place that makes it seem so impossibly hard to do. And then, when I start, that stubborn place softens, then disappears. I start to love it. And I wonder how I ever went without it.

We're growing some food in our garden. Those are the first pea shoots and fava bean seedlings I thinned yesterday. We've already planted lettuce and arugula, spinach, bush beans, carrots, red cabbage, chard, lacinato kale, tomatoes, summer squash, plus lots of herbs. We have plans for much more in May. Every morning, I go out to the garden to see what has risen. It's all green and growing. We'll be eating our share of vegetables, plus the raspberries from the 20 thriving canes along the fence. It will easier to eat healthier with this.

I've been very inspired by my friend Megan's piece about losing 25 pounds in one year, which she wrote on her blog Not Martha. She articulated how I feel about diets better than I could:

"The bits involving food slowly sorted out into simply eating in moderation. Previously I had tried low carb diets and counting calories or keeping track of what I'd eaten in a day. And you know what? All that being aware of food all day drove me crazy. The result was that I grew resentful and obsessive and felt hungry all the time. And then I would eat a whole bag of Doritos. So instead I decided to try to just not think about all that hard. I ate more carefully, more kale less Annie's Mac and Cheese, and smaller meals with more snacks. I started eating breakfast, something I'm not inclined towards, to keep my metabolism going. Slowly I learned how long it takes for me to get rid of sugar cravings (two weeks), and that bagged baby carrots make me ill, and that I really like farro and kale, and that a little bit of olive oil used to cook a meal makes it far more satisfying than when using one of those olive oil mister things. I cut down on sugar and white flour and beer and eventually started avoiding those things knowing that they would only make me hungry later. Apples and almonds and light Baybell cheeses are surprisingly satisfying snacks, a mug of green tea in the afternoon helps a lot. I ate more carefully during the week and less on the weekends."


I don't believe that it's any particular foods that make me gain weight. I have plenty of friends who love butter and bacon as much as me, and they are slender and fit. I'm still working on puff pastry and other baked goods. I'm not giving up on that, especially when I bake them for you. However, Danny's co-workers at the restaurant are going to have a steady stream of cookies and breads from now on. Three bites, maybe one slice, and then it leaves the house.

When I remember to put my fork down on the plate between bites, I feel a difference.

I'm still going to live in food. This is my passion, my joy, my shared work with Danny. I'm just trying to find a new relationship with food in this, a different way of being with it. I'm very much interested in reading Melissa Clark's book, The Skinny: How to Fit into Your Little Black Dress Forever. I stayed away from it because of the title. (I will never be a size 2. I laughed out loud when a doctor told me a few years ago that I actually do have big bones.) But now that I look at it more closely, I see that she has written a guide for living a life of eating well and often while still being mindful.

It's being mindful that matters.

I've been inspired by this new book, written by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. It's a Buddhist approach to looking at how we eat, which really moves me, especially this compassionate passage:

"As you begin to look deeply into the roots of your weight problem, take care not to be harsh on yourself. The 'judge' inside your head often makes you feel abad about all the 'shoulds' — you should not have eaten that cheesecake, you should have spent more time at the gym. You may also be daunted by your past failures and struggles with weight. It is time to stop blaming yourself for these failures. Perhaps you were following the wrong advice. Perhaps you were able to lose some weight initially on one diet or another, but the diets were too restrictive, your cravings took hold, and you eventually gave up and gained the weight back. You are not separate from your family and environment. In the past you did not have enough of the right conditions supporting you to maintain a healthy weight."

I'm not going to say no to the self I am, or wish to remove parts of myself, or aim for some artificial goal. I haven't weighed myself once in the last month. I'm not interested in the numbers.

I know I am on the right path by the way my clothes fit, by what other people say, by how my body feels. This isn't about a goal for me, the endpoint when I can finally relax and say now I'm good enough. I'm here. Now.

smoked salmon chopped salad

My flickr friend, Lisa Moussalli, gave a beautiful interview to the incredible Jennifer Causey at Simply Photo. I was moved by everything Lisa said, but particularly this:

"I've spent a good bit of time in France, and something I certainly observe there is the importance of sitting while you eat, and of always making room at the table for guests. This starts with the early evening apéro – a drink and a snack and a time to regroup and relax at the end of a busy day – and continues with the meal and and then the cheese plate and then dessert and coffee or tea. Keeping slowness and welcome at the heart of eating is a simple and profound ethos, and it's one I try to practice."

I'm still going to be eating great food. I'm just going to try to do this more mindfully.

Lu's leftover scrambled eggs can go in the trash from now on.

she wants to touch the peas

She is the real reason I am doing this. She has endured some enormous suffering in her short life, and yet she is resilient, aware, and funny as hell. This kid is alive.

She also never stops moving. She climbs every surface, runs at full pace, dances at the first hint of music, and is all muscle and motion. She inspires me. I want to be as active as this kid. Little kids know how to live. I want to go back to that.

Mostly, though, I don't want to miss a minute of her life. I want to see her grow up. She's turning 2 in three months. (What?!) Given how quickly these two years have gone, I know that 2 will become 3, 3 become 6, 6 become 12, and 12 become graduating from college in about 14 seconds. I want to be limber for this. I want to be here as long as I can.

In the past, when I tried to lose weight, I thought the pounds were the point. I hated my life. I wanted something more. I believed I could never be okay at that weight.

Now, for the first time, I'm not trying to change anything about me or my life. Danny adores me, wherever I am. But he wants me around for a long time too. In these past five years since I stopped eating gluten, I have learned more and more, in ever widening circles, about where my food comes from and what works for my body. This time, I'm listening to it.

I love my life. I just want to walk through it more lightly.

at the Oro Valley farmers' market

You may be wondering why I have told you all this. Well, for one, I would like you to know this: if you ever look at someone who is overweight (in your mind), and think, "Wow, she's really let herself go," just remember that there is always a story behind it.

Also, something has not been sitting well in my stomach these past few months, not writing about all this. I did what I could. It was all too raw at first. But this space is a haven, for me, for some of you. A place of laughter, yes. But also a place of sharing our stories and learning from each other.

Our lives have not been as idyllic as they might have seemed. They have been hard. They have also been beautiful.

Telling you is telling me. I've been able to hide from myself. I'm always the one behind the camera. When I saw photos of myself on friends' blogs, I cringed and did a dozen sit-ups immediately. But with all this grieving and too much to process, I dove right back into my old habits.

For years, I have felt an affinity with this quote from Mark Doty, a brilliant American poet:

"I don't exactly feel that this openness has been a choice, although of course on some less-than-conscious level it must be. Rather it feels to me as if it's simply the course my life has taken, beginning in the early eighties with the process of coming out. I felt then a great thirst for directness, an imperative to find language with which to be direct to myself, which is of course the result of having been, like many young gay men, divided from my self, from the authentic character of my desire. I felt I had to hide for years! And the result of that for me, once I began to break through the dissembling, was a thirst for the genuine."

The thirst for the genuine. That's why I am sharing this.

Finally, if just one of you reads this and hears something of yourself, I hope it helps.

19 April 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

cooking with Jamie

This is pretty much my favorite spot in our house.

Oh, I love the feeling of our bed when Danny and I can finally fall into it together, dead tired from working and running after Lu all day. I love the sound of Lu's giggles bouncing off the walls of the bathtub. I love the smell of hot coffee curling around the corner from the kitchen to our bedroom. And these last few warm, sunny days, my favorite spot is not in the house, but outside in the garden, with Lu, blowing dandelions.

(I taught her how to pull weeds today. She bent down her head and pulled as well as she could for 15 minutes. This could really come in handy!)

Still, my favorite spot in the house is this one — standing in front of the bay window, in the kitchen.

Cooking is about to happen here.

This past week, the cooking all came from Jamie's Food Revolution. What a week of cooking and eating it was!

cauliflower cheese casserole

You must have heard about Jamie Oliver by now. I've been talking about him here for years. And in the last few weeks, so has much of America.

His television show, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, has been a must-see in our home. Luckily, Danny has Friday nights off from work, so we can cuddle on the couch to watch the show trying to change the way people eat in this country. We spend much of the hour with our mouths open, sort of horrified, mostly determined to do what we can to help.

It's interesting. There has been a lot of talk about this show. Many of us love what Jamie is trying to do. Some just can't stand it. That's part of the process, of course. You can't please everyone. But the reaction that befuddles me is this: "It's such a reality show." Well yes, it is. There's music in all the pre-appointed places and dramatic moments that are hyped up for tension and extreme close-ups. Jamie himself seems entirely genuine. The production values make the show look like an episode of Extreme Makeover. Some people seem disdainful that this important information is being presented in this fashion.

Here's the deal. Reality shows? They're hugely popular in this country. I'm not a big fan, but I know many people who are. We've been having important, polite conversations about the need to improve school lunches on PBS shows and New York Times articles for decades. Alice Waters has been leading a quiet revolution in Berkeley, as have Ann Cooper and Kristen Richmond. People who are passionate about food have known for awhile that something needs to be done about school lunches.

In the past month, with this brazen splashy show on ABC, I have heard more conversations about food in schools than I have in decades. People are talking. That's really the only point. The conversation now includes the people who like to watch a lot of reality shows. Frankly, these are the people who need to be part of this conversation.

Look at this from The New York Times:

"Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods."

I keep thinking about this commercial that played a few months ago, emphasizing family togetherness in the kitchen. A mom and her daughter laugh over the kitchen counter, talking about their they open a big lasagna tv dinner and pop it in the microwave.

It just seems to me that all Jamie Oliver is trying to do is persuade people to start cooking in their kitchens.

sweet potato chorizo soup

I used to open tv dinners and deli containers and hot food from the grocery store across the street. The year after the terrible car accident I had, my body hurt too much to stand at the stove and cook. I never felt that confident in the kitchen anyway, so it didn't occur to me that cooking could make me feel better. I ate what was convenient, what was available, what was easy. I ate to just get food in my body or for the pure sensory pleasure of the taste. The skin on that deli chicken slid off fast, salty and greasy, and kept my mouth occupied for awhile. I spent months without seasoning my own food.

I was miserable. And it wasn't just the pain. I felt disconnected from my food, something that had always given me joy. Chopping onions and listening to the sizzle of them in hot oil in the pan seemed so far away. It all just seemed too hard.

People don't have to be in pain to be afraid of cooking. It seems like foreign language, tongues tumbling with unusual sounds. Cooking can be scary: fire could burst out of the skillet as you throw it in the oven, mushroom stock could spill all over the floor, the dinner you spent 45 minutes making could turn out mediocre bland.

But what I love about Jamie Oliver, in his show but particularly in this cookbook, is that he's filled with enthusiasm for food and an unquenchable optimism that keeps him going into people's homes and new countries to change people's minds. He wants people to stand at the stove and feel good.

It's not much, really. And it's huge.

Moroccan lamb with gf couscous

Jamie has done this before, you know. He tackled school lunches in Great Britain, opened cooking stores, taught people how to make Moroccan lamb with yogurt sauce, then asked them to pass it on to someone they knew. He received some of the same flak there that he's getting here. He just kept going.

This particular cookbook is made up of quick-to-prepare, affordable meals. Sweet potato and chorizo soup. Cauliflower cheese casserole. Ground beef wellington. Tomato soup. This is hearty comfort food and simple salads, basic stews and fast stir frys. This is not just an assemblage of favorite recipes. Instead, these are dishes that are meant to teach: how to sauté, how to blend flavors, how to build a salad out of good ingredients.

And teach they did. Interspersed through the recipes are shots of British folks proudly holding plates of salmon or bowls of vegetable curry they made themselves, from scratch. Every one of them looks so damned happy.

Here's a quote from a bloke called Simon Atkinson:

"At the age of thirty-six I had never cooked a thing, not even mashed potatoes. And the only fish I'd eaten was in batter. When I was passed on the recipe for fish pie, I cooked it and tasted it and there were all these flavors going on and I thought, 'Wow, I like this.' I now feel like my taste buds have been missing out big time."

I swear, the idea of this makes me a little teary. What a gift it is to teach someone to cook. If you know how to cook, you start buying better ingredients. If you buy better ingredients, you might start growing them or going to the farmers' market to buy them. If you do that, you might start making yogurt at home or canning up jam. How much a life can be transformed by standing at the stove and feeling confident.

This book could teach anyone to cook. I'm convinced of it.

ground beef wellington with gf puff pastry

If you cook every day, you might think, therefore, that the book would be a little elementary for you. You might buy it to hand over to someone else.

Keep this book.

Danny and I loved every single dish we made from here. The salmon stir fry took us 15 minutes to make. The flavors of garlic, chile, ginger, fresh cilantro, tandoori paste, snow peas, and coconut milk were a revelation. Neither one of us had ever thought of that combination with salmon. We're making it for dinner again this week.

That's the thing. Jamie Oliver may be a celebrity now, but he is first and foremost an incredible chef. When I first grew besotted with Jamie Oliver's cooking shows, I thought he was just a tv chef. A charismatic and darling one, but still a television chef. When I first introduced him to Danny, I thought he would scoff. Instead, he leaned forward and watched, fascinated, then went to the kitchen to try some new tricks.

That's the joy for me, reading this book — knowing that anyone who stands in front of the stove for the first time will be eating really, really well. And then, hopefully, passing it along to the next person.

I hope, one day, that we become a culture of cooking again. There's nothing like standing in that space, the light coming through the window, and knowing the magic is just about to begin.

Jamie Oliver doesn't want anyone to miss this.

We're giving away a copy of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution to one of you reading. Tell us a story of how you learned to cook. Or, tell us a story of teaching someone else to cook. Maybe you could even start this week.

And if you haven't done it yet, you might want to go over and sign this petition. It could make a difference.

gluten-free scones

Fruit Scones, adapted from Jamie's Food Revolution

Scones. Need I say more?

1 cup dried cherries (or a mix of any dried fruits you like, which make these new each time)
8 ounces/227 grams superfine brown rice flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces/170 grams potato starch (a little less than a cup)
4 ounces/113 grams tapioca flour (a little less than a cup)
2 ounces/57 grams teff flour (about 1/2 a cup)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch fine sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, just out of the refrigerator, cut into small cubes
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (some for recipe, some for brushing the tops)

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. Pull out a sheet tray and put a Silpat (or piece of parchment paper) on top of it. Soak the dried cherries with just enough water to cover them.

(Jamie's original recipe called for orange juice, which I'm sure would be delicious. However, Lu doesn't seem to do well with citrus, so I just used water.)

Combining the dry ingredients. Put the brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, and teff flour into a food processor. Run the processor for a few moments, to combine them together well and aerate the flours. (If you don't have a food processor, use a whisk or sifter.) Add the xanthan gum, guar gum, baking powder, and salt. Pulse them all together.

Working in the butter. Drop the butter cubes into the food processor. Pulse until the butter starts to work into the dough, about 7 0r 8 times. The final mixture should look like cornmeal with little clumps of butter.

Finishing the dough. Pour the buttery flour mixture into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Beat the eggs and milk together in another bowl. Drain the cherries, then add them to the eggy mixture. Pour this liquid mixture into the well of flours. Stir everything together with a fork or rubber spatula. (Toward the end, you'll probably use your hands.) When the dough is soft and fully combined, stop. However, you might need a bit more milk, depending on your dough.

Making the scones. Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1 inch. These don't rise that much, so roll them out as thick as you want to eat them. Cut 10 circles from the dough with a biscuit cutter or a water glass. You might have to cut circles, then re-roll out the dough and cut more.

Baking the scones. Transfer the scone dough circles to the baking sheet. Brush the top of each with a bit of milk (or butter, if you want). Bake in the oven until the scones are browned and have a thump at the bottom, about 12 to 15 minutes. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool.

Of course, the proper British way to eat these is with jam and clotted cream. We had butter and honey. Later, I even made a cheese sandwich with one. But I'm weird. You'll know your own best way.

Makes 10 scones.

16 April 2010

it's yours now.

the mailer for the cookbook

We finished the cookbook this week.

The idea for the cookbook first popped into my head as I was finishing up the first draft of my first book. When I wrote the proposal for that book, I didn't know Danny at all. Originally, I intended my book to end with a triumphant dinner scene at Chez Panisse, which has always been a dream.

Turned out a little different than I thought.

As we were finishing up the final draft of the proposal, I told my agent about Danny. "He's a chef, a really talented one, so he's going to help with the recipes. Should I put that in the proposal?"
"Shauna," she said, laughing. "He has to be the last chapter of the book."
Oh. Okay. (I always trust Stacey.)
I had only known him four months when I got the deal for the first book and started writing. We were engaged by then, knowing we were solid. At the time, it seemed entirely natural to write an entire chapter of a book about him.

That chapter was written urgently, and the urgency makes me love it, still. However, it's a little sappy to me now, from this distance. Or maybe just young. We have lived so much more together now. I like the real stuff more. The cookbook is much more us, deeply in love and living the mundane details of days together.

And so, the idea for this book in January 2007 became a book proposal by March of 2008. I was four months pregnant with Lu — the perfect time to imagine writing a new book! We were offered the deal in May of 2008, just a few months before she was born.

With the exception of the time we were in the ICU with Lu, or in the hospital for her surgery, we have been actively working on this book every single day since then. (And frankly, discussing recipes during those stressful times was a relief, so we probably worked on the book then too.) Talking about it, cooking for it, writing ideas for it, refining recipes, changing our minds and cooking again — the moments of our days these past two years have been guided by working on this book.

When we first began, I had no idea how to make fresh gluten-free pasta. It seemed impossible. When we turned in the first draft of the cookbook, our pasta looked like this. On the day we had to send the last draft away, I made this batch of pasta early in the morning, to test the last little tweak. (Not only is the pasta much better now, but the recipe is easier to make, too.)

This has been an incredible journey. And now it's done.

This week we finished the very final edits. (This is where we have been, cooking and writing and tweaking again. Thanks to those of you who wrote, concerned by our silence.) Danny drove a big box with the marked-up pages to the Country Store, here on the island, and sent it away via UPS. It left our hands. We cannot change a single word anymore.

Oh, of course, there is still work to be done. We have to start thinking about a possible book tour (we hope), maybe some television (fingers crossed), and finding the best way to get this book into your hands. The work of offering the book to the world will be just as absorbing as the writing of it has been.

But the book itself is done. It has an ISBN number already! And a publication date: September 21st. Oh! and a title. Have I told you the title?

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes

Plus, it's available for pre-order on Amazon now. (It's all going so fast!)

And that photo up there? That's a photo we took of the first marketing mailer sent to us by our publishers. That's the cover of our book.

(The bit in the middle is the cover. "Love conquers all...even food allergies" is the marketing team's tag line. For those of you who are worried, we know that celiac is an auto-immune disorder, not a food allergy. But the marketing team wanted to include everyone, not just those of us with celiac. This is really a book for anyone who loves food. And besides, "Love conquers all...even autoimmune disorders" really doesn't have the same ring, does it?)

We think you might enjoy this book.

We wrote it for you, after all. We could not have done this without you. Danny and I adored this process, and we can't wait to write more cookbooks. But this book belonged to us only as long as we could change recipes and stories. We wrote it to let go of it.

It's all yours now. We hope you enjoy it.

09 April 2010

Friday island photos: the farmstand

farm stand open

We feel lucky to live on this island, for many reasons.

The fact that we can drive less than ten minutes from our house and see this is one of them.

yellow onions

The island is dotted with farms, run by hard-working people with whom we laugh at the Saturday farmers' market. We are grateful for the hours they put in the field for our food.

The farmers' market, however, lasts only a few hours on Saturdays, from March to November. The farmstands are open all year long.

During the winter, however, the pickings are slim.

Onions. You can always count on onions.


The parnsips just keep going and going. They never seem to end.

(We have grown tired of the parsnips.)

rinsing sink

However, even when there are only two or three kinds of vegetables or fruit at the farmstand, we look over at the rinsing sink, with the homemade curtains, right by the tables that are overflowing in the summer, and we feel grateful.

People who live down the street from us grew this food.

We buy some more parsnips, usually.

homemade jams

And there is homemade jam.

Apricot jam, bright with the taste of July sun, is always good in the winter.

fresh hazelnuts

And there are bags of fresh hazelnuts available.

choosing produce

No matter how slim the pickings, we feel really honored to take our daughter to the farmstand (and this is only one of many we visit regularly), so she can pick out vegetables with her dad.

thank goodness for rhubarb

This week? Eureka! Rhubarb.

Oh rhubarb. We love you.

Time for pie.


And chives. Certainly these are harbingers of spring.

(This week the temperatures nudged against freezing at night. It has not felt very springlike. These sprigs of green were a balm.)

veggie starts

Even if there still aren't many vegetables for sale, there are vegetable starts.

Soon, it will be warm enough to work the dirt in the garden again.


And then it will be summer, and we'll eat raspberries right off the vine in our own backyard.

my favorite part

This is my favorite part.

No one mans these farmstands. You simply weigh your fruits and vegetables, write down how much you have bought, and put some cash in this rusty box.

It's the honor system around here.

and there are tables for climbing

This is Lu's favorite part. During the winter, when there isn't much bounty, she has empty tables to climb on and explore.

work table

I'm pretty sure this empty table is where the farmers cut up the produce and bag it, to make it ready for our kitchen.

I love this spot.

farmers at work

Many times, after we have purchased our rhubarb and onions, hazelnuts and jam, we can wave to the farmers, in the field, working hard to bring us the produce we'll be buying in a few months.

Pacific Crest Farm

This is where we live.

Pacific Crest Farm
23720 Dockton Road
Vashon, WA 98070

07 April 2010

quinoa with spring vegetables and walnut-kale pesto

quinoa with asparagus, English peas, dandelion greens, and a kale-walnut pesto

Five days a week, just about 2 o'clock, Lu and I stand by the door for kisses. She waves her hand vigorously, then asks me to stand her up on the windowsill to wave and blow more kisses.

Danny's leaving for work. Within the hour, he'll be creating dishes like this.

Many of you write to me, asking if Danny's still cooking at Impromptu, the restaurant where he was the executive chef when we met, the restaurant I wrote about in my first book. No, he's not. (And those of you who have driven down to Madison Park, only to be greeted by a darkened storefront, know that the restaurant actually closed down the year after he left.) He left in October of 2008, a few months after Lu was born. He wanted to take some time off. We had this cookbook to write. We had this daughter who had been in the ICU, whose every healthy breath seemed like a dream. He didn't want to miss a bit of it.

And so, he took almost a year off from being a chef. Oh, he never stopped being a chef in his hands, in his movements, in the way he thinks about food. But he stopped working in a restaurant kitchen for the first time in his life since he was a teenager.

It was a great year. Lu grew and grew stronger. After her surgery was finally over, we let out our breath. (Even if she didn't sleep more than an hour at a time for four months after it.) Summer meant all the best food we could imagine, in picnics with friends and gatherings at the beach, and long breakfasts with just the three of us. We finished a cookbook, then edited it, most of the time not sleeping more than a few hours a night, but always grateful. And always with Danny creating new food.

When the fall began curling into the winter, I knew it was time for Danny to go back to work. It wasn't just that we were running out of money. It's that his beautiful breakfasts were becoming more and more elaborate, fascinating creations that meant empty plates until well after our hunger pangs had expanded into cries. (And if you have a baby, you know this isn't ideal.) He loves making food for people. It was time for him to feed more than just Lu and me.

The lovely magic that seems to happen when you find your home started working for us here on this island. A job appeared at The Hardware Store, a place for which he had good hopes. I have never seen him so happy as he is at this place. It's an island restaurant, not haute cuisine, unassuming, and good. On the nights that Danny works, he makes up fish specials and ravioli specials (the fish ones should be gluten-free). And every week, he thinks and deliberates over new produce on the market and how best to celebrate it.

Every Tuesday, he starts serving the new vegetarian special for the week.

"I think the veg specials are awesome. No one could have told me that I would get excited about making vegetarian meals. It's a new challenge, just the way that cooking gluten-free was a challenge for me that changed my food. We get good produce here. I like highlighting the vegetables."

It's ironic that Danny's in charge of the vegetarian specials. After all, we do write a blog all about pork. But we get most of our produce at farmstands on the island, where we put our cash into old coffee cans and go. Fruits and vegetables are about the only thing that change from week to week. I've learned this from Danny — plan meals around the produce first.

And now, it's spring.

">This is the start of the year in food. Winter was a long haul. There is nothing in February or March to get you excited to cook. Root vegetables are great, and they have their place, but I get tired of them after awhile."

Of course, it has been so unseasonably cold in this area that some of the seeds I planted in my zeal to start gardening have frozen in the ground. There's not much in the farmstands besides parsnips and kale, still.

"These vegetables came from California. I'd much rather use local, but California is close. It's not that far away. The produce company that we use for the restaurant has them in stock now, so it's spring at the restaurant."

Bring on the peas and beans.

"This dish screams spring to me. Green. It says, 'Hello. It's springtime.'"

All week long, I watch Danny deliberate about what to create next. He studies The Flavor Bible and what's at the farmstands, what's available from the produce company. He dabbles at home, then plays with flavor combinations for the fish specials over the weekend. Danny never stops thinking about food.

And so, this week: quinoa with spring vegetables and a walnut-kale pesto.

"I made this pesto and this dish because we have the start of some spring vegetables and the end run of some winter vegetables. So I had a fair amount of stuff to get rid of. I had to move some product, as we say. In other words, I had a shit ton of kale that we needed to get going. So I made a kale pesto. I thought it was f-ing amazing."

And why quinoa?

"Quinoa is a grain a little like couscous. But it tastes better than couscous in my opinion. I like the nuttiness of quinoa. You have to really, really toast couscous to get that nuttiness. We had a ton of quinoa left in the kitchen and I love it. Quinoa seems very light to me. It's a crowd pleaser with spring vegetables."

We are both grateful for spring. Fresh starts. New haircuts. Sunlight that seems like liquid when it finally appears.

English peas, fava beans, and asparagus. Oh my.

If you happen to be on our island, come on by The Hardware Store. Danny would love to feed you.

Quinoa with Spring Vegetables and Walnut-Kale Pesto

This recipe might look long. Please don't be intimidated. Something I've learned from Danny is how to set up a mise en place, all the necessary ingredients ready to just start cooking. If you want to make this, you can cook the quinoa ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator, blanch the vegetables while you are listening to your favorite food podcast, and make the pesto a day ahead. Pulling it all together will only take moments.

Every other week here, we want to offer a more complex recipe, something Danny has dreamt up, something that might seem easy for him as a chef, something a bit of a stretch for the rest of us. I'd like you to hear his voice more often. It's a good one.

(Also, I want you to know that I'm the one that plated up this dish. Danny would have done it differently, but he was at work, and I was home with Lu. She needed lunch. I needed this shot. Voila! And then it quickly became an empty plate.)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon diced shallots
1 ½ cup of quinoa
2 teaspoons of salt
3 cups of vegetable stock or water

1/2 cup shelled English peas
1/2 cup asparagus stems, woody bottoms removed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup fava beans (outer pod removed, beans blanched)

1/2 cup walnuts, shells removed
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 large bunch kale, washed and chopped, stems removed
5 basil leaves, stems removed
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/8 cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large shallots, sliced thin
4 basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade)

1/2 bunch dandelion greens, cleaned and bottom of stems removed
Cooking the quinoa. Set a saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil and butter and cook until the butter melts and begins to foam. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the quinoa to the pan and toast it, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the salt and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour the mixture evenly onto a cookie sheet, and allow it to cool. (You can also cook the quinoa the day before and refrigerate for up to one day.)

Cooking the vegetables. Set a large pot of salted water over high heat (the water should be as salty as the ocean). Have a large bowl full of ice cubes waiting in the sink. Bring the salted water to a boil. Add the peas and cook for until they begin to rise to the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a strainer, remove the peas from the water and plunge the strainer into the ice bath. Allow the peas to remain on ice until they cool down, about 2 to 3 minutes. Put into a large bowl.

Bring the water back to a boil and add the asparagus pieces. Cook until they begin to rise to the surface, about 1 minute. (You want a crunch to these.) Using the same strainer, remove the asparagus from the boiling water and plunge the strainer into the ice bath. Allow the asparagus pieces to remain on ice until they cool, about 1 minute. Put into the bowl with the peas.

Bring the water back to a boil and add the fava beans. >When the first fava beans begin to rise to the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes, pluck one out of the water. Peel its shell away and look at the bean. It should be a nice bright green. If it's not, cook the beans for a minute longer. Using the strainer, remove the beans from the boiling water and plunge the strainer into the ice bath. Allow the fava beans to remain on ice until they cool, about 3 minutes. When the beans have cooled, peel away the remaining shells. Put the beans into the bowl with the the other vegetables.

Making the pesto. Put the walnuts and garlic into the robot coupe (that's the food processor for the rest of us who are not chefs). Buzz them into an almost paste. Add the kale and basil. Pulse until everything starts to get chopped up really fine. Drizzle in the olive oil, slowly, as the robot coupe is running. Stop the robot coupe and taste the pesto. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and cheese and pulse the pesto until everything is combined. If the pesto feels thick, you can thin it out with a bit of water.

Finishing the dish. Set a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil runs around the pan easily, add the shallots. Cook, stirring, until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the basil leaves and cook until they release their fragrance, about 1 minute. Put all the vegetables into the sauté pan and toss them around, cooking, until they are nice and toasty, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa. Toss it around on the burner until it is nice and hot, about 3 to 4 minutes. Taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Smear some pesto on each plate. Top it with the dandelion greens. Scoop some of the quinoa and vegetables onto the dandelion greens. Serve immediately.

Feeds 4.