There have been plenty of reasons to celebrate around here.
It’s the first of May, and the world seems to have awoken. This afternoon, pulling into our driveway, I saw a few purple buds of wisteria draped over the patio trellis. Right now, a single bird is chirping out its rhythmic call, a little warble after all those regular beats. In the mornings, the sun comes in our windows earlier than I remembered. The magnolia tree in the front yard is dropping its pale pink petals onto green grass.
May, it seems, is when spring truly begins this year.
The end of April wasn’t bad, however. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the first day I started eating gluten-free. Three years ago yesterday, I finally had my blood drawn for the celiac panel. After months of struggling with recalcitrant doctors who speculated that I had ovarian cancer, but never asked me about the food I ate, I found someone who listened. Anemic and withered with little energy, I still found the presence of mind to fight for myself. After the blood draw, I drove to the grocery store, bought fresh produce and meats, rice and cheese. The next day, I sautéed a small pile of spinach. The green gleamed off the white saucer, and I had to take a photograph — it was that beautiful. How would I know I’d be taking photographs of food for the next three years? By the time the blood results came back, ten days later, I already knew my fate. And I embraced it.
In the last three years, I have never deliberately eaten anything with gluten. There have been a few accidents, places I never suspected. They have all taught me. But it has never occurred to me to reach for a croissant, or grab a bagel on the run. Why would I make myself sick? Instead, my life has bloomed open since I stopped eating gluten, and I started saying yes. Everything has changed, and for the better. I am constantly in amazement. And I am so grateful.
So April 30th always feels like my second birthday. That’s what finding out I have celiac sprue and going gluten-free has meant for me: I was reborn.
And April 26th will always be our anniversary.
Two years ago this week, I met the Chef. A cup of coffee in the late morning, a slap on the arm, a friendly conversation about food and family, and a hug that felt like enveloping love — that’s all it took to start this life we have been laughing through together for two entire years. Can it really be that little time? So much has happened between us. What I have been able to write here has been like the fingernail-crescent light of the moon, early in its cycle. So much lies behind these words.
I adore him. But you know that already. More, he is my closest friend, my true companion, and the one who makes me laugh so hard I nearly stop breathing. Intertwined, our lives have grown into something we never expected. I could write for an entire day and never place the words on the page in the right formation to say it. We are a team. With him, I feel safe in the world.
And for us, the biggest celebration is nearly three months away now: Little Bean will be born into the world.
Talk about having no words.
And so, even though I was momentarily overwhelmed last week, by exhaustion and pregnancy hormones, I quickly remembered how blessed I am. And how much living there is to do.
And now, how much writing.
We have this good news to share, but we have been a little silent for awhile. We are both so humbled and honored that we decided to sit on this momentous news, our hands in our laps, instead of waving them wildly in the air. Really, we still can’t believe it. And we were more than happy to do the work, and dive into the process, and make announcements later. But official publications have mentioned the news, and some of you have been asking pointed questions. It feels like time to tell.
The Chef and I? We just signed a two-book book deal with Wiley, the publishers of my first book.
DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will come first. DANCING is a cookbook, a lavish beautiful cookbook, with 100 recipes, all of them gluten-free. But it’s more than a book with headnotes, recipes, and photographs. This is the story of love and food, and how they intersect. Blessedly for some of you, our personal story will only be a part of the book. (You know the gist of it if you read this site anyway.) Instead, the story I want to tell is what life is like if you dance in the kitchen as a chef.
Chefs work hard. They have scars and burns on their hands. They are frequently exhausted. They are working-class heroes, with jobs entailing searing foie gras and mopping the floors, all in one shift. They aren’t paid well, certainly not well enough to eat the meals their companions make in other high-end restaurants. Chefs are a band of brothers (men and women both) who have a work ethic, and a code of ethics, most people never have to approach. Most of us eat in restaurants as a means of escape. But for chefs (as well as servers and dishwashers), the restaurant is not theater. The restaurant is home, a grungy labor-of-love home, never completed, always capable of more. Chefs love food. Chefs are artists. But they’re not the people you see on television, in clean white coats and a cocky grin. Chefs are far more complex than that.
And my Chef? He is one of hundreds of thousands in this country, all across the world. But his story is the one I have been watching, and the story I want to share.
So DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will be a cookbook with narrative, pithy essays about feeding each other, shopping at farmer’s markets, and waking up early to make it to the seafood purveyor for the freshest fish. It will be a book about food, and how it can inspire us to live more awake some days. It will be a book about what inspires us, and how we eat late at night, after the last of the shift has finished. It will be funny (oh goodness, that’s the intention), sometimes moving, and also practical.
For every four or five recipes, there will be a chef technique, tricks of the trade that chefs know but us home cooks don’t. When you chop an onion five hundred times, you know how to do it, precisely. When do you salt food? How do you create a fish special? What’s the trick to cooking gluten-free pasta so it doesn’t fall apart? The Chef will attempt to share (with photographs and my words) the most fundamental techniques of cooking food well, so you can feel more comfortable in the kitchen.
And it will all be gluten-free. But gluten-free won’t be the first focus of the book. Food will.
When we had known each other for about four months, I looked up from typing the latest menu for the first of the month. Astonished, I said to him, “Sweetie, I can eat everything on this menu.”
“I know,” he said.
“Well, that’s fantastic, but how did that happen?”
He looked at me kindly, and said, quite plainly, “I just realized that if I make something with gluten in it, I can’t share it with you. And so, I’m just not going to cook with gluten again.”
(I married him.)
At the Chef’s restaurant (and in the rest of our lives), the first focus is on great food. Meals that ring out with seasonal ingredients and flavors that are clear, not competing. This is food that tastes like itself. That it is all gluten-free is fantastic. But neither one of us has been interested in eating food just because it’s gluten-free. It has to be good. Sometimes, that’s a pan-roasted rib-eye chop with potatoes gratin, broccoli, & white cheddar. Sometimes, it’s a plate of nachos at midnight, shared in bed while watching South Park. But we want every bite to be memorable.
That’s what DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will be. (Hopefully.)
Every recipe in the book will be new, never published on this site. Nearly every essay will be too. (There might be a couple of passages that feel familiar, but no more.) There will be recipes for curried red-lentil puree with cucumber and lemon-yogurt dip, tagliatelle with duck confit, sun-dried tomatoes, and a cabernet sauce, seared lamb chops, and a blue cheese cheesecake with a fig crust. All with enticing photographs to make you hungry.
We are writing this book together, and we love creating it, side by side. The recipes are all his. But without me, he would never be able to put them down on paper in a way that makes sense to those of us who aren’t chefs. We want food to feel accessible. We want everyone to eat well. And we love writing recipes, and stories, and talking about food. We’d like to share that with you.
The manuscript for this book is due at the end of the year. December 31st, 2008. Those of you paying attention may remember that we’re having a baby in the middle of the process. How are we going to do that? We’ll find out.
But with our love of food and writing, and for each other, and both of us with powerful work ethics, I think we’ll be okay.
DANCING IN THE KITCHEN will be published in the early spring of 2010. (Perhaps even on Valentine’s Day.)
And after that?
As early as my 8th week of pregnancy, I knew I wanted to write about it. My relationship with food changed dramatically, seemingly overnight. And I don’t just mean the fact that I spent three months being nauseous, all day long. Instead, I felt for the first time that food was immediate and visceral. My body knows what I want to eat, right now. When I don’t eat — letting the day run faster than my chance to sit down and savor — Little Bean is the one who suffers. Every bite of food I eats helps to grow a human being. How is that possible?
FEEDING US will be a funny, touching community memoir. My essays will be the backbone of the book, but throughout will be a plethora of quotes and stories from other pregnant women, doctors, nutritionists, doulas, mamas, papas-to-be, etc. I’m amazed by how most pregnancy books leave the father out, other than a small section devoted to the dad, and how to calm his oafish nerves. The Chef will be throughout the story. This is a team effort.
Most pregnancy cookbooks, and standard lists given out by doctor’s offices, list foods forbidden to the pregnant woman. This book will explore the science behind those guidelines, and why most of them are worth questioning. (We have a team of doctors standing by.) Instead of avoiding certain foods, perhaps we can learn more about our food, where it comes from, and the people who make it for us. Most pregnancy books seem to suggest that the pregnant woman will suddenly develop a fondness for pastels and eat only pickles. But what if you love beef tenderloin done rare, arugula salads with caramelized pears, and warmed Luques olives with lemon zest and garlic before you decide to bring a baby into the world? What if you decide that, after a lifetime of eating junk food on the run, this time is the chance to finally learn how to eat well? Is it possible to be pregnant, aware that every bite helps to develop a baby, and still eat with relish and joy?
So of course, FEEDING US will be about food. But really, it will be about so much more.
FEEDING US will be not only filled with tips on what to eat and how to approach food, but also recipes for easy-to-make, healthy, appealing food. We will give guidelines for how to make your own baby food. How to cook together even when your stomach is so big you can barely reach the stove! FEEDING US will be funny, informative, and welcoming. And of course, the book will be entirely gluten-free, with certain essays dedicated to the joys of negotiating morning sickness with restricted foods. And how do you know if your baby can tolerate gluten? (Or another food to which you are allergic?)
And as is true for the cookbook, all the material in FEEDING US will be new. No repeated recipes or essays from this site. This one will be published in 2011. (And for those of you might ask, it is slightly terrifying to be working on a book for which I haven’t lived the ending yet. But exhilarating too.)
As you can see, we have our work cut out for us. And we are grateful and singing.
Reasons for celebrating around here? You bet.
LEMON-POPPYSEED CAKE, adapted from a recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Celebrations sometimes require cakes. When you’re gluten-free, you might think your options are limited to boxed mixes that don’t taste that good. Not true.
The Chef is unafraid to play with gluten-free cakes. He had so much baking experience before he encountered gluten-free flours that he throws his hands into the work, fearlessly. Last month at the restaurant, he served a lemon poppyseed cake, to much approval. The last week of the month, he switched to this recipe based on one by the amazing woman who created The Cake Bible. What’s not to trust?
The esteemed Ms. Beranbaum suggested that this cake be made with a loaf pan (to be precise, a 8-inch by 4-inch by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan). I’m sure she’s right, because the tight squeeze of the loaf pan would encourage this pound cake to rise higher. I used a round cake pan, because I baked it at the restaurant, and that’s all the Chef had. As you can see, it’s quite lovely, but also quite flat. No harm in that. Better for toasting the next day.
The cake itself is only faintly lemony, a little tingle at the back of the throat. If you wanted the cake to simply dazzle with lemon, add more zest and a bit of juice to the mix. We covered this cake with a tart lemon syrup (you can see the proportions for that here, in the original recipe), and it added a slithering puckery bite to the cake, which I quite liked. You could also try creme fraiche, whipped cream, or a fresh berry sauce.
You decide what best suits your celebration.
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
13 tablespoons softened butter.
Preheating and preparing. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while mixing the batter. Butter the bottom of your cake pan and put down parchment paper to keep the bottom of the cake from sticking.
Mixing the liquids. Whisk the cream, eggs, and vanilla together, briskly. Set aside.
Blending the dry ingredients. Put all the dry ingredients into a Kitchen-Aid (or a bowl waiting for a hand mixer), including the lemon zest and poppy seeds. Make sure you blend them well.
Making the batter. Add the softened butter and half the cream-egg mixture to the dry ingredients. Let them blend together well for at least one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add one-half of the remaining mixture and blend. Scrape. Add the rest of the cream-egg mixture. Turn off the Kitchen-Aid.
Baking the cake. Slowly pour the cake batter into the cake pan. Smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Slide the cake pan into the oven. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, depending on your oven. You’ll know the cake is done when a toothpick (or butter knife) comes out clean.
Feeds 10. (if they take dainty pieces)