a love letter to her mama

Mary McCartney

You could never have convinced me, when I was 16, that I would one day be writing this piece.

Of course, back then I had memorized the name and spelling of every muscle nerve and tendon in the human body because I fervently wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. Say someone had whispered in my ear, “Someday you’ll be writing for a living, writing about food, on a blog about living life fully without gluten.” I probably would have run in fear. At the very least, I would have said, “What is a blog? And what’s gluten? And hey! I’m a professional writer? How cool.”

Mostly, though, my 16-year-old self would have shook with excitement at the idea that the publisher of a book written by Paul McCartney’s daughter would ask me if I’d like to write about it.

I love Paul McCartney. No, you don’t understand. I have always loved Paul McCartney.

I’m going to refrain from telling you all about the way I wore my father’s first-edition copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band down to the nubbins by playing it on my Fisher Price record player when I was 6. Or the summer I spent most of the hot afternoons in my Southern California home in the den, puffy headphones on, marveling at the harmonies and tempo shifts on Rubber Soul. Or how my dear friend Sharon, who has has been one of my dearest friends since she was 14 and I was 16 (that’s 30 years now, if you are counting), and I bought every one of Paul McCartney’s solo singles the day it came out and listened to about 8 seconds of it before turning to each other and squealing, “Oh my god, I love it. Do you love it?”

Instead, I’ll just tell you that perhaps the best day of my life, before I met my husband and daughter, was in February of 1983. It was the day I met Paul McCartney on Oxford Street in London.

He was one of the kindest people I have ever met. He stopped to talk with me and my family for a real conversation, even laughing at my nervously presented jokes. He and Linda were standing arm in arm, talking with yet another group of people who were too excited to talk in normal voices. How many people did they meet who wanted to share how much the music had changed their lives? And yet, he was entirely there, not eager to brush off the encounter. I will never forget the time he took to talk with me, looking in my eyes. After he left, my cheeks were as red as my plum-colored coat. And I nearly fainted as I hopped down the street to the tube stop.

Paul and Linda McCartney changed my life in more ways than with the music. It was really because of their passionate stand against eating animals that I became a vegetarian when I was 18. Did you know that Paul is a big proponent of Meatless Mondays? There were many reasons I was a vegetarian for 12 years but Paul’s influence was a big part of it.

I’m no longer a vegetarian, for a lot of reasons. But Danny and Lucy and I often have meatless meals around here. In fact, our new cookbook is at least 1/3 vegetarian recipes, through no particular planning. It’s how we eat. We rarely eat big hunks of meat. Instead, we cook a small amount of meat as flavoring, incorporating it as part of a larger dish. And we only eat meat from humane sources we trust.

I could probably be a vegetarian again. I might, someday.

So, even though I was first excited by seeing Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking because it was written by the very talented daughter of Paul McCartney, I forgot that within a few moments of looking through the book.

First of all, it’s called Food. I cannot believe that no one has used that for a cookbook title before. It’s a book about all the homey, comforting ways food plays a role in our lives. There’s no ego in this book, which is pretty amazing. McCartney has a lovely, calm voice, with the headnotes focused on the food. There are charming photographs of her sons squeezing ketchup on hot homemade fries and potatoes just dug from the garden and ripe strawberries in a bowl. McCartney is clearly a good photographer, but she really restrained herself here. She could have styled these in a studio, with as many utensils and fancy glasses available. But it’s clear this is home cooking. These are dishes she made for her family, shot in the moment, and put together with love.

It’s really a love letter to her mother, Linda. “When I was growing up, I spent lots of happy times cooking and chatting with my mother. During those times I soaked up her knowledge, and gained an understanding of how certain extra-simple ingredients or cooking techniques could transform an ordinary dish into something special. Her love of food was infectious, but never precious.”

I can only hope that my daughter talks about our life in the kitchen together this way someday.

Some vegetarian books emphasize unusual ingredients and complicated preparations. Mary McCartney’s Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking is uncomplicated food made with ingredients available at every grocery store, with maybe the occasional trip to a farmers’ market. Cheesy quiche, rhubarb compote, buttered zucchini and cheesy polenta, new potato and asparagus salad with mustard dressing —— this is family food everyone can enjoy.

McCartney’s version of her mother’s lemon drizzle cake jolted me back to the 1970s, when my mother used to also make a lemon drizzle cake, made with a box of jello and powdered sugar-lemon glaze dripping down the sides. I’m determined to make my own version, one my daughter will remember 30 years from now.

So the geeky 16-year-old in me was thrilled to be asked to write about this book. But the mama who loves her daughter, and loves to spend time baking with her in the kitchen, will be keeping this book on her shelves.

yorkshire pudding

GLUTEN-FREE YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS, adapted from Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking

If you’ve never eaten a Yorkshire pudding before, you’re missing out on something entirely its own. It has the puff of a popover, with a crisp crust, and an inside that’s soft, almost creamy. Danny says that bite reminds him of the inside of an eclair. It’s savory, originally meant to accompany a Sunday roast and rich gravy. However, McCartney says that her father enjoyed them hot with honey drizzled on top. I approve of this suggestion, Mr. McCartney.

Here I used three flours, because I wanted to play with specific textures. However, if you have a batch of gluten-free all-purpose flour mix made up, I’m pretty sure these would work with the flour in your kitchen! (I wouldn’t use a flour mix with xanthan gum in it, however, as that will change the texture here.) We used regular milk here but I’m pretty certain it would work with rice milk instead. Without eggs? Oh, I don’t think that would work. You’re welcome to prove me wrong!

55 grams sorghum flour
55 grams potato starch
30 grams cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
280 grams (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
olive oil for oiling the muffin pan

Making the batter. Whisk together the flours and salt. Make a well in the center. Crack in the eggs. Whisk them together, then slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously. Pour the batter into a jug (we used a large measuring cup with a lip) and put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heating the oven. Put a standard-size muffin tin on a baking sheet. Put it in the oven. Turn on the oven to 475°. Let the muffin tin heat up with the oven.

Preparing to bake. When the oven has been fully heated for 15 minutes, carefully pull out the rack on which the baking sheet is sitting. Grease each muffin cup with a generous amount of olive oil. (We used a spray olive oil for expediency’s sake and safety.) Put the tin back in the oven and heat until the oil is smoking, about 5 minutes.

Baking the Yorkshire puddings. Pull the batter out of the refrigerator. Give it another whisk. Open the oven, pull out the rack with the baking sheet, and pour the batter into the muffin cups. You should hear a loud sizzle. If you want 12 puddings, fill the cups halfway. If you want 9 large ones, fill up the cups.

Close the oven door and do not open it for at least 15 minutes. You can turn on the oven light if you are desperately curious but do not open that door. When the tops are fully puffed and dark golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes, take the puddings out of the oven.

Eat them as soon as you can.

Makes 9 to 12 Yorkshire puddings.