Desmond, who is asleep next to me as I write this, the sound of ocean waves softly murmuring near his ear, is five months old. We longed to meet him for three years and now he’s here, growing faster than we can imagine. He taught himself to roll over at three months, and now he’s like a perpetual motion machine. As soon as he could move from his stomach to his back, he wanted to go from his back to his stomach. And again. And again. He’s trying so hard, arms reaching and legs kicking, to crawl.
Kid, slow down.
(Good luck with trying to convince him of that one, right?)
This summer, there have been gatherings on the back porch of our home —— assorted children dancing or jumping on the trampoline as the adults talk —— most evenings of the summer. We sit in a circle, plates before us on the deck, and tell stories and laugh. Almost every night, we’ve had a different set of people with us, good friends from decades before or new friends. Having a baby who needs to nap and go to bed early means that we have been the hosts. Someone else is coming unexpectedly? Go grab a plate. There’s always food here.
And that food, which has been delicious and nourished us, is mostly thrown together at the last moment from whatever has been growing in the garden or what we picked up at the farm stand that day. Collard greens sautéed in cracklings from the ham we roasted, with smoked paprika and aleppo pepper. Cherry tomato salad with slivered romano beans, apple balsamic vinegar, and Moroccan olive oil, plus diced cucumbers with pickled ginger, fish sauce, and a bit of wasabi. Blueberry and peach crisp with Thai basil and honey, with an oat-almond topping. We play with flavors, and all the friends have been happy at the end of dinner, but there have been no recipes. Danny and I make something out of what is in the cupboard and fresh that day.
Whenever we finish a cookbook, this is how our cooking goes: simple and frugal, with some interesting little twist.
This has been the summer of the back porch.
I’ve been thinking often about this, how the food we make on a daily basis, the food we consider a feast with friends, rarely makes it onto this site. I get stymied by cookbook deadlines from updating more often. And when the manuscript is done (but edits coming back soon!), we need a rest. And then we start thinking of all the recipes people have asked us to create, and we go back into that mode. But this site, as it is, rarely looks like our real food life. We have some ideas about how to change that here.
It’s a time of change.
This evening, we ate dinner at our dining room table for the first time in months. Desmond tried avocado. After Danny spooned some into his mouth, and he made the requisite confused pursed-lips look at the taste of something new, Desmond grabbed the spoon to eat more. He started eating solid foods two weeks ago and he’s already tired of us holding that spoon in front of him. He wants to eat everything himself, now.
And Lu? She wants to eat up the entire world by herself, now. Tomorrow is her first day of kindergarten.
The first day of the year is the first day of school. Heck with January 1st. That’s the middle of winter and a time of renewal on the calendar alone. But being the daughter of two teachers, a student for years and years, and a high-school teacher for nearly a decade, I have only one signal for the beginning of the year: newly sharpened #2 pencils. This evening, after we finished dinner and cleaned off the table, I sharpened six pencils for Lucy’s pen and pencil case. Danny and I watched her print her name on the green tape she wanted on her purple folders. I gave her the first of what I assume will be many black and white speckled composition books for her backpack. She giggled, delighted, then lined them all up by the door. In the refrigerator, waits her snack for the first day: black bean hummus Danny made today, slivers of red peppers, a little blueberry muffin with lemon zest and cinnamon (we made dozens this morning and put them in the freezer for snacks), and an apple. She went to bed smiling.
Need I mention that it all made me a little bit teary?
Tomorrow morning, she’ll walk with us to the end of our road, where the bus will pull up on the main highway. We’ll kiss her and hug her, tell her how proud we are of her. She doesn’t want us to drive her to school. She wants to go to school by herself.
It seems about twelve minutes ago that she was five months old, wriggling on the floor, just finding her voice. And tomorrow, she starts big-kid school, confident enough that she doesn’t need us there. It’s her world now. The moment she was born, I looked at her, fell in love with her, and thought to myself, “Now I have to let you go.”
Here she goes, our happy kind alive kid. Here she goes, walking into the world.
(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.
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…