(Desmond was only three weeks old when Jack came to see us. And somehow time has tumbled on itself these last few months, fumbling like fingers and thumbs on pliable dough. I’ve been meaning to tell you about this afternoon for months now.)
Jack is one of the kindest men I’ve met in this food world. He was a little weary from a whirlwind book tour for America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook, but he arrived with presents for Desmond and enormous thoughtful energy for baking. I have to admit it — I’m a huge America’s Test Kitchen fan. The folks who run that place are geeks. (Around here, geek is a compliment.) I love the meticulous way the editors there lay out the kind of food they are trying to create, the narrative explanations of every permutation they tried, and the recipes that result. It’s not always my kind of food, but it’s my kind of mind at work. (I wish that I were as meticulously organized as those narratives imply, but I also remind myself that they have a whole team of people working on this! Our test kitchen is me, Danny, and Desmond, who mostly offers cuteness to the equation.) So having Jack Bishop here with us, when we were wildly excited and sleep deprived both? It was a dream.
(Thank you, Jack, as well as Beth. You’re both delightful.)
The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook is in true America’s Test Kitchen form. They tell us what they were trying to achieve and then show us how they achieved it. There’s no question that the recipes in this book are meant for people who are trying to replicate white flour baked goods and more typical American recipes. That’s the largest audience, after all. If you want whole-grain breads or grain-free baking, this might not be the book for you. Those who need to avoid dairy or other foods have expressed annoyance that there is so much dairy in the book. But this book is, as Jack expressed to me, an attempt to create the best gluten-free book possible. It’s not an allergen-free book. And it’s a book intended for an audience who may not be able to find gluten-free ingredients in their grocery stores easily. Jack and I talked, as we made biscuit dough, about how much we love sweet rice flour. It’s starchy enough to bind ingredients together in a baked good, a little like gluten. I always use it in baked goods that work well with all-purpose flour. The folks at America’s Test Kitchen love it too, but they worried about its availability for the widest array of people, so they left it out of their flour mix.
This is a thoughtful, helpful book. After nine years of cooking and baking gluten-free, and especially after doing this for a living, I found much in the book to be a confirmation of what I have taught myself through trial and error. But I still learned from it — I love their trick about how to par-bake pizza dough to make sure we steam out the wetness before making the final pizza — and I still keep it at the studio as a reference. We honestly recommend The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook to anyone who needs to be gluten-free.
When I was diagnosed with celiac in 2005, the phrase gluten-free didn’t appear on restaurant menus and grocery shelves. Once, I had to explain to a confused server in a restaurant that no, I wasn’t trying to avoid eating glue. I need to avoid any trace of gluten to keep myself healthy. Times have changed. It’s grown easier, in so many ways. Having one of the most respected sources on creating great food create a good cookbook about gluten-free baking? It’s a boon.
Thank you, Jack Bishop, and the team at America’s Test Kitchen.
When I lie down in bed at night, the room warm and the hour late, my mind starts flashing images of the day behind me. Desmond’s smile wide open, like a child’s drawing of the happiest face. Lu’s feet gripping onto the skateboard we gave her last week for her birthday, the pink knee pads hovering above them. The greens in the garden bolting bright with the heat and sunlight. (Anyone need some kale? We have plenty.) The sound of the ocean rushing continually out of the baby monitor as Desmond sleeps upstairs in his crib. He’s a sleeper, this kid. Oh heavens yes, he’s a sleeper. Lucy on my lap, a stack of books besides us, waiting to be read. Dishes in the sink that will have to wait until the cool evening air comes through the windows. Dinner on the back deck, plates set on top of the yellow chalk drawings and hopscotch squares. The quiet click of Lucy’s bedroom door shutting behind us when we finally realize she is asleep for the evening. (Remember that feeling of being a child in summer, perplexed at why you have to go to bed in broad daylight?) The relief of a hard day’s work finally done — no work or computers after 9 pm here — Danny and I together on the couch, talking through the day. And then we watch another episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
(Can we talk about this show? We are obsessed. We don’t watch television, normally, but now, every night, we’re perched on the edge of the couch, watching. On Danny’s birthday card the other day, I wrote to him, “Shanté, you stay.” My dear friend Sharon, my best friend for 31 years, stayed with us this week. We started her on this brilliant parody of a reality show that is also a reality show and somehow manages to normalize drag queen life while also being relentlessly flamboyant and hilarious at the same time. She was hooked too. Every evening she visited, as soon as we knew both kids were asleep, we called my brother, who lives on the island, and he came over with his wife and pre-teen son to watch another episode. It may seem like an odd family bonding, but no one ever claimed to be normal over here. And honey, those drag queens are fierce. When I remember this time, I’m sure to think of it as the summer of Ru Paul.)
When Lucy is at camp or on play dates, the days are packed full of work for projects I can’t tell you about yet. At our studio, we’re hatching plans and writing emails and tackling to-do lists. Meanwhile, Danny stands at the stove, flipping onions in a skillet, then adding greens and bacon, goat cheese and lentils, and a couple of fried eggs on top. We may be broke after the adoption process but we’re still eating well. And that little guy kicks his legs and giggles on the table beside me and I stop thinking about money.
When Lu is at home, the living is slow. Mostly, there are popsicles. And board games. Jumping on the trampoline. Long walks before dinner. Chores in the morning. Lots of lying on the floor with a book open before her. And an entire troop of imaginary friends who make their way into our days. That’s sort of the feeling right now: everything fantastic, beyond our wildest dreams, and yet mundane.
This was a most mediocre and tremendous meal. It wasn’t locally sourced, grass-fed beef. I’m sure the guacamole came out of a tub. The beans were sort of spongy, the tortillas lukewarm. That pre-grated cheese…