Mostly, these past few weeks, I’ve been sitting here, typing. Breathing. Then moving to the kitchen to cook. Cleaning. And typing again.
Thank goodness for Lucy. She keeps me grounded. When she’s around, I can’t think about the cookbook. I push her in the swing at the playground and listen to her giggle. “Faster, Mama!” she says, and then she throws her head back and laughs as the wind moves through her hair. Without those hours of being with her — and yes, playing Candyland again — I think I might go mad with all this work.
Last night, she stood on our kitchen counter, ready to look into the blender to see if the miso-ginger dressing was done. She looked up at me and smiled and said, “I’m cooking with my Mommy!”
And I remembered again why I’m doing all this work.
Still, there’s something singular about the time of finishing a cookbook. Everything is moving toward one goal.
(Well, I wish. My energies are also going to filling out paperwork for the adoption and purging the house and packing for our move soon. Really, this is a pretty crazy time.)
And in that one-pointedness, I have no time to waste. Not going anywhere much, I have more stillness. And I can feel what is tugging me more than ever.
Here’s some of what I have fallen in love with lately.
– Collard greens. I swear, I don’t know how I lived without these. Before this year, I had never eaten a collard green. I thought they had to be boiled to within an inch of their lives, with the slimy texture to prove it, before they could be eaten. While I’ve always been intrigued by the phrase “pot likker,” I’ve never liked the look of collard greens prepared in the traditional fashion. But around here, we get Northern collard greens, which are more tender than their Southern counterparts. When I slice them off the stem, then make ribbons of them with my white-handled knife, they are my favorite ingredient of the moment. A hot pan, some olive oil, a mound of collard greens, some apple cider vinegar, a few chile flakes and salt. Shake that pan. This, with a fried egg on top, is all I need for breakfast.
– My Polaroid Land Camera 110a. I found this on the island. A local photographer was selling his older cameras and I drove as fast as I could to buy this one. It’s an ancient thing, nothing sleek or technological. The lens moves back and forth on giant bellows, like I’m quietly fanning flames to make a train run instead of taking a photograph. I must admit that I was scared of it at first — the lens is so good, the camera so different than the quick and fast digital — but now I have moved past my fear. Luckily, Fuji now makes instant film that fits this camera. (Thanks, Molly, for letting me know.) I’m taking a lot of bad shots, learning. Once in awhile, however, this low-light shot comes out that actually makes me gasp when I see it emerge from behind the black paper.
– All this sunlight. People, we have luxuriated in six straight days of sunlight here in the Seattle area. Sun! On our faces! The other day, Danny, Lu, and I sat on the front porch of the coffee roasterie here on the island, drinking coffee and hot chocolate, nowhere to go for at least an hour. We watched people go in and out of the old screen door. One man clutched a mug the shape of a young woman’s graceful face. Neighbors greeted each other with grins. We listened for a few minutes to our Congressman speak near the rows of herbal teas. (We would have listened more but three-year-olds don’t have much time for Congressmen.) We talked. We sat in silence. Danny lifted Lucy high in the air, over and over, until his back could stand no more. All against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. I could feel warmth on my neck.
Sure, it’s going to go back to raining soon. We’ll have another two months of winter. But this week, the sun has felt like a gift. I’ve accepted it.
– Eggs. As some of you have mentioned — and been asking me about — I’ve been eating eggs again. To my great joy, I found that I am not allergic to them at all.
When I took an ELISA test this summer, it registered that I was highly allergic to eggs and almonds. I was pretty devastated. Damn, I love eggs. But I was also confused. Eggs always make me feel good. You know how your body knows that certain foods don’t do you much good, but you eat them anyway? Like Halloween candy or too many pancakes. Eggs were never like that for me. When I ate eggs, I felt clean. Healthy. Energized. So when this test came back with a high allergic reaction to eggs, I was shocked. But, I paid attention.
I went without eggs for a few weeks, dutifully. And I had some reactions that I thought must have been to eggs. For the three weeks I didn’t eat eggs, I started to feel better. A little lighter. The occasional mild headache gone. Some bloating and other loveliness seeming to disappear. Energy higher. I almost relegated myself to a life without eggs.
Notice the word almost. Something just didn’t feel right. I just couldn’t believe it would be eggs. So I had a long conversation with my regular doctor, in Seattle. He’s such a wise and lovely person that sometimes you just want to book an appointment with him to sit in the lamplight of his wisdom. He told me that true allergic reactions — as opposed to food intolerances or sensitivities — have only a few very specific symptoms. That he has had a number of patients and family members come to him with results from those tests and none of them turned out to be allergic to those foods. That he has never seen that test register an absence of allergic reactions to foods. That it’s almost impossible to do a scientific study on yourself, gauging your reaction to a food by how you feel that day. My symptoms that made me suspect another food was bothering me? Mild headaches. Some troubles sleeping. Digestive issues. Lower energy. I was never that sick. Just off by 5%.
The celiac has me so sensitized to food issues that it never occurred to me it could be something else.
So we started to talk about it. What had been happening when I ate the aioli and seemed to have a reaction: a bad headache and some wheezy breathing? Well, we had been traveling all summer. When we weren’t on an airplane or in a hotel, we were at home madly preparing for the photoshoot for our cookbook. This happened the night before we began, after a long day of preparation and no sleep the night before. I had a headache after eating? Yes. I hadn’t eaten all day. I believe now I started having some wheezy breathing because I ate aioli and suddenly remembered, “Oh damn! I’m not supposed to be eating eggs!” Small panic.
And had anything changed those days after we returned from all the traveling and photo shoots? The weeks I felt suddenly better? Well, I was in my own bed again. I was sleeping. I was eating better than I do on the road. I was taking long walks every day again. I was at peace. Hm. That could certainly have a lot to do with why I felt better.
Then, I realized. With all the tumult and travel, I had forgotten to renew my prescription for Tamoxifen. This drug, which blocks estrogen production, seemed to be treating me just fine. I didn’t think I was having any side effects. After that conversation, I realized I had been. I know them now.
Also, I’m 45. I’m getting old.
After I hung up the phone, I drove right to the restaurant where Danny is a chef. I sat at the counter and said, “Make me a poached egg.” (I also knew the fire station was down the street if anything happened.) Damn, that egg tasted good.
I’ve been fine ever since.
I learned a lot in that time without eggs. I’m trying to put some of it into our cookbook. But I can eat eggs again. And that makes me happier than this sudden sunlight.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have more recipes to write.
p.s. Oh, one more. Downton Abbey. Oh yes.
COLLARD GREENS AND TOMATO CLAFOUTIS, adapted from La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life
Something else I’ve been loving lately is Bea’s new book, La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. If you have ever seen the website La Tartine Gourmande, you know that Bea makes beautiful food and even more beautiful photographs. You might not have known, however, that almost everything she makes is gluten-free. This is a gloriously sunny day of a cookbook, filled with inventive flavor combinations and an impeccable French sensibility. Just flipping through it the first time inspired me.
And when I read and looked, I noticed Bea had a recipe for a savory clafoutis. Savory clafoutis? I’ve only ever heard of light-as-air clafoutis, with ripe summer fruits, dusted with sugar. Savory? Well, let me tell you, that Bea knows what she is doing. I took her recipe as a template and threw in my new-found favorite: collard greens. Danny and I ate this for dinner, happily. He didn’t miss the meat.
(As I said, I’m still learning that camera. This shot’s a little out of focus. Don’t let that stop you from making this dish or buying Bea’s book.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons fine-chopped fresh thyme
1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes (we like the Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ bunch collard greens, cut into ribbons
40 grams gluten-free AP flour mix
1/2 cup whole milk (you can sub in a dairy-free milk here)
3/4 cup cashew cream
1/4 cup water
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
90 grams grated Parmesan
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. Grease a 10-inch baking dish with your favorite oil and set aside.
Cooking the onions and tomatoes. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it is hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened but not begun to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the thyme and cook until the fragrance of the herb releases into the room, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes have begun to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook until everything has combined and the tomatoes are really softening, about 3 minutes.
Transfer this mixture to a plate.
Cooking the collard greens. In the same skillet, add the remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot to the point of almost smoking, throw in the collard greens. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens have turned bright green and begun to wilt, just a bit, about 3 minutes.
Put the collard greens on the bottom of the baking dish. Top with the onion-tomato mixture. Spread it out evenly in the dish.
Making the batter. In a blender combine the gluten-free flour, milk, cashew cream, water, eggs, and the salt until they are silky smooth.
Pour the egg batter over the vegetables. Top with the Parmesan.
Bake the clafoutis until the eggs are set and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.