Everywhere I have been outside in the past two days, people have been shivering and shrugging. The man who opened the car in front of the restaurant made a guttural noise, and then said, “It’s cold.”
I laughed and said, “It’s January.”
“True,” he said, and then drove away.
It really isn’t that cold, folks. It’s in the upper 30s, and it’s spitting cold rain. But we usually enjoy much milder winters around here. However, this really is not that cold. Every morning, the Chef reads me the low temperatures of every place we have been in the past two years. Everywhere but Rome and Los Angeles is colder than Seattle. Poor Gunnison, Colorado (several of the Chef’s nieces and nephews went to college there). It consistently ranks as the record low in the country that day. In terms of winter, we’re pretty lucky in Seattle.
It’s not the cold that leaves me shrugging. Instead, it’s just that….it’s still winter.
Oh, winter. Why do you last so much longer than any other season? Spring flashes upon us and turns to summer in a moment. Summer seems to pass in the time it takes to sneeze. Autumn fades a bit more slowly, but look up and all the trees are suddenly bare. But winter? Oh winter. You stick around forever.
For the first couple of months, I enjoy winter. The crisp air. The decadent pleasure of slipping on a sweater for the first time that year. The roar of the heater beneath my feet. But let’s face it — winter slips into us far earlier than it says on the calendar. Since early November, it has been grey and sodden and silent around here. And there are still two more months to go.
I like the silence. It reminds me to slow down. Summer rushes through me and I just want to move. We probably need to hibernate, hunker down, and hum at a lower tone. I love being inside, and winter compels me to stay in and make my home.
Still, there’s one part of winter that frustrates me no end.
It’s harder and harder to be inspired by food.
Oh, we still eat well. Two nights ago, for dinner, we ate pork chops roasted with apples, sage, and Taleggio cheese. Last night brought black cod and mashed potatoes, with a tamari-butter sauce and some of Brandon’s pickled sunchokes. We don’t eat leftovers (the Chef isn’t fond of them). Every day brings something delicious.
But in every other season, I bubble with ideas of foods. One walk around the farmers’ market in summer, and I scrawl pages in my food notebook with meals to create.
Last week, we went to the farmers’ market, as we do every Saturday, and the Chef and I were both sad to see only seven stands, huddled together, in that nearly empty parking lot. Even the potato guy had gone home.
There just isn’t much this time of the year.
Alfred Portale refers to spring as the true start of the year. It’s when the world returns to full bloom. Maybe that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. People are trying for fresh starts in the deadest part of the year.
But there is still so much aliveness. I just have to look harder to find it.
This morning, it rained all morning, an unceasing patter of splattering drops in already overfull puddles. The morning felt long, the sky loomed low. When I left the bed to get the Chef another cup of coffee, I turned idly toward the front door. A sudden burst of sunlight shattered through the rain. And this watery light, bouncing off the puddles on the side porch, illuminated the OM sign above the door. The light stopped me. I grabbed the camera.
I hadn’t taken any photographs in days. Today, I took them everywhere I went.
Beauty hides in bare trees and bowls of guacamole. The world doesn’t have to be lush to deserve our attention.
Later in the morning, I went to wash the dishes. Another flash of sunlight shone through the window and landed on my skin. Suddenly, I felt warm. For a moment, it felt like spring in the small of my back. I stayed in the kitchen for awhile, stirring scrambled eggs more slowly than I had in weeks.
And in the quiet cold season, there is more time for perusing cookbooks. Lately, after breakfast, I’ve been sitting on the couch, my feet propped up on the coffee table, reading Jamie Oliver’s How to Cook. (That’s where the pork chops with sage and apples arrived.) The Chef checks his email, and looks over and smiles at me when I shout out a new idea, like warmed olives with lemon zest and garlic from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. The words becomes dinner in a matter of hours.
During the summer, I don’t adapt that many recipes. They simply appear beneath my hands from the bounty of long sunny days.
In the winter, I go back to the craftings of people who know much more than me. I have so much to learn.
It’s good to be humbled by winter. To remind myself to try harder, to dig beneath the surface of puddles to find the earth again.
* This weekend, I will be in Los Angeles. It’s just me, this time. The Chef has to stay here, to keep the restaurant running. Oh, I’ll miss him, but Sharon will be happy. We haven’t had a girls’ weekend alone since the long days ago when I didn’t know the Chef.
I’d love to meet you, if you want to come out for gluten-free food and community.
Sunday, February 3rd, 1 to 3
The Sensitive Baker
10836 1/2 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Eugenie and the good folks who run this lovely bakery will be providing gluten-free brownies for everyone who wants to come along. Okay, okay, it’s during the Super Bowl, but surely there must be plenty of you who want to avoid that spectacle. We’ll be laughing and eating, and I’ll be giving a reading. I hope to see you there.
Monday, February 4th, 12 to 2
Whole Foods on Fairfax
6350 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Here, I’ll be giving a talk about gluten-free living, a love affair with food, and how to eat well (even during winter). Books will be for sale, and I’ll be signing them. There will be fresh chocolate banana bread for everyone who makes it. Stop by during your lunch hour and be part of the community.
I hope to meet so many of you this weekend that my face will hurt from smiling.
* The Chef, god bless him, continues to be inspired by food, in spite of the dearth of fresh produce in the winter. On Valentine’s Day, he’s serving a special menu, one he worked on for weeks. He wanted to make it celebratory and seasonal at the same time.
And of course, everything will be gluten-free.
Valentine’s Day Menu 2008
hazelnuts, blue cheese, & raspberry vinaigrette
salmon roe caviar
Seared Foie Gras
toast points, blood oranges, & Port wine
saffron & endive
Pan-Roasted Beef Medallions
mashed celeriac, fried oysters & baby carrots
Pan-Seared Colorado Lamb Chops
baby artichokes, white beans, & warmed olives
winter root vegetable risotto, roasted potatoes, & creamed spinach
Pan-Seared Prosciutto-Wrapped Sea Scallops
Napa cabbage, heirloom navel oranges, & wild rice
Blood Orange Cake
with Chantilly cream
with Grand Marnier
Ice cream or sorbet
If you live in Seattle, and you want to come in, I’d make a reservation right away. (206.860.1569)
* I find this hard to believe, but ostensibly Martha Stewart is letting the people decide what her next big project should be. Several of her top enployees pitched ideas, and she couldn’t decide. So it’s open to the public fray.
One of the top seven ideas is a magazine for people with food allergies. This would, of course, be the most mainstream, consistent coverage seen so far of those of us who have to avoid certain foods. (And clearly, we are gaining strength.) I wouldn’t have thought I would suggest that people visit Martha Stewart’s blog, but if you go and vote, perhaps we can beat out the other top contender: a magazine devoted to crafts for your pet.
Please, people. Go vote by clicking here.
Gluten-Free Lemon Tart with Bittersweet Chocolate, adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
One of the ways the Chef and I both are inspired most wildly is by eating at other great restaurants. We can’t do this often enough because of the budget — he’s a chef; I’m a freelance writer. But when we go to Crush, or one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants, or Tilth, we come home bursting with ideas.
A year and a half ago, when we were in Los Angeles, the Chef and I took Sharon to Lucques for her birthday. We’re still talking about that meal, this many months later. The seasonal food, exquisitely prepared, danced on our tongues and made us laugh with joy. (And we especially love that when the waiter brought Sharon the surprise birthday cake we had whispered as a suggestion, it came topped with a trick candle that refused to blow out!)
We’re both equally inspired by the Lucques cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. As elegantly as the food is presented at the restaurant, these meals could easily be made at home. This is food from the hearth, from the heart. And since this is very much the way that the Chef cooks too, we both turn to this book for hits of inspiration.
A couple of months ago, I spotted a recipe for Meyer lemon tart with a layer of chocolate. “Ooh,” I turned to the Chef. “Can we make this?”
He did. He changed it a bit, used a gluten-free tart dough, and served it at the restaurant this month as one of the desserts. People just gobbled it up.
One note about the tart dough. Lately, my favorite combination of gluten-free flours has been equal parts of:
In fact, I’m using this combination for nearly everything I’m making. And it’s working. So try this dough recipe, but substitute that flour combination. See if you like it.
1 tart dough, pre-baked at 375° for about 30 minutes
1 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cup baker’s sugar
1 cup lemon juice (you could also use a mixed citrus juice to make this a citrus curd)
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Melting the chocolate. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat. (You can use a double boiler, if you have one, or a stainless steel bowl over a pot of boiling water.) When the chocolate has melted, pour it on the bottom of the crust and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula. Chill the dough in the refrigerator until the chocolate has solidified.
Making the curd. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice together in a large saucepan, on medium heat. Be sure to stir continuously. (Suzanne Goin suggests starting with a whisk and finishing with a rubber spatula, for a smooth curd.) The curd is done when you can run your finger through the thick curd on the back of the spatula, and it parts like Moses just parted the Red Sea.
Finishing the curd. Remove the curd from the heat. Add the butter to the curd, bit by bit, and stir to make it all smooth. Pinch in the salt and you’re done.
Finishing the tart. Allow the curd to cool completely. Pour it into the tart shell. Chill the tart in the refrigerator, ideally overnight.
Serve to the delight of many.