I’d like to share a little something from our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, which arrives on store shelves on Monday. (Eep!) This is how the book opens.
WELCOME TO OUR KITCHEN
“Come on in.
We’re making grilled anchovies with avocado and ginger-scallion sauce. See the 5 little kids over there at the table? They’re shaping the sticky rice into little boats. Yep, there’s rice all over the floor. We’ll get that later. Here in the kitchen, Danny and our friends, Tami and Alejandra, are slicing strawberries while I pat the dough for shortcake into a smooth round. Cutting out biscuits is one of my favorite actions. So soothing. We’re laughing and drinking iced tea. Now Lucy is telling Johnny to not play with her toys. Josie and Cisco go outside to unearth the dirt from the pots of herbs. The baby needs feeding. The wailing begins. Hey kids, it’s time to eat!
They pile into the kitchen and I hand them little packages of sticky rice, bits of anchovy, slices of avocado and drips of ginger-scallion sauce. Everyone goes quiet. Each kid wants another one. Raena eats 4. For a few moments, the sun is shining through the window, the kids are happy and chewing, and all is right with the world. Mayhem will ensue again but this moment is still.
This is why I love cooking so much. A good meal can change someone’s day. Cooking is the most deeply creative act with the most practical application.
I came to cooking later in life than I did writing. From the time I could clutch a pen, I started forming words and trying to turn them into sentences that made sense. There were so many poor poems and wretched short stories on the way to essays that weren’t too terrible. It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become quite competent at it. Not a genius — just good. I’ve put in those hours in writing and I’m planning on 10,000 more. And while I love the grateful responses I sometimes get from people who read my books, I love the act of writing even more. It’s hard, slogging work, putting words on the page like laying down bricks and hoping they’re not too lopsided. I love this work.
But cooking? Cooking’s much more fun. Cooking can be deeply contemplative, if you have an empty house, a clean kitchen, and an entire afternoon to make that complex bread recipe. Does that happen often in my life anymore? Not often. Usually, the counters are covered in vegetables we just brought home from the farmers’ market. They all need washing and slicing and putting away. Danny just got an idea to make a soup he hadn’t made since culinary school 20 years ago. And our 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, wants me to play Candyland with her at the same time she’s saying, “But I’m so very hungry, Mama.” Time for food. Now.
Real cooking rarely looks like it belongs in the pages of a glossy food magazine. I discover that I’ve run out of onions — how did we run out of onions? — when I’m about to make a big pot of tortilla soup. Fishing through the spice cupboard for the onion powder I bought for these kinds of emergencies, I’m reminded again that I really should come up with some sort of system for keeping the spices organized. Oh man, I left the skillet on and it’s smoking. Honey, what did you say? You want to watch the Wiggles? Not right now, okay?
Like most people, I dream of a spacious white kitchen with an island made of reclaimed wood, open shelves with matching dishes, and countertops that gleam. But you know what’s wrong with those kitchens? Nobody’s cooking in them. If you cook, you make a mess. You clean it up so you can cook again and make another mess. It’s an endless cycle, one that I’ve learned to complete most days. But I’m willing to admit that there are nights I’m too tired to do the dishes again and leave them for the morning.
I’d rather have dirty dishes than give up cooking.
For me (and my husband and our friends and probably for you who are reading), cooking is a way of connecting with the people I love. Slicing garlic and ginger releases their scents into the air — hours later I can still smell them on my hands. I know I’ve done something good. Taking the time to mix together tamari, rice wine vinegar, dry sherry, and sesame oil, then nestling the pieces of chicken breast I chopped up just before, then letting the bowl sit by the stove for awhile, means that our dinner will be full of big flavors. Sometimes cooking is about waiting. Slicing the Napa cabbage and putting a pile of it on the plate, ready for the hot wok, gives an order to my day. This, at least, I can do.
Mostly, though, cooking is what leads us to the table. Danny and Lucy and I sit at the table, talking, watching the steam rise off our plates of chicken stir-fry. We each say something that has made us grateful for the day. We raise our glasses in the air and clink. (Lucy loves saying CHEERS!) We take a moment to say how happy we are to be there. And then we dive in.
In the end, cooking is about the eating.”
That’s a little about how we cook and eat around here. Lucy’s 4 now, almost 5. (We started writing this book when she was 2. Goodness!) She’s more involved in the cooking now, very invested in making up her own recipes, and a great eater. We’ve worked hard to encourage her to say please and thank you, to ask to be excused from the table, and to take her plate to the kitchen when she’s done with her meal. She does those things, now. She also leaves a trail of food in her wake. Sometimes she has to get up to dance, forgetting her food. There are nights that dinner is a bit of a struggle. And then there are nights that we play the gratitude game (“Tonight I am grateful for…”) and she joins in with gusto. I was particularly happy the night she said: “I am grateful for Hermione Gingold and k.d. lang!”
Nothing’s perfect around here. There are still dishes left to be done before we go to bed, sometimes. It’s easier now that Lucy’s older, and Danny works at home with me. Still, there are nights that it just feels like too much. The only thing that really matters to us is that we’re at the table together, gathered, eating and talking. And sometimes reading Curious George books.
But us? You hear about us here all the time. We want to hear about you.
We’re really proud of our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. It’s a cookbook full of interesting, approachable weeknight dinners. The line we’re using because it feels so right: it’s a cookbook for busy families who still love to cook. However, we really don’t feel comfortable asking people to say how great our cookbook is. We’d love your help with this instead: we want to spark a national conversation about family dinner.
What’s your family dinner really like? Is it calm and filled with gratitude? Or chaos and food on the floor? What’s your definition of family? Do you have fond memories of dinners with your family as a child, or not so much? What do you hope your kids (or partner or friends) will remember about the family dinners you create? Is food a gathering place or a battleground in your house? Do you enjoy the daily ritual or dread it?
A few years ago, I inadvertently sparked a pie-baking day by talking about making pie with some of my friends on Twitter. The Pie Party of 2011 became a worldwide event, with hundreds of people baking pie on the same day and sharing their photos of homemade pie in blog posts and on social media. We’d like this to feel like the pie party: inclusive, narrative, and a great deal of fun.
So, if you want to play along, write a post on your blog on Monday about family dinner in your house. If you would, you could link to our cookbook in your post.
Here are three places people can buy the book online:
Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Gluten-Free-Every-Shauna-James-Ahern/dp/111811521X
Barnes & Noble — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gluten-free-girl-every-day-shauna-james-ahern/1113611802
Indie Bound — http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781118115213
And then let us know about your post by leaving a comment here on this post, or putting a link up to it on Twitter, using the hashtag #familydinner. You could also put up a piece on your Facebook page, either a professional page if you have one, or your own personal page. You could put a link to someone else’s post you like on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Or post a photo of your family dinner on Monday, maybe even with a copy of our book on your table, on Instagram. There are a lot of ways to play along. We just hope you do.
Have you ever driven around in the early evening, headed home and looking into the houses of the people you pass? My favorite time is dinner time, watching families sitting down to the table or cooking in the kitchen together. I imagine that the dozens (or hundreds!) of posts we could read on Monday will be like that. Will you invite us into your home on Monday??
To make cooking that dinner easier for you, and to entice you to buy our book, we’re giving you four recipes from our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, here. For free.
chickpea stew with brown basmati rice
South African yellow rice with black-eyed peas
roasted chicken salad with apples, golden raisins, and tarragon
grilled salmon with lemon-jalapeno-bok choy relish
(We wanted to give you the chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts, but our editor insisted you would have to buy the book for that one.)
Click on this link below to pull up the PDF with the four recipes and photographs from our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day.
So that’s it. We’d love to hear about your family dinners. (I have a feeling that most of them are imperfect. It might make us feel better to hear that your house is imperfect too.) Post on Monday. Let your people know about our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. Let us know about your dinners.
We can’t wait to see what you create.