I have to admit — sometimes it’s awfully fun having a chef around the house.
Now, before you start worrying that the word “sometimes” means that we aren’t enjoying each other’s company constantly, let me allay your fears. It’s always lovely to have my husband around the house. I have yet to experience a moment with him in which I wish he were in another room. We are always laughing. Just this morning, I said something so ridiculously silly to him that he threw his head back on the couch and started wheezing into this silent laugh he has, his eyes closed, his head shaking the couch cushions, the newspaper in his hand rattling from the spasms that splashed through his body. This lasted for at least two minutes, during which time I nearly spit out my coffee laughing at his laughter. Little Bean started dancing in my belly soon after, and I’m sure LB was saying, “Hey, let me out! That sounds like a good time.”
Simply, by “sometimes” I mean that he’s not always the Chef around the house. I call him that here, because I did at first, and it just stuck. When I first started dating him, I didn’t want to say his name to my friends until I thought he might be a more permanent presence in my life. (My dear friend Sharon has started dating someone with interesting possibilities, but I only refer to him as “the boy” with her, so far.) By the time he had become the love of my life, I wanted to hide him from the internet for awhile. And when we announced, together, his presence in my gluten-free home, we decided, together, to call him the Chef. It was a bit of a play, the thinnest gauze curtain of privacy, and a moniker that pleased him no end. After all this time, it fits him. When I walk into the restaurant in the afternoon, his coffee in my hand, I call out to the kitchen, “Hey Chef!” He always comes around the corner grinning.
But at home, he is, much of the time, not a chef. He’s a husband, in love with his wife, talking to his child through her belly. He’s a doting son, tearing up as he talks with his parents on the phone. He’s a sleepy fellow, yawning as he rises, scratching his stomach, and stretching into the living room to say hello. He’s a goofball, strange noises emitting from his lips in perfectly timed moments. He’s the morning dispenser of food to the rooster and hen who hang out beneath our bedroom window. He’s a tender lovely man, who takes photographs of the pink azaleas blooming on the bush outside our living room window and sends them to my phone throughout the day to remind me, “Hey, it’s spring!”
And in the morning, he’s a hungry man, saying, “What’s for breakfast?”
You see, even though I live with this loving, tender goofball of a man, it’s not all days of fabulous meals he whips up in the kitchen while I lie on the couch, waiting to be fed. Every once in a while, I receive an email from someone, slightly irate that I make living gluten-free sound so positive. “Yeah, if we could all have a chef around the house, I’m sure life would be fine.” But you see, the irony is, I’m the one doing most of the cooking. And I love it that way.
The first three months of our relationship, he cooked nearly every meal. After a long day of cooking in his kitchen, ten hours on his feet, he came up the stairs of my house and started cooking again. When I weakly protested — not that much — that he must have been tired, and he really didn’t need to, he turned to me as he flipped something in the skillet and said: “This isn’t work. I’m cooking for the woman I love.”
But after three or four months, he would start calling me from the restaurant during a break in dinner service, and say, “Hey, what’s for dinner?”
Some might say the magic had died. I just know he had relaxed and stopped trying to impress me. We were living together and loving each other. And how was it fair that he prepared all the food? How was it fair to me?
I had missed cooking. For the first year I was gluten-free (well-documented on this site), I created something new at the stove every night. Fearless, I tossed ingredients into a pan, broiled or sautéed them, concocted recipes, and danced with my food. When the Chef and I started dancing in our kitchen, I let him take over. After a time, I thought, “No, thank you.” I let go of my intimidation of cooking for him, cranked up the music loud, and started back into that sweet spot of making up dishes and working on old recipes.
So the irony is — the Chef may be in the house, but I’m the chef at home. Our food at home is far simpler than at his restaurant, but we both prefer it that way. (If I had gone too much longer eating rich sauces, buttery mashed potatoes, and beautiful hunks of meat every night, I might have exploded anyway.) A few weeks ago, I had a terrible craving for macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. So that’s what we had for dinner. He loved it.
Still, there are days when he becomes the Chef at home again. The first three months of my being pregnant, when I couldn’t handle much from the nausea, he wrassled up breakfast and rounded up food from the restaurant for late at night. When he’s particularly proud of his fish special for the night (like the seafood stew he made yesterday, with a bouillabaisse made of fish stock, Pernod, fennel, and saffron, filled with fresh halibut, clams, mussels, prawns, and Ling cod), he might sneak a little home for me to taste.
And mostly, on our Mondays off together, sometimes he can’t resist making something up on the spot. Away from the restaurant for a day, his hands start to itch to be back in the food, to feed us.
Like this past Monday, when we were preparing to visit our friends Karen and Shawn. Spontaneously, they invited us over. She was making arepas (Venezuelan cornmeal cakes, which I will share with you another time, because they’re a gift for gluten-free folks), spiced black beans, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Of course we said yes. Could we bring anything?
“How about a pint of that Snoqualmie coconut ice cream?” Karen asked me over the phone.
“Oh yeah. I love that stuff,” I exulted.
“Well, I think coconut would go really well with these cookies.”
When I hung up the phone, I looked over at the Chef, and said, “Hey listen, since we’re going to the store anyway, we just need to pick up a pint of ice cream.”
He shook his head, that sly grin on his face. “No, we’re not.”
I should be used to this. I should know that dart in his eyes, the sudden silence, the little glee dancing in there — he had an idea. But I fell for it again. “Why not?”
“We’re making coconut ice cream, instead.”
You see, this is where being a chef makes him handy. He is completely fearless, and he also has the sense memory in his hands of making thousands of meals. Nothing in food scares him. He is only delighted by the challenge of making something from scratch.
This is how we found ourselves in the kitchen, me taking pictures, as he cracked open a hairy coconut to let the juices spill out. (I wouldn’t suggest actually taking a hammer to one. We staged that photo.) Rich cream, thick egg yolks, shreds of fresh coconut meat, and an extra can of coconut milk for taste — they all fell into his hands and tumbled into a saucepan. I went to the other end of the house to finish another task, and when I had come back, the custard was done.
How does he do that?
It turns out that life intruded on our finishing the ice cream on time. When he’s not in the restaurant kitchen, nothing like that fazes him. We simply took the chilled base and the ice cream maker over to Karen and Shawn’s. Since that puppy runs loud, he put it in the bathroom and let it whirl up in there with the door closed.
“No one has ever brought homemade ice cream to my home!” Karen exclaimed.
I grinned. I’m still thrilled.
After a full meal of soulful Venezuelan food, and hilarity over a highly competitive card game, we all roused ourselves for ice cream. Sweet jesus, as the Chef likes to say sometimes. Dense creamy sweetness, with a mild intensity. Real coconut has a dark taste to it, something slightly unexpected. It all mixed and swirled on the spoon and landed on the roof of my mouth, darting there for a moment, then slid away in taunting surprise. Plump coconut macaroons from Paris, sweet coconut baked treats from my favorite bakeries, and the whiff of coconut suntan lotion from my Southern California teen years —- they have nothing on this. Nothing like a cold swirl of a spoon of ice cream made that afternoon by my husband, the Chef.
On these days, I must admit, it’s awfully fun to have a chef in the house.
Why wasn’t this up on Thursday? Those of you who read closely will have noticed that I have switched this site to a fixed schedule: posts on Monday and Thursday, with plenty of room for comments. And yet, this piece did not appear on Thursday. Thank you to those of you who worried at my silence. Little Bean is fine! We just lost our internet for two days, due to the service provider woes. At first, I felt flustered. And then, I realized what a gift this was. Having the chance to disconnect, and simply spend time together, was a blessing for the three of us. But the internets is up and running now. Hello!
Check out Urban Spoon. The lovely men at Urban Spoon really are quite the team. Not only have they created this ever-changing, oh-so-cool city search restaurant guide, but they have also added a feature for gluten-free friendly restaurants in every city they cover. We met many months ago, talked animatedly about babies and food, and laughed all afternoon. They told me yesterday that I inspired this part of their website. So here’s your chance, everyone.
Go to Urban Spoon. Find the city of your choice. Under Special Features in that city, you’ll find a “gluten-free friendly” category. There you’ll find a list of restaurants where readers have eaten safely and received conscious treatment by servers and chefs. You can use that list to make dining choices. But more importantly, add restaurants where you eat. With this, we can create an enormous index of restaurants where everyone can eat well.
In the end, that’s what all this is about: eating well.
COCONUT ICE CREAM WITH FRESH COCONUT
Look, I know how lucky I am to have a chef in the house. But that’s why we post recipes like this one, here. I shouldn’t be the only one sharing this food with him. And his expertise means that these recipes work. (In fact, anything on this site published after May 2006 is much better than the recipes before I met him!)
That serving of ice cream awoke in me the slumbering need for ice cream while I’m pregnant. I’m thinking there’s much more in my future, soon. Since this recipe is adapted from one by David Lebovitz, I have a feeling I’ll be raiding his brilliant book, The Perfect Scoop, all spring and summer, until Little Bean appears.
1/2 fresh coconut, split in half
10 ounces coconut milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half
5 large egg yolks
Strip the cut-open coconut half of its fresh meat. (You can extract it with a small paring knife, but be careful not to cut yourself.) Grate the coconut meat with a cheese grater or microplaner. (Watch out the knuckles!) Set aside.
Pour the coconut milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, sugar, and salt into a medium saucepan. Add the grated coconut meat. Bring this mixture to a small simmer, not a boil. As the mixture is coming to heat, cut a long line down the middle of the vanilla bean, lengthwise. Scrape all the seeds into the creamy mixture, and then throw in the spent pod, as well. Let it all come to a simmer together, and then take it off the heat.
Allow this to steep at room temperature for at least one hour.
Find another medium saucepan in the cupboard and put that in the stove. Fish around for a fine-mesh sieve, next. Pour the steeped liquid through the sieve into the new saucepan. Press down on the coconut and vanilla bean pieces to squeeze out all the flavor you can.
Turn toward the egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together the egg yolks. Pour the warm coconut-cream mixture into the eggs, making sure that you whisk constantly. (This may seem like it requires more pairs of hands than you have, but you can do it.) Push this new mixture into the saucepan.
Turn up the heat again — no higher than medium — and warm the custard, stirring with a rubber spatula. Be sure to stir the bottom as well. When the custard coats the back of the spatula, it is done. Pour the custard through the fine-mesh sieve into the remaining cup of heavy cream. Stir it all up.
Leave the custard out to cool for a few moments, and then place it in the refrigerator. When the custard has completely chilled, turn it into ice cream in your ice cream maker.
Makes 1 pint.