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28 July 2010

cucumber soup

cucumber II

I've come late to this cucumber party.

I don't just mean that I'm finishing up this post at nearly midnight. I mean that, for decades, I steadfastly refused to eat cucumbers. Their slippery innards kind of grossed me out. The seeds slid around my tongue when I took a bite — ugh. The outside is crisp, the inside is mush. I wanted nothing to do with them. Even when my best friend Sharon suggested we put together a high tea for ourselves and make cucumber sandwiches on soft white bread with the crusts cut off, I ate them just to amuse her. Really, I hated cucumbers.

Somehow, though, I've changed.

Several things shifted my perspective. Danny loves cucumbers. He adores the soft seeds inside, the way they cling to each other. He slices open the long green vegetables, takes a paring knife to the insides to loosen the line of seeds, and then scoops them out with his tongue. Wow. I trust his taste enough that I started trying them too.

The other is that I realized I spent most of my life eating old cucumbers. The ones in the grocery store any month other than June, July, and August are pretty awful. Try to slice one open and you'll feel the cucumber bend under the knife. You have to hack at it to get one piece free. How does that taste on the tongue? Pillowy and crumpled into itself, like an old man without teeth.

Now, I just wait to eat cucumbers until they are fresh. Just out of the garden, they have crunch and coolness, a kind of collected zen energy that no other vegetable shares. Lu reaches across the table for the plate of cucumber spears when we have them out.

And of course, there are pickles.

I have to be honest. My attempt at growing cucumbers was a big old failure this year. The deer ate them all, it turns out, along with the lettuce, the arugula, the spinach, the strawberries, the red currants, and most of the herbs. However, the farm stand just down the street from us sells glossy green cucumbers in their refrigerated case. We like our farmers. We're happy to give them money for what the deer took away from us.

Now that I've joined the ranks of cucumber lovers, I can't get enough of them. Bring me crisp cucumbers on a plate and I will eat them up.

This post is part of the community blogging event called Summer Fest 2010. Would you like more recipes for cucumbers or zucchinis? Take a look at these:

So now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.

Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:

Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.

The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. Yes, copy and paste them everywhere! That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and some pretty great dialog starts simmering.

Or think bigger: Publish entire posts of your own, if you wish, and grab the juicy Summer Fest 2010 tomato badge (illustrated by Matt of

The 2010 Schedule:

  • Wednesday, August 4: CORN.
  • Wednesday, August 11: HERBS-BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK (any one or both/all, your choice).
  • Wednesday, August 18: STONE FRUIT.
  • Wednesday, August 25: TOMATO WEEK. How do you like them love apples?
  • And then…more, more, more if you want it (potatoes? sweet potatoes? root veggies? winter squash?). You name it.

cucumber soup and popsicle

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Fresh Mint and Dill

The day I found out that we were all going to waxing poetic about cucumbers or zucchinis in Summer Fest, I read a little message from Eric Ripert on Twitter: "
Blend cucumber+freh mint+dill+salt+pepper+yogurt=great chi soup."

Okay, he was typing fast, and he writes in shorthand like Danny does, like all chefs do. I understand what he meant. He meant I should make this soup.

Late last night, while Jon Stewart was talking, Danny threw this together, adding a bit of his own flair, of course. Our friends Diane and Todd were sitting on our couch, working on matching laptops, while Danny threw the dill into the blender. "That smells good," Todd said, looking up.
"That smells really good," Diane said a few moments later, craning her neck to see what was going on. When it was done, I ran a full spoon over to them both and gave them a taste.
"Wow," Todd said. "That's amazing soup."

And I so I poured most of the soup into a large glass jar and slid it into the refrigerator. And then I filled up the popsicle molds.

That's right. I made cucumber soup popsicles. They're utterly unexpected and fantastic. Imagine the hottest day of the year (that might be today for some of you). Now imagine sucking on a cool cucumber popsicle with sprigs of dill tickling your tongue. You don't want to miss these.

p.s. Diane and Todd are marvelous teachers, kind-hearted people, and some of the best folks we know. We'll tell you more about why they were here, soon. I just wanted to say that it was Diane's insightful suggestions, and smart styling, that allowed me to take these photographs.

3 large cucumbers, peeled
1 tablespoon fine-chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fine-chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
24 ounces plain full-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/4 cup soda water
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Chop 2 of the cucumbers and throw them into the blender. Remove the seeds from the third cucumber. Throw the seeds into the blender, then fine dice and set aside the rest of the cucumber for garnishing later.

Put the rest of the ingredients into the blender and mix it all up. Season to taste.

Refrigerate the soup for at least 1 hour before eating, and preferably overnight. Top each bowl of soup with a handful of fine-diced fresh cucumber.

(And if you wish to make these into popsicles, simply pour some of the chilled soup into popsicle molds and let them freeze for at least 4 hours.)

Serves 6.

26 July 2010

gluten-free crabcakes for my love

hello, love

This morning, I watched this man bend down to grab the hands of our daughter and slowly go around in a circle with her while they sang Ring Around the Rosie together.

(There's no need to tell her yet how creepy that song really is.)

Right now, he is taking her on their morning date: the playground to go down the slide together, the exercise studio of our friend Amy so they can ride the bikes together, the grocery store so they can have cheese and buy food together, the playspace where they can do somersaults and read books together. These two are buddies. The late morning is theirs. I stay home and work for a couple of hours, and Lu gets her daddy to herself.

Every evening, when we eat dinner, she chooses the books we'll read that time. Every evening, she stretches her fingers toward Daddy's Girl by Garrison Keillor. "Dada!" I turn the pages, and we read about the daddy who feeds his daughter apricot yogurt, lamb souvlaki, Belgian waffles, and bananas, and Lu nods her head, smiling. "Dada!" she shouts at the last drawing, a little girl in a party dress with her head on the shoulder of her dark-haired father. "Dada?" she says, a bit sad. We have to talk, again, about the fact that Daddy is at work. She misses him.

He misses her.

I loved this man pretty much from the moment I met him. (I smacked him on the arm and teased him immediately. That's a big part of who we are together.) However, the love I feel for him has grown in ways that I can never explain whenever I watch him hold our sleeping daughter against his shoulder and tuck her into bed. His love for her is enormous. So is mine. We love each other more because she is in the world.

Yesterday, we had Lu's birthday party in the backyard. Nearly 20 children, most of them under 4, shouting and laughing, jumping and skipping, splashing and roaring with excitement about balls and cars and hide and go seek. There was a beautiful bedlam in the plastic pool. Our friends gathered on the front porch to sing Happy Birthday to Lu, who was amazed by it all. We ate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, a recipe from our cookbook, coming out two months from now. We were surrounded by friends and happy people. It was the perfect summer day.

A little later, I gathered everyone in the backyard and asked them to face Danny. He sat near the tomato and rhubarb plants, on the grass, a little abashed. "Okay, on the count of three!" Then we belted Happy Birthday, in voices straining to hit the high notes, the sounds bouncing off the sky. Danny was a little mortified to be such the center of attention. I know him, though. I saw the way his eyes scrunched up behind his sunglasses. He was crying, to have all these friends around him, singing with happiness about him being here.

I don't think he ever expected this.

You see, before Danny and I met, he was pretty damned lonely. He had his family, who adore him and all live in different states. He had a few friends in the city, but he was always too busy at the restaurant to reach out much. Restaurant work is hard work, all-consuming work. His connections came through the other cooks and servers, wherever he worked. When he was at Cassis, he had a great group. When he was at Impromptu, where he was executive chef when I met him, he was mostly alone in the kitchen. Thank goodness for Hortensia, the dishwasher. Shy by nature, Danny had spent almost all his life on the line, making food, instead of talking with other people.

When he lived in New York, and worked at Gramercy Tavern, Danny lived on the edge of Harlem, in a broken-down apartment that was still too expensive for his paycheck. He loved that restaurant, being in the kitchen, the camaraderie on the line. However, when he left work for the night, he climbed on the subway alone. After growing up in a small mountain town, surrounded by family and friends, he felt unnerved in the city. When he wasn't working, he was alone.

I was only 12 blocks from him, on the same subway line. We must have passed each other on the street. We never met. Whenever he tells me about his time in New York, and I feel the aching loneliness I know he felt, I wish that I could have walked to his apartment building, walked up the steps, and knocked on his door.

We're here.

How different his life is now. If I have been given joy these past few years — and oh, have I been given joy — so much of it comes from watching this man I love grow into himself, be confident, have friends, and feel loved on this earth.

His happiness is more important to me than mine. I love making him laugh, watching him throw his head back. I love watching him tear up when his niece and her husband stay with us, and he is amazed by her being 25 and married, then looks at his daughter, who looks so much like her cousin, and knows that Lu will be there soon. I love feeding him.

He and Lu are back now, and it's time to make lunch. (He's teaching her to say Ciao! as they come up the steps.) I could write for hours about him and still not be done.

Instead, I'll stop here and say: Happy Birthday, my love. Thank you for being my hot coffee and cherry pie. You are the best. I adore you.

crab cakes

Danny's Birthday Crab Cakes

Danny loves food — all food, with a few exceptions. However, ask him his favorites and he'll answer immediately: crab, avocado, and artichokes.

And so, every year, we cook a birthday meal that showcases these three. Since they are three of my favorite foods, and now Lu's, this is an easy task. This year? Crab cakes.

We have a recipe for crab cakes in the cookbook, a decadent version with shrimp mousse. Since today is a work day for all of us, we made the quicker version for today's lunch. (And if you're paying attention, you'll notice there are no artichokes in this one. We forgot to pick it up at the store today! If you want to make these crab-artichoke cakes, replace the carrot and corn with artichokes and you're set.) We all like crab cakes that are a little loose, because we love the taste of crab. Sometimes, binders can mask that beautiful flavor.

Danny, Lu and I enjoyed these in the garden before he rushed off to work. We always want more time with him. However, the few moments we had to eat together were sweet and enough.

16 ounces fresh crabmeat (we like Dungeness)
3/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade is great, but the stuff in a jar works too)
1/2 large ear corn, kernels shaved off
1/2 large carrot, peeled and fine-diced
2 tablespoon fine-chopped fresh dill
1 heaping teaspoon fine-chopped shallots
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
dash Tabasco sauce
1 egg (optional)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Go through the crabmeat carefully, picking out stray shells and cartilage.

Combine 1/4 cup of the breadcrumbs and the mayonnaise together. Add this combination to the crab meat.

Add the remaining ingredients, up to the salt and pepper. Stir well (or use your hands). If the mixture doesn't feel bound enough to you, add the egg and combine.

Season with salt and pepper. Taste. Season again according to your taste.

Make 2-ounce balls of the mixture, then pat each into a thick cake. Coat with the remaining breadcrumbs, on both sides.

Bring a large skillet to high heat. Add the oil. Put the crab cakes into the hot oil (you might have to do these in two batches). When the bottom has browned, about 3 minutes, flip the crab cakes and put the skillet in the oven.

Cook in the oven until the crabcakes are firm and browned, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Makes 8 crab cakes.

22 July 2010



She has started to jump, after weeks of frustration of her feet not leaving the floor. She holds onto my hands after I lift her onto the bed and she bounces, giggling, head thrown back, alive.

She never stops moving, this one. After a couple of toddling months of walking, she began running, at full tilt. We chase after her all day long, all three of us laughing (except when she's tempted to run toward the street, and then there is no laughing). She finds her joy in movement. She would sit on our laps and have us fling her backwards on our knees, then back up again, all day long, if we didn't grow so tired after awhile. ("Upside down! Right side up. Upside down! Right side up.") She hangs from any available surface, gripping her fingers like she is rock climbing, then lifts up her legs and dangles. This happens everywhere, whether it's on the edge of a restaurant table or on a monkey bar on a play structure ten feet above the ground.

She's fearless. Maybe it's because of her major skull surgery that she barely complains when she trips and skids sideways, picking herself up after a beat and running again. Everything else feels like no big deal. (That's what we tell ourselves, too.)

Everything fascinates her, whether it's the cool feeling of the fog off the front porch, the sound of the plastic bottles from the recycling bin hitting the floor, the texture of raspberries in her mouth, the sound of airplanes high in the sky, or how crayons pressed onto paper makes colors. ("Circle!" she shouts as she draws one after another.) She never stops looking and listening and taking it all in. She is always there.

She laughs at prat falls and spilled milk and silly tickling sessions. Just lately, she has started laughing first, rather than following our lead when something cracks us up. Mostly, Mr. Noodle makes her scream with laughter, when he puts his elbows in the sink instead of his hands or tries to roll over a drum to pick up the sticks. She loves Mr. Noodle and Elmo and the characters on Sesame Street and the Wiggles with a joyful intensity it is impossible to describe.

She talks, babbling words dozens at a time, some of them still a little hard to decipher, most of them clear as day. When she says please, she still makes the sign and says, "Plea-pul-e-pl-ea?" (I sort of hope she never says that word properly. We love those entreaties.) Thank you sounds like Seck u! But she says them, every time, and that we love. The last month or so, she walks around the house chanting from 1 to 12, counting everything in sight. Thanks to Sesame Street and the hundreds of books she has heard by now, she knows about 3/4 of the alphabet, and likes to sing the letters wherever she goes. She read her first word last week: charcoal. (She read it off the bottle of charcoal briquet lighter on the porch.) Yesterday, it was yak. As much as she loves to move, she loves books just as much. Several times a day, she needs her space to study the books splayed out on her bedroom floor, one after another absorbing her. Several times a day this brings me to tears, thinking of the joy I have found in books, and watching her find that joy too.

And boy, does this kid love to eat. We lucked out. Sure, maybe we did a few things that helped her love food more. But we know from friends that it's a lottery: some kids seem to be born disdaining fruit or meat or all vegetables. She eats everything: avocado slices falling from the knife, quinoa with poached eggs and prosciutto, pizza with caramelized onions and leeks, noodles with pesto, whole carrots, warm peanut butter cookies. We eat together, at the table, at nearly every meal, telling stories and reading books, talking about our days. It's my favorite part of the day, eating with her.

We also lucked out because it seems she can eat gluten. We started giving her Cheerios, then letting her eat off her dad's plate when we go out. So far, so good. This was my fervent hope: that she didn't have celiac. However, I know that it can rise up at any time, so we'll keep an eye on her. We're just happy that she could have French toast at Daddy's restaurant the morning of her birthday.

(By the way, she owns that place. We stop by in the late afternoon several times a day to see Danny, and she runs toward him, standing on the line. He carries her into the back rooms, into the cold walk-in for a carrot, or she runs toward the box where she knows the apples are and grabs one. Dick has taught her to say Ciao! She gives Tino high fives. She loves Amy fervently and chants her name when they see each other near the espresso machine. She's a restaurant kid now.)

She picks up her dolls and says, "Hi, baby!" then gives them all kisses. She wakes up at 5:30 every morning, on the dot, awake and excited to start the day. (We're still not thrilled with the early hour, but at least she's sleeping through the night now.) She turns somersaults on her own, at a whim. She stands on a chair at the kitchen counter and helps me bake or helps Danny cook up breakfast. She opens her mouth wide in amazement, astonished by the sight of her friends, green leaves on the trees, being at the beach, and every moment of every day.

hello, two!

Our little Lu turned two this week.

She is, in so many ways, like almost every two-year-old in the world. We don't think she's more extraordinary than anyone else. In fact, one of the joys for us of being parents is watching this child, and the other children around her, and seeing how much alike we all are. We don't want her to be a genius or better than anyone else. She is alive, and we are daily grateful for this. We just want her to be herself.

So far, that's what Lu is: utterly herself.

Happy Birthday, Little Bean. We love you so.

cherry-chocolate cupcakes for Lu

Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes with Almond Cream Cheese Frosting, adapted from this recipe by Chockylit

Lu's birthday this year fell on a Wednesday. Danny and I met on a Wednesday, so we still say happy Wednesday to each other every week. Wednesday is also one of the two days that Lu goes to preschool in the afternoon. (Whoo hoo! We have a second car now! I have a couple of afternoons to work!) This little school is run by one of my former students, a lovely woman named Jenny who is even kinder now than she was at 16. Lu adores her time there. She runs! goes down the slide! plays with the boys! plays in the water! (She tells me the highlights of her two hours there on the drive home.) After the first week, she stopped crying when I left. Instead, she bounces away toward the green grass and her friends.

I knew I wanted to make her cupcakes for the day of her birthday. As my friend Tara told me later, now I really know I'm a mom: taking birthday cupcakes to preschool. After much fun deliberation — considering cupcake flavors is hardly work — I decided on these chocolate cupcakes filled with dried cherries, topped with almond cream cheese frosting. The recipe comes from Cupcake Bakeshop, a beautiful website created by Cheryl Porro, also known as Chockylit. She's amazing. I knew I could trust her recipe.

These cupcakes were soft on the teeth, then filled with a quick chew from the cherries. You make them like you create a flourless chocolate cake, melting the chocolate and butter together, then add a little flour. This makes them light and airy, unlike many gluten-free cupcakes, which have the density of a brick. I would highly recommend you allow them to cool fully before you frost them, however. Rushing, I frosted them too soon, and the tops grew a little ragged. There were crumbs in the frosting.

The kids didn't care, of course. Lu told me, in her own language, about the birthday hat Jenny made for her, and how all the kids gathered around her to sing Happy Birthday and eat cupcakes with her. She hasn't stopped grinning since.

100 grams unsweetened bittersweet chocolate, chopped
210 grams (15 tablespoons) unsalted butter
185 grams (1 1/2 cups) baking sugar
4 large eggs
110 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon guar gum
12 grams (3 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
110 grams (1/2 cup) dried cherries, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Melt the chopped chocolate and butter in a large bowl set over a pot of boiling water. Stir occasionally, to avoid burning, until both are melted together.

Take them off the heat and add the sugar. Stir well. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.

Mix together the AP flour, guar gum, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Sift the mixture into another bowl. Add the salt.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Let it run for a few moments to make the mixture lighter. Add the eggs, one at a time, letting the mixer run for 30 seconds between each egg.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in the dried cherries.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners (or, if you're like me, straight into the tin). Bake until the cupcakes are firm and browned, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes about clean, about 25 minutes.

Makes 12 standard-size cupcakes.

Almond Cream Cheese Frosting

115 grams (about 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces (about 3/4 a package) cream cheese
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

Mix the butter and cream cheese together in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the almond extract and mix. Pour in 2 cups of the powdered sugar and mix. If the frosting isn't the consistency you want (some like it soft, others more stiff), add more powdered sugar.

This makes far more frosting than you will need for these cupcakes. We kept the extra for the carrot cake we're making for Lu's birthday party this week. You could cut this in half, if you don't want frosting sitting around.

19 July 2010

homemade granola, gluten-free

sharon, ready to attack her breakfast

This is Sharon. Sharon makes me laugh. Sharon has a kind heart and an absurd sense of the world and a flirty style that leaves its impression on everyone who meets her.

In the past few days, Lu has been starting to laugh. Really laugh. She has been giggling most of her life. However, now she's actually reacting to silly sounds and weird situtations and letting out a big belly laugh. (How much does she love Mr. Noodle? Well, you should see the joy on her face after the laughter escapes her open mouth.) What was the change? Sharon was here for a week.

This afternoon, I asked Lu, "Do you like to laugh?"
Her face opened wide into a smile, then she said one word: "Sharon."
I understand.

For 28 years, Sharon and I have been making each other laugh. 28 years. That's almost 3 decades. In 2 years, Sharon and I will have known each other for 30 years. Wow. I remember when turning 30 felt impossible, when I began to feel old and wondered at my place in the world. But knowing someone, loving her, being her best friend for 30 years?

It is one of the biggest gifts of my life.

And boy, does Sharon know how to eat.

eggs with ham and gruyere

When Sharon comes to visit, it's a celebration. In fact, this past week, she convinced me to let go of most of my work and simply be with her. I've been feeling frazzled with deadlines and too much to do. Sharon reminded me of how infrequently we see each other now (it had been since September, for goodness' sake) and how she wanted to go on walks, drive the island, shop at used bookstores, and make up new inside jokes with me. None of that was going to happen when I was on the computer.

Thanks, Sharon.

So we ate. By the end of the first day of her here, we had the food schedule written up. Every meal for 6 days, plotted out.

This was the ham, eggs, and gruyere dish from Le Pichet, in Seattle. Sharon and I took a girl morning in the city, without the kid. (This also hasn't happened in a long time.) Every stop revolved around food: World Spice, Trader Joe's, the Melrose Building. Yes, we talked about other things, and we listened to a cd by The Rescues over and over again in the car, but mostly, it was about the food.

I love that breakfast. I love the sight of Sharon across the table over that breakfast even more.

cafe au lait

This was one of the two café au laits that we each had at Le Pichet. We drank our first cup, finished our food, and then looked at each other. "One more each, please," we said to the waitress, as we leaned back in our chairs and decided not to rush anywhere.

I love café au laits, but for some reason, I never order them unless Sharon is with me.

salads at Sitka and Spruce

These salads are from Sitka and Spruce, one of the most stunning, understated restaurants in Seattle.

The salad on the left is marinated raw beets, pistachios, sheep's milk feta, and great olive oil. The salad on the right is salt cod, fava beans, onions, and smoked paprika.

Sharon and I just stared at them when they arrived. The loveliness of this food shocked us both into not talking for awhile.

And then we reached for our forks.

(By the way, both Le Pichet and Sitka and Spruce take care of me beautifully, gluten-free, every time I go.)

blueberry crisp

"Can we have fruit?" Sharon asked me on the phone before she arrived.

Of course. And so we did.

Then, we put that fruit into a crisp.

This went fast. Sharon made her little moany noises when she ate it, satisfied.

last breakfast with Sharon

Even an hour before she climbed into her car and waved goodbye to us all (especially to Lu, who made such a sad face), Sharon sat down with us outside and shared one last meal. Quinoa, poached eggs, prosciutto, and a fresh carrot-apple-ginger-fennel juice.

It tasted bittersweet. I always hate when she leaves.

making granola

One of the first mornings Sharon was here, we made granola together. This time, Lu joined us. She stood on a chair and stirred up the mixture, with Sharon and I watching her.

I first met Sharon when I was nearly 16, a gawky mixture of enthusiasms and geekiness, a nerdy girl with stacks of books by her bed and an Academic Decathalon practice to attend. Sharon was sort of geeky back then too -- my god, her glasses were huge. She grew more and more hip the older we got. Sharon has always been my lightness, the one who makes me laugh and keeps me from growing too serious. Thankfully, Danny loves her as much as I do and we all get along. Now, so does Lu.

You never could have told me, in 1982, when I met Sharon in the 400 quad of Claremont High School that one day she would be standing in my kitchen, making food with me and my daughter.

Standing in the kitchen together, making food, side by side with Sharon always made me happy. We've made chocolate chip cookies and roasted chicken, apple pies and filet mignon. We have eaten more meals together than I will ever be able to count. Between us are milkshakes in Wyoming, Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago, a thousand slices from Sal and Carmine's across the street from our building in New York, diet milkshakes, crunchy salads, pistachio gelato, cups of hot coffee, and the memories we shared over those meals.

There are so few constants in life. Everything breaks and fades away or pulses into pain so great you don't know how to go on. Lately, it seems to me, the only joy comes in small moments, like the joy of sharing food with a friend who has known you for more than half your life.

Come back soon, Sharon. We miss feeding you.

yogurt with blueberries and homemade granola

Homemade Granola

Now here's the deal. There are dozens upon dozens of good granola recipes out there on the internet, many more in trusted cookbooks. I have a recipe for granola already on this site. Why am I offering you a bowl of this?

Well, the granola recipe I shared years ago was made with McCann's oats, which have since been deemed problematic for those who have to be gluten-free. This one is made with Bob's Red Mill gluten-free rolled oats, which we devour around here. (If you make this granola for a gluten-free person, you must make sure the oats are certified gluten-free.) As for the other recipes, I'm certainly not saying this is the best granola recipe ever. I'm just saying that this recipe, given to me by my dear friend Nina, is a template for great granola around here. Slightly sweet, not at all greasy, filled with healthy pumpkin and sesame seeds, sour cherries, golden raisins, and dried apricots, this granola sits in a clear container on the top of our refrigerator, tempting me every morning.

Think of this as a template for your kitchen. Maybe you prefer olive oil to canola or prunes instead of apricots. Change the sweetener to suit your needs. No need to hew to this exactly. Keep the proportions and make it your own.

Mostly, I'm offering this because Sharon approves of this. That's good enough for me.

5 cup oats (please make sure they are certified gluten-free)
2 cups coarsely chopped almonds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup sesame seeds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit (we used apricots, sour cherries, and golden raisins here)
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Mix together the oats, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Make sure you use a large baking sheet or roasting pan for this. (I prefer the roasting pan, because you can really swirl around those ingredients without spilling them on the floor.) Sprinkle the cinnamon, ginger, and salt over the top. Stir it up.

Toss the bite-sized pieces of dried fruit over the top of the oats mixture. To be honest, you might want more than 1 1/2 cups here. I kept throwing more on until about 1/2 of the surface of the oats had fruit on it. Use your own judgment here. Stir it all up.

Drizzle the maple syrup evenly over the surface of the oats mixture. Do the same with the oil. Stir it all up until everything is well coated — not too sticky, but not dry either. Done? Great. Throw it in the oven.

Bake for 12 minutes, then stir up the granola-in-the-making, then put the pan back in the oven. Repeat this process three more times (it could twice or four times for you, depending on your oven). You're looking for the granola to be not-at-all wet, golden brown, with a bit of crunch.

Pull it out of the oven and let it cool before devouring it.

Makes 10 cups or so.

16 July 2010

three years

three years

Three years ago this morning, I was wide awake and nervous, giggling with anticipation at marrying Danny that afternoon.

What a three years this has been.

Four years ago, when I was in the first throes of love and admiration for the man who has become my best friend and constant companion, I wrote about him all the time on this site. Some of you complained that it was a little much. (Some people still do.) Looking back at those entries now, I can see it. Everything was in exclamation points! But really, when you're 39 and finally meet the person who gets your warped humor and wants to kiss you many times a day, it's hard not to write with exclamation points. (The antidote to that is we were too busy discovering each other for me to write often. I think I only posted 3 or 4 times that entire summer.) Every bite of food I took reminded me of Danny and the love we finally found together.

Now, that love has far more depth of flavor. We've survived sleepless nights, the time in the ICU, a book tour, our daughter's surgery, writing a cookbook together, financial worries, the toddler clutter, moving (twice), new jobs, and waking every morning (too early) not knowing what the day will bring. There have been times these past three years that the only constant in my life is Danny's voice in my ear, the feel of his hand in mine.

This is what I wrote at the end of the wedding post:

"And in the end, it feels like that is how life will be, with him. A sometimes dizzying spin of images: the smell of great food in the air, people we love gathered around us, the feeling that we might fall. And we will go around and around, again and again, in a circle that feels different each time, but not really. Sometimes, I will want to close my eyes and not take in so much. Sometimes, I will want it all to slow down. Sometimes, I might worry that the song will end.

But through it all, in this whirr of brilliant, beautiful images, in the middle of this twirling circle, will be the feel of his hand in mine."

Three years later, it still feels like that.

We're babies at this. Three years? Still newlyweds, really. But these years have been dog years (or at least fox years), so we're far into our second decade together, or third. That's what it feels like, in the best way. You know that bowl you love the most, the one you reach for when you eat cereal in the morning, on the couch, your worn socks keeping your feet warm against the cold? That's what we feel like together. You know that slow-braised piece of meat that has been simmering for hours in the oven, the smell infusing the entire house, and you're waiting for the moment it's done so you can close your eyes in the pleasure of taking your first bite? That's what it feels like these days. You know the recipe you have made a dozen times in the last few months, the flavors that mingle together so well in the mouth that you don't change a single ingredient, and you know it by heart and don't have to look it up? That's what it feels like to be married to Danny right now.

The first throes of love? The gushing, emoting, every day is spring and I'm alive! days? They are a huge rush, the way your head feels if you put too much wasabi on your spicy tuna roll. And there is plenty of sleep deprivation to those days too. (I'm starting to think that real love, like the love I feel for Danny and Lu, means sleep deprivation.) It's easy to yearn for the fresh, just-in-season days.

But give me these cluttered, jam-smeared, need-hot-coffee days, please. I like these more.

This morning, Lu woke up at 5:30. She had done this for months, and Danny I learned to take turns getting up early with the Awake Child, who wanted to run into the living room! (She's the one with all the exclamation points right now.) One of us slept in, the other one dragged until the next day. We seemed to have weaned her of this habit in the past month, and were just starting to sleep for longer than 6 hours a night. However, my dear friend Sharon visited us for the past week, and Lu was utterly in love with her. This meant she resisted sleep for hours every night, desperate to stay up and play with Sharon. Our nights were stutter-step again.

So this morning she woke up at 5:30. Danny offered to get up with her, even though he worked all day yesterday. As he was walking away with Lu in his arms, he called out softly, "Shauna, come look." Out the window, near our herb garden, a large deer with antlers was chewing on a rose bush. I know we should have been annoyed or shooed him away. But in that early morning light, it was clear who belonged in all that greenery. We moved out to the living room, the light starting to rise, and saw there were a male, a female, and a young deer near our kiwi bushes. Just outside the fence, another young one. "That's our family," Danny said, and I kissed him. When I stepped onto the cool porch, the male deer saw me, stopped, then moved forward protectively. We looked at each other for a long time. And then he ran to the gate, paused, and jumped six feet in the air and over. The other deer followed.

Lu pointed excitedly. We were all happy to be awake this time.

This is how we started our anniversary. There were hash browns and eggs (Danny flipped six of them in a skillet without a spatula, perfectly) and hot coffee. There was playing in the park with small friends and adults in the same happy-sleepy toddler state as us. Lu and a clutch of small children ran after a week-old puppy who tumbled down the hill. Soon, there will be food at the Mexican restaurant.

My parents were going to come over, give me and Danny the chance to spend some time together, just the two of us. A movie in a movie theater! Dinner out. But they called this morning, their voices harsh with coughing. They were feeling too lousy to make it over today. No babysitters. No dates.

That's okay. Danny and I don't need much. We'll take Lu to the Mexican restaurant with us, then go to the beach. After she's in bed, whenever that is, Danny and I will stand in the kitchen and do what we love most, besides being with our daughter: chop vegetables and make pie dough, talk and laugh, and turn on the stove. We'll cook our own dinner, together, late in the evening.

While we're working on the salads and apricot-thyme galette, I'll probably stop to kiss him, or hold his hand. After all these years, I still love the feel of his hand in mine.

Happy Anniversary, sweet man.

14 July 2010

cooking in the heat

summer meal, together

Danny, Lu, and I sat at the table on our front porch, our faces hungering for the small breeze that blew through the trees. The day had left us sweltered. After weeks and months of grey clouds and 56°, we finally had some sun.

All around us, people were complaining. It's too hot. And it probably was — our faces were soaked in sweat, as were the backs of our hands when we wiped the sweat from our noses and cheeks. The fava bean plants in the garden drooped lower as the day progressed, the bean pods raised like arms in the air, pleading for a little relief. Just a few moments in the sun and our scalps started to sting with sunburn. Normally, I would have complained too.

However, the heat felt like it was baking that long, cold spring out of us. We drove to the beach, slathered ourselves with sunscreen, then watched Lu run toward the water without fear and a big grin on her face. Her little pigtails killed us. Afterwards, Lu splashed in her her pool underneath the cherry tree. Danny and I sat beside her, drinking iced tea, laughing. Later, we all shared blueberry yogurt popsicles. Lu ate the cold treat with such seriousness, contemplating each bite so entirely, that we were happy just watching her.

Then, we ate dinner.

Danny grilled halibut on the barbecue, along with kohlrabi and leeks he had marinated in ginger, tamarai, soy, and rice wine vinegar. I made my favorite salad of the moment: cubes of watermelon, slivers of lemon balm and mint, salty feta, and a lime vinaigrette. We ate a big green salad made of lettuce and arugula from our garden. We hadn't turned on the oven all day. There was a cold NA beer for Danny, ice water for me and Lu, plus a pile of books on the table for reading.

We piled food on the plates, hungry after a lovely afternoon together. I stood on my chair to take a photo, then I put away the blog and anything else to do with it. We said our thanks and dug our forks into the food.

I know that it's far more sweltering in much of the country than it is in Seattle. (We're back to the 70s here, and Danny's cooking at the stove as I write this.) What are your favorite dishes to make in the heat? How do you feed yourself when the thermometer bulges at the top?

11 July 2010

learning knife skills

Last week, I wrote this about using a chef's knife in the kitchen:

"When we were cooking the Dog Mountain Farm dinner, I was lost for a few moments in the rhythm of my knife on the plastic cutting board as I chopped herbs fine. Something made me listen to it, step outside of myself as my sharp knife divided the rosemary in half, then half again. It sounded good. It sounded right. The tip of my knife stayed on the board as the blade moved from right to left, like a lawnmower through tall green grass. I haven't noticed, in months and months, just how evenly I cut something now. Chopping is meditation, getting a job done. Now that I have the confidence of hours of doing this the right way in my hands, I don't have to think. I can simply step up to the counter and enjoy."

Many of you wrote me to ask — how did you get there?

Well, I watched Danny and I practiced. (Also, I'm still not that good, just more sure.)

Since many of you have asked recently, and before this too, we did a video of Danny demonstrating how to use a knife well.

This is the first part in a video series on knife skills.

Watch and practice, if you don't already feel comfortable with a knife in the kitchen.

07 July 2010

breakfasts around here

roasted apricots

Late morning, Sesame Street over, the deadlines looming but it's not time to work yet. Breakfast time.

We've been eating our breakfasts just after 9 around here. Lu points to the clock on the wall at 8 and says, "Street!" We cuddle on the couch together — the couch of cracker crumbs and pens between the cushions and comfort — my feet on Danny's lap, Lu sitting between us. She counts out the numbers as they appear on the screen, with this little lilting voice that knocks us out every time. We spent so much time wondering what her voice would sound like, and now here it is in the room.

We have to squint and tilt our heads sideways to see the tiny baby, all scrawny legs and ferocious cry, who arrived in our lives almost two years ago. Now, she climbs any surface that will stand still (including us, when we are patient). She swings from the bars on the playground, even the ones 10 feet up. She runs, with a purposeful stride. She is alive.

And every single time I hear that song on Sesame Street ("Sing, sing a song...") I grow teary thinking about her life, and lean down my head to kiss her cheek. (Even when it's Nathan Lane.)

Danny and I talk over her head sometimes, about the day, and the deadlines, the video we'll film the next day, friends coming to visit. Sometimes she jumps down from the couch to dance, and we join her, feet skipping on the floor. She asks me to read her a book during the cartoons — she only likes live action. Of course, she adores Elmo.

When Big Bird says Toodle Oo! and Lu waves and says thank you to him, we turn off the television and walk into the kitchen together. Lu says "Bake!" and demands the chair be shoved against the counter. (All kitchen activities are baking to her.) We cook the quinoa, sliver the prosciutto, or dollop out yogurt and plop in raspberries from the garden. It's one of the few times we three are all together, in the kitchen. It's lovely.

The other morning, gloomy and grey as it had been for weeks, I noticed the apricots going soft on the counter. My parents brought a big container of them from Costco, for Lu to eat. She didn't care that they weren't perfectly ripe, or in season. She loved the sweetness on her lips. Not wanting to waste them, I sliced them into halves ("Circle!" Lu pointed.), drizzled them with honey, and tossed on some fresh tarragon. Into the oven they went until they sagged and slumped against each other, juices oozing.

Later, they made the best accompaniment to a small bowl of cold yogurt I have yet eaten.

The bright color of these roasted apricots was such a comfort against the continuous grey sky, when it seemed it would never be summer.

Lucy, after picking raspberries and eating waffles

Then, yesterday, just as everyone predicted, it turned into summer. Summer in Seattle starts after the 4th of July.

Yesterday, Lu and I gathered raspberries, strawberries, and red currants from the garden, while Danny put together a waffle batter. Danny simmered the berries slowly into a compote. We moved everything onto the porch. Look at this photo. Need I say more?

Our lives aren't perfect. In fact, it has felt a little like this perpetual winter we've been having inside my brain as well. I have too much on my plate and I am full. Deadlines pile up and no matter how hard I work I can never get it all done. Emails to be answered and trips to plan, plus a look at the bank account, roam through my mind at 3 am. There are always dishes to do. No matter how many times I run the washing machine, the laundry mound still grows. (We don't have that many clothes, and most of them need replacing. Where does all this laundry come from?) As hard as I try, I can't entirely wrap my mind around the fact that the house is always going to be cluttered with a toddler here.

Yesterday, I finally had the joy of hanging out with my friend Molly, whose poise and strange sense of humor always inspire me. In the couple of hours we saw each other, Lu went into the wading pool without a swim diaper (oh, the piteous cries when I told her we had to go. "Wa wa! Wa wa!") and I didn't have any dry ones in the car. We walked through the drugstore with a sopping wet child. Poor Molly had to nestle her feet among the coffee cups on the floor of the car that Danny keeps forgetting to bring inside the house. The bag of tortilla chips I brought for us to eat tore in half and spilled on the ground at the park. Some of the broken crackers landed in the pool of white bean hummus that had erupted out of the package and onto the bottom of my purse.

Sometimes I dream of a life as clean and expansive as this photo Molly took.

But then, I look at this photo of Lu eating breakfast on the porch, raspberries on her face and her feet on the table. And I laugh, again. I'll take the clutter, the hummus on the bottom of my purse, the imperfection and dishes to be done.

I'll accept it all, arms wide open, if breakfast looks like this.

05 July 2010

roasted vegetable pasta salad

roasted vegetables

"The recipes in this book are easy. Easy to imagine why you want to eat them. Easy to cook, but more than that, easy to prepare in a low-stress way in any home kitchen...Most of the work-work in these recipes — the part where you mess up your counters and floor and generally feel like cursing — happens well before you serve the food, so by the time you are ready to serve, you can ladle it out and pretend like it was no problem."

With an opening like that, how could I not love The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual?

Danny and I had the chance to meet the Frankies, chefs and propietors of The Spuntino in New York (and several other places, including a place planned for Portland, Oregon soon). They are charming and impassioned, funny and connected at the hip. After having worked at some of the best restaurants in the world, stuffed full of classical techniques and elaborate meals, these childhood friends decided to open an Italian restaurant with food they wanted to eat. Slow-simmered tomato sauce? Meatball marinara sandwiches? Sure. But more, they wanted to eat more lightly, with vegetables at the head of the plate and meat a condiment instead of a hunk in the middle. Good cheese and cippolini onion vinaigrette both.

I loved what Frank Castronovo said about the food they try to create: "Anyone can make a meal that leaves you feeling good while you're in the restaurant. We want to make food that makes you feel good six hours later."

These Frankies — they have a mission. They want us all to start cooking and realize it's not as difficult as it seems. Since that's what Danny and I want too, we listened intently to their conversation about the importance of family meals and knowing correct techniques and where to find the good ingredients. (If you want to read more about our experience of meeting The Frankies, come on over here.) We were both inspired.

Before I met Danny, I thought that being a good cook meant having a tattered book full of trusted recipes. If I clutched my grandmother's secret casserole recipe close to my chest, and brought it out on special occasions so that my guests would ooh and ahh, then I'd be a good cook. However, my grandmother didn't have a secret casserole recipe. She wasn't an inspired cook. She certainly never shared any secrets with me. Even if she had been, however, I would be more inclined now to give that recipe away immediately.

You see, now I know that for me (and I suspect for you too) cooking became easier and much more fun when I learned good techniques. How to sear a piece of meat in a hot pan. How to make a vinaigrette. How to choose fruit when it's perfectly ripe. How to set up a mise en place so I'm not rushing around the kitchen, trying to find the onions to chop while the butter is burning in the pan.

Being married to a chef has given me a huge respect for good technique in the kitchen. I used to believe that only chefs needed strong knife skills or the ability to roast a pepper on a gas burner. I was a home cook. I could hack my vegetables with blunt force and buy the peppers in the jar. And sure, you still can. However, having a few basic skills as muscle memory makes time in the kitchen more relaxed, and thus more enjoyable.

When we were cooking the Dog Mountain Farm dinner, I was lost for a few moments in the rhythm of my knife on the plastic cutting board as I chopped herbs fine. Something made me listen to it, step outside of myself as my sharp knife divided the rosemary in half, then half again. It sounded good. It sounded right. The tip of my knife stayed on the board as the blade moved from right to left, like a lawnmower through tall green grass. I haven't noticed, in months and months, just how evenly I cut something now. Chopping is meditation, getting a job done. Now that I have the confidence of hours of doing this the right way in my hands, I don't have to think. I can simply step up to the counter and enjoy.

In my first book, I wrote about allowing myself to make mistakes. That was the first, most important step to enjoying myself in the kitchen. Once I relaxed my arms, and stopped worrying if my food wasn't camera ready every time, I realized that this is a practice. No one is good at the violin when they first pick it up. Why do we expect to make music every time we cook?

The more I learn, the more I want to cook. The more I cook, the more confident I feel in the kitchen. The more confident I feel in the kitchen, the more I want to play. And the more I want to play, the more I want to learn the techniques and traditions that will let me play with confidence.

In fact, I'm going to stop writing now so I can go roast some more vegetables.

This post is part of a group conversation about what made it easier and more fun for us to cook food from scratch. I asked the question on Twitter, and this is what emerged. Please go on over and read what other people have written:

Jennifer of In Jennie's Kitchen

Tia of Glugle Gluten-Free

Shae of Hitchhiking to Heaven

Nourished Meadow

Lori of A Family's Life

Jen of Kitchen Dweller

Carolyn of What Life Dishes Out

Erin of Mysteries Internal

Tamiko from Kiku Girl

Glutenista from Glutenista

Amanda of Gluten-Free and Tasty

Heather from Gluten-Free Cat

Maybelle's Mom from Feeding Maybelle

Hanna of Java Kim

Irvin from Eat the Love

Of course, I forgot that a national holiday was coming up when I asked the question and suggested everyone do a blog post for Monday. If you'd like to write about this, send me your blog post and I'll add it to the list. Or simply write a comment about what has helped you become more comfortable in the kitchen. Let's see if we can inspire some people to give cooking a try.

roasted vegetable pasta salad

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

When I learned to roast vegetables well, I felt like I was really cooking.

Roasted vegetables give a depth of flavor to a dish that simply isn't there when you use those same vegetables raw. Lately, I've been playing with more and more dishes without meat for these hot summer months. Danny is still happy because I have been roasting and smoking and pickling things. With all the flavors, the meat doesn't feel so central.

After hearing the Frankies talk about the light feeling of the food at their restaurant, I read this passage about roasted vegetables:

"At the Spuntino, simply prepared vegetables are a cornerstone of our way of cooking. We mainly serve them roasted...and then repurpose them in countless ways: the sweet potatoes get mashed into a filling for ravioli and a topping for crostini, the cauliflower replaces sausage in a vegetarian version of our cavatelli with brown butter. A mix of all these antipasto vegetables plus a little dressing become our roasted vegetable salad and the roasted vegetable sandwich, and all work well as side dishes."

(By the way, the recipes for everything they mention is in their utterly useful cookbook.)

And so, I've been roasting vegetables for snacks and sandwiches, goat cheese tarts, and this pasta salad. We've been eating well.

Think of this as a template, rather than a recipe, a series of techniques that will build a delicious dinner.

Preheat the oven to 350° or 500° (I'll explain in a moment.)

Take handfuls of vegetables of your choice: green beans, yellow wax beans, orange cauliflower, Roma tomatoes, asparagus, fava beans, broccoli, etc.

Coat them with a little olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.

(As the Frankies explain about this technique: "Its important to slick the outside of the vegetables with a thin coat of oil. Why? If you don't, the surface is going to stay at right around 212°F, which is the evaporation point for water, and the vegetables will go limp before they get browned. But when you coat what you're roasting with fat or oil, the exterior can reach the temperature you set the oven to, because the oil will heat up to that temperature despite the water in the vegetable. This is important because it's the only way to ensure that the proper development of sugars is taking place as a sugar browns.")

Splay the vegetables across an oiled baking sheet. Or, you can do as we did and roast handfuls of each vegetable in a separate sauté pan. Put them in the oven.

If you have set the oven to 350°, roast the vegetables until they are browned and soft, about 40 minutes. The lower heat means softer vegetables, and perhaps a greater depth of flavor.

If you have set the oven to 500°, you'll only need about 10 minutes to roast the vegetables. You may not have the same depth of flavor, but the vegetables will brown and stay a little more crisp. I like this texture for the pasta salad.

When the vegetables are roasted, allow them to cool to room temperature.

Toss the roasted vegetables with cooked pasta (gluten-free for us, and in this case we used Tinkyada penne), some good Feta or blue cheese, and a simple lemon vinaigrette. Or a red wine vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper and whatever spices or herbs you might like: pimenton, cumin, tarragon, etc.

Serve and eat.

p.s. I know it's hot hot hot on the east coast. You could easily roast vegetables on the grill, instead of turning on a hot oven.

03 July 2010

the dinner at Dog Mountain Farm

perfect day at Dog Mountain

We haven't had much summer here in Seattle yet. (People say it really doesn't start until after the 4th of July. So we'll see.) Usually, we receive a stretch of sun in May that makes us all feel grateful and makes the gloom of June more palatable. Not this year. It has been seeming months on end of grey skies and 56°.

However, the day we cooked the dinner at Dog Mountain Farm, the clouds scooted away. Here is the farm, just before the guests arrived. 72° and perfect blue-skied joy.

That's what the entire day felt like.

cherry tomatoes, finally

Actually, there had been a little splash of sunny days in the week preceding the dinner, as well. Vegetables finally ripened and made our cooking much brighter.

Cherry tomatoes. Oh, what a welcome sight.

the kitchen staff

Don't you love the kitchen? Just off the woods? I wish that I could cook dinner in a kitchen like this every summer evening.

This was part of the kitchen crew. Danny was in charge, of course. (That's such a Danny look on his face, fierce concentration as he decides what to do next.) Without Jean and Ed, this dinner would not have happened the way it did. And without their darling girls there, that little person working pantry might not have been so happy that day.

spent shells

We needed the help. There were piles of English peas to shell, red lentils to cook and puree, duck breasts to be broken down, trout to season and prepare, and a dozen dozen other kitchen tasks before we could think of feeding people.

Every time I work with Danny, I feel a little pang of jealousy. It's such good work, this cooking food to feed people. Every moment was filled with the urgency of needing to finish the task but also the lovely relaxed feeling of doing something with my senses. Sometimes I wish I could cook for a living instead of sitting at this computer.

(Really, though, there's no choice. I'm here. It's where I belong.)

Danny never erupted into stress or pushing people. He was calm, laughing, and focused. It's nice to respect what your partner does, so deeply.

Danny's station

This was his station for working that day. That's the galley for our cookbook. (It comes out on September 28th, which suddenly doesn't seem like that long from now. Gulp.) It was Danny's idea to have this dinner be mostly recipes from our upcoming book.

gluten-free baguettes waiting to be toasted

Those are gluten-free baguettes, ready for grilling. They became crostini with curried red lentil puree, microgreens, and fresh feta, sharp and salty.

barbecued duck skewers

These are barbecued duck skewers, made with Danny's barbecue sauce and ducks from the farm.

baby carrot soup

Baby carrot soup, made bright with fresh carrot juice, topped with goat's milk yogurt made on the farm and English pea puree.

spring onion salad

Spring onion salad with radishes, Rainier and Bing cherries, basil, soft chevre from the farm, and a Balsamic-raspberry vinaigrette.

getting the trout ready to grill

Ruby-red trout wrapped in La Quercia prosciutto, drizzled with olive oil, then grilled.

millet salad with sea beans and wild mushrooms

Millet salad with sauteed morels, porcini, and sea beans, to go with the trout.

chocolate mousse, rhubarb jam, and creme fraiche

Chocolate mousse with rhubarb jam made on the farm and homemade creme fraiche.

Danny, me, and Jean

We could not have done this dinner without the help of our good friends Jenise and Mike, who volunteer at Dog Mountain Farm dinners regularly and introduced us to the farm. Those two were professional, helpful, and a constant source of good humor during the day. We dig you two.

Farmers work harder than anyone we know. Cindy and David were a whirlwind of activity during the day, after driving down to Seattle that morning to sell their produce at a farmers' market and back again. They are some of the most energetic, kindest people we've ever met. You rock.

Pictured here, with us at the end of the dinner, is Dr. Jean Layton, one of the smartest, most compassionate people I've met. And she can break down a duck like nobody's business. Jean writes GF Doctor, a fascinating look at the latest gluten-free and other health trends, as well as as GF Doctor Recipes, while she runs her practice as a naturopath, all the while being the mom of twin 11-year-old girls. This woman has more energy than us! Along with her wonderful husband, Ed, Jean really helped make this day possible. (Those beautiful baguette slices you see above? They are from Jean's recipe for sourdough baguettes. Stay tuned for more information on this.)

Thank you, all.

lots of photos and happy people

That was a beautiful day, in so many ways.

Everyone in the field seemed happy. There was sunlight and good food and photographs being taken (hi, Mike!) and wine from Tefft Cellars and laughter and more sunlight.

We were amazed, all day.

One of our favorite parts of the experience was sitting around talking with some of you as the evening moved toward the gloaming. We laughed after the dishes were done, talked about restaurants in Vancouver and getting gluten by mistake and the new cookbook. It was wonderful to meet so many of you who read this site.

(We can't wait for more of those meetings in the fall.)

Before we left, we learned from Cindy that many of the people who attended the dinner clamored for our return next summer. We are honored. And we'll be back, next July.

We hope that many of you can come sit in the field and share food with us next year.

01 July 2010

gluten-free cherry crumble pie

cherry crumble pie, gluten-free

As I ran down the wooded trail, sunlight on my skin, my thoughts meandered toward the afternoon ahead of me. We had leftover Rainier cherries from our dinner at Dog Mountain Farm. A big bag of Bing cherries waited for me at home, a gift from Northwest Cherries, when they found we couldn't attend the day-long cherry tour they organized for last week. (We were so sad we couldn't make it, especially when we saw this post that Jenny Richards wrote about what she did with her 20 pounds of delectable cherries!) The color of those cherries glowed from the kitchen, miles away, as my feet carried me down the trail.

Crumble or pie? I love them both. Pie or crumble? Hm, such a difficult decision.

One of the reasons I love running is that ideas arrive fully formed as I make my way. I saw it before me: a pie crust bottom, a mound of fragrant cherries, and a crumble topping.

Cherry crumble pie.

p.s. I'm honored to say that this pie is being featured on the KCRW Good Food Pie a Day blog.

Cherry Crumble Pie

I've been working on our pie crust recipe since I published it back in November. One of the reasons I love baking gluten-free is that I can constantly fiddle and play, taking away eggs and changing flours. (One of the downsides of writing a cookbook is how long it takes to publish one. Some of the recipes in our book will feel old to me by the time they are printed.) Lately, I want to make everything simpler, as few ingredients as possible while still getting the ratio right.

This is my favorite pie crust, by far. We think you'll like it too.

(Oh, and this dough makes enough for 2 single crusts. You can use half here, then refrigerate the rest and make another pie the next day. Let the dough come to cool room temperature before you use it.)

I posted the idea for this on Facebook, and my friend Kim O'Donnel suggested almond extract instead of vanilla for the flavoring, since cherry pits have a subtle almond taste. And then our friend Carol Blymire recommended lime zest, her secret weapon with fruit. Ladies, we owe you a slice of this pie. Mighty fine.

Finally, some of you have been asking me to post the cup measurements along with the grams in these recipes. I'm not trying to sound mean, but I'm going to keep posting them in grams. There are a couple of reasons for this.

1) This is how I bake. It feels artificial to go back and re-measure the flours when this isn't what happens in our kitchen.

2) Grams are more precise than ounces. Cups are totally imprecise. Gluten-free baking deserves as much precision as we can give it.

3) Many of you want to substitute different flours for the ones we use, because of allergies or taste preferences. Keeping these recipes in grams makes that substitution much easier.

4) If you really insist on sticking to cups, there are online conversion tools, such as this one.

5) I really, really want you to buy a kitchen scale. Believe me, baking by weight will change your baking life. I'll do a post soon about this in particular. Every time I go to a thrift store, I see a kitchen scale. You can do it.

Finally, this cherry crumble pie is worth it. Make the leap.

Gluten-Free Pie Crust

115 grams superfine brown rice flour (Authentic Foods makes a great one)
115 grams potato starch
60 grams almond flour
60 grams cornstarch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon guar gum
½ teaspoon kosher salt
115 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Cherry filling

830 grams cherries, pitted (we used a combination of Bings and Rainiers)
60 grams Muscovado sugar (or dark brown sugar, if you wish)
½ teaspoon almond extract
juice and zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Crumble topping

40 grams superfine brown rice flour
40 grams potato starch
30 grams almond flour
120 grams packed brown sugar
100 grams cornmeal (make sure it’s gluten-free)
50 grams oats (make sure there are certified gluten-free)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
115 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled

Mixing the dry ingredients. Put the brown rice flour, almond flour, potato starch, and cornstarch in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix until they are combined into one flour. Add the xanthan gum, guar gum, and salt and mix again.

Finishing the dough. Add the cubes of butter and mix until it is broken up into pieces about the size of peas. While the mixer is running on low, pour in 6 tablespoons of the ice water. Mix until the dough begins to hold together. Check to make sure the dough coheres but is not too wet. If it is still dry and crumbly, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water.

Making the crust. Wrap the pie dough in plastic wrap (or in a bowl) and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Take it out and roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper. This means you won't work any extra flour into the dough. Roll it out as thin as you can. When the dough has exceeded the size of the pie plate, lift the top piece of parchment paper and turn the dough upside down on the top of the pie plate. Drape the pie dough into place, gently.

If the dough breaks, don't despair. Simply lift pieces of the dough off the counter and meld it with the rest of the dough. Remember, there's no gluten, so you can't overwork the dough. Play with it, like you're a kid again. Crimp the edges with your fingers.

Poke some shallow holes in the pie crust with a fork, then place the pie plate into the freezer for at least 1 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the cherries and the crumble topping.

Making the cherry filling. Mix the cherries, sugar, almond extract, lime juice and zest, and orange zest. Add the cornstarch and stir well to combine. Set the bowl aside to let the filling build its flavor.

Making the crumble topping. Put the brown rice flour, potato starch, almond flour, brown sugar, cornmeal, oats, and cinnamon into the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix until everything is well combined. Add the butter and mix until the topping begins to clump.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Blind-baking the pie crust. Take the pie crust out of the freezer and slide it into the hot oven. Bake until the crust is starting to firm and brown a bit, about 15 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven and reduce the heat to 375°.

Baking the crumble pie. Fill the pie crust with the cherry mixture, which will be mounded high above the crust. Pat the crumble topping onto the cherries until the mixture is covered. (Leave a few open patches as airholes for the pie.) Slide it into the oven. Bake for 50 minutes, at which point the crumble topping should be browned. Cover the top of the pie with tin foil and continue to bake until the cherry juice begins to drip over the sides of the pie plate, about 15 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and cool. Ideally, you would let the pie sit for at least 3 hours before you eat it. If that’s not possible (and understandable), just know the pie will be extra juicy when warm.

Serves…well, you decide. It’s a pie.