Lu grabbed the bulb and ran to the porch shouting, “Fennel! Fennel!”
I laughed as I walked behind her, remembering how many bowls of fennel salad I ate when I was pregnant with her. By the middle of the afternoon, as I moved from my first trimester into my second, I stood in the kitchen slicing fennel bulb on the mandoline. I grabbed the pile of white slices and combined them with good olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, a bit of champagne vinegar, and a sprinkling of the fronds. On the couch that felt like release as I sank into it, I ate fennel salad and waited for spring to arrive.
It’s fascinating to see how many foods Lu loves that I ate when I was pregnant: fennel, chard, pasta and cheese, yogurt, breakfast sausage, quinoa, carrots, everything green, cheese, popcorn, ice cream. (She doesn’t tolerate cow’s milk well, however, so she’s only ever had sorbet and coconut milk dessert. She doesn’t know. She loves to shout “Ice cream!” in glee.) I must have passed on some of these enthusiasms to her.
She’s also not afraid of new tastes. The other day, while in the middle of her favorite game — “I play in the refrigerator!” — she had condiments down from the door and arranged on the floor. She knows the names of them all. Like every kid, she loves ketchup. She also likes to talk about siracha and hot sauce. Without warning, she took off the lid of the Worcestershire bottle, tilted it toward her mouth, and took a sip. Danny and I both watched to see what she would do, not saying anything.
“Yum!” she said. “That tastes good.”
While I was pregnant, I ate everything I loved. This meant I enjoyed many Ethiopian, Thai, Mexican, and Indian meals, complete with fiery spices. Lu doesn’t crave heat but she isn’t afraid of it either.
We are lucky. So far, she shares our joy about food.
* * *
Sometimes people ask me, “Has your life changed since you had a child?” I don’t know how to answer that question. Yes. But that’s not even accurate. It’s not that our lives have changed. It’s that we have entirely different lives. Something tilted and we fell into this life of sleep-deprived laughter, the temporary frustration of trying to convince a toddler to walk faster when we have a boat to catch, and flashes of the most enormous love that Danny or I have ever felt. It’s a little like being in a pinball machine sometimes. I never knew I could survive this long without solid nights of sleep. I also never knew I could feel this much joy just sitting on the couch reading books called Ladybug Girl and Rolie Polie Olie.
The more pertinent question comes out too. “Has your food changed since she was born?”
Yes. Oh yes.
When Danny and I opened the first copy of our cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, we both grew teary and hugged each other. All that work. All those years of recipe developing and testing. Here in our hands. We are still so happy with that book.
However, after flipping through it for about 15 minutes, we looked at each other. “That’s funny. We don’t cook like this anymore.”
We wrote that cookbook to show gluten-free folks everywhere: you can eat a thousand great dishes without gluten. Gluten schmuten. How about duck confit? Or blue cheese cheesecake with a fig crust? Looking back, we realize that the cookbook was clearly intended for food lovers who like to spend long evenings cooking and trying new ideas. That was us the first few years we knew each other. We reveled in food and wanted to share every joyful discovery together.
Now? We all have breakfast together, right after Sesame Street, a few hours earlier than we used to eat. Lu and I share lunch after she wakes up from her nap, simple snacks packed with nutrient-rich vegetables and proteins. She and I have dinner at Danny’s restaurant a couple of days a week, at the counter, watching him cook, sharing roasted vegetables and seared salmon. She loves the french fries too. However, the other days of the week she and I make dinner together. Mostly, she wants “Pasta cheese!” After she fights sleep then finally relents, I work and work until nearly 10. Most nights I look up at the clock and think, “Oh crap! I haven’t started dinner yet. Danny’s on his way home.”
It’s quite different than the years we wrote about in our first cookbook.
I like the sound of that. First cookbook.
Danny and I have been wanting to share this with you since November. Now that contracts are signed and this was announced in a publishers’ magazine, we can finally tell you.
We are writing a new cookbook. It will be called GLUTEN-FREE GIRL EVERYDAY and it comes out the winter of 2012 (possibly the spring of 2013).
We think of this as the companion volume to our first cookbook. In that book, we tried to entice you to make fresh pasta by hand, braise pork belly and wrap it in bacon before roasting, and reduce carrot juice to a flavorful dribble for an incredible carrot cake. We’re still making food from this book and we always will.
However, we’re excited to write a cookbook about how we eat now.
Living on a rural island with a toddler means we’re not out late at night in restaurants, inspired by ingredients we have never seen. Instead, we eat fruits and vegetables in season from our favorite farmstand. However, sometimes Lu demands grapes and we buy the organic ones from Mexico, out of season, to keep her happy. We need a nourishing dinner on the table for her. We want to share how we do that, with new dishes every day, in a kitchen without a microwave and no gluten.
Rather than a collection of recipes gathered around the stories of our lives, this next cookbook will be a series of strategies we have learned for how to cook satisfying food that is good for our bodies. We have a team of friends and family helping us test recipes, folks who love food but have picky eaters or too little time on their hands when they return home from work to make an elaborate meal. They’re going to keep us on our toes. If our friend Quinn says again that a recipe made him feel “.…more anxious than going to bomb school. And I went to bomb school!” then it’s not going in the book.
The cookbook will be filled with main course recipes — more than 100 ways to make dinner — filled with interesting ingredients and simple preparations that make you want to move into the kitchen and start cooking. We’ll show you how we have learned to set up a pantry filled with accessible ingredients and cook from that instead of idly going to the grocery store every morning. We will share some of the tricks that Danny knows as a chef for how to run a kitchen more efficiently.
The recipes will be based in solid basic technique with the chef’s twist to make that meal more memorable. We will offer suggestions for a few simple kitchen projects you can do on the weekend to make cooking during the week easier and more delicious. We will be playing with the pressure cooker and rice cooker and freezing everything we can.
Quite a few of the recipes will be vegetarian. Almost all of them will be milk and cream free, since Danny and Lu can’t eat either. And there will be bread recipes scattered throughout — pita bread; naan; flaky biscuits — that will make those meals even more satisfying.
We want this book to be practical. We hope it will encourage you to move into the kitchen with your daughters and sons to make dinner together. We hope it will be open in your kitchen every day.
We are so excited to be creating a cookbook together again.
If Lucy has any say in this — and you know she does — somewhere in there will be some fennel.
p.s. We will give you updates on the new book here every few months. We will be posting photos of tested recipes and ideas that arise on Twitter and Facebook as we go. We would love to hear about the kind of book you would like to read.
Braising is not just for meats, you know. The low heat and slow simmer method turns crunchy vegetables into something more pliable and yielding. This is such a lovely late-winter-oh-but-it’s-spring-but-it-doesn’t-feel-like-it-yet dish. The warmth of a braised dish, so necessary in the cold months, meets the tiny high note of anise in fennel. It suggests those warm days coming, at least to me.
This dish only requires five ingredients, six (or seven) if you count salt and pepper. Good food certainly doesn’t have to be complicated. The addition of the fennel seeds (we like the ones we received from McCormick Gourmet) to the braise and the fine-chopped fennel fronds just before serving give this dish layers of taste you wouldn’t believe possible with this little fuss.
And if you want to use boxed stock instead of fresh-made, go right ahead. We like Pacific Foods or Kitchen Basics brands when we are out of homemade stock, especially because they state they are gluten-free.
2 large fennel bulbs
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
Preparing the fennel. Cut the stalks from the fennel bulb and discard them. Chop some of the fennel fronds fine and set aside about 2 teaspoons of it. (Discard the rest or save it for a later salad.) Cut the remaining root from the bottom of the fennel. Quarter the bulbs.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Pull out a 9 x 12 baking dish.
Browning the fennel. Set a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil. Put half the fennel bulb quarters into the hot oil. Brown the bottom of the fennel, about 2 to 3 minutes. Brown all sides of the fennel the same way. Put the browned fennel into the baking dish. Repeat with the rest of the fennel.
Preparing to braise. Season the browned fennel with salt and pepper. How much is up to you and your taste, but we use a healthy pinch of each here. Pour the stock into the baking dish. You will not have enough stock to cover the fennel bulbs. It will come only partway up the bulbs. Sprinkle the thyme and fennel seeds over the top of the fennel.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Slide the dish into the oven and cook the fennel until it has a bit of bite remaining but a knife goes easily through it, about 30 minutes.
Plate up the braised fennel and sprinkle it with the chopped fennel fronds. (We didn’t do that in this photograph.)