My tastes have changed dramatically over the years.
I grew up on chicken and dumplings, salads with store-bought croutons on iceberg lettuce, Clark bars, and Doritos. Like so many of us raised in the 70s and 80s, nearly all my food came out of a package. I certainly don’t remember conversations about sustainable food, eating locally, or any conversation about nutrition in the public consciousness.
In my 20s there were a lot of earnest, soggy stir fries over brown rice that wasn’t quite cooked enough. But I started cooking for the first time. And baking. Oh my goodness, I baked a lot of cookies in my late 20s.
When I lived in New York in my early thirties, spices exploded into my life. I ate Indian food on 6th Street, Ethiopian chicken flatbread sandwiches from a cart near Columbus Circle, sushi with wasabi, and pizza. Okay, the pizza wasn’t new. But it was good.
When I returned to Seattle, I cooked nearly every night. My best friend lived in the apartment across the hall and we took turns cooking for the other most nights that first year, then a little less as we both settled into our new lives. She’s Ecuadoran/Dominican, so she introduced seafood ceviche to me. We went to every restaurant in Seattle that seemed appealing. I began to wonder at the way I ate as a kid.
And of course, when I went gluten-free, I discovered more food than I knew existed. Amaranth greens! Ume plum vinegar! Turnips! If it didn’t have gluten in it, I ate it. And then I met a chef and my life has never been the same. (However, to be fair, we have inspired each other. I introduced him to quinoa and teff.) As has been documented on this site for the past 7 1/2 years, I have eaten very well.
But lately, there has been another shift happening. Something less about cookies and more about color.
The first six months I was gluten-free, I really didn’t bake. I didn’t know how. I needed to learn how to roll an omelet in a pan and make a great beef stew and explore all the possibilities of tofu. Those first six months, I either rode my bike 10 miles a day or moved a kayak across the whole of Lake Union, every day. In the fall, I gave up lunch hour at my teaching job to run across the street to take a yoga class every day. I have never felt so good in my life.
In the past few years, particularly after Lucy arrived, I have not felt as good as those first heady euphoric days without gluten. Oh, the kid didn’t really sleep until this year, so I understood it. But now, I’m 46. Something is shifting. Hormones out of balance. Insomnia. My body sending me clear messages. “You must change your life.” —Rainier Maria Rilke
And so, I have been paying attention to my shifting tastes. To my surprise, when I’m truly hungry, and not just thinking about food, I want rutabaga-carrot mash made with pastured butter and homemade yogurt. Or purple cauliflower puree. (Even Danny, my Irishman who wants potatoes every single day, loved this one.) I choose my foods based on their leafy greenness, their bright orange, their cruciferousness. I choose my foods based on how they make me feel, not because I need a treat. The real treat is feeling good.
My new guideline for myself? I want food that I can put on a white plate, and photograph it in our white-lit space, and have it pop. A bowl of white mashed potatoes? Boring photo here. A banana. It blends in. A bowl of quinoa? Better, but not quite there.
It’s January. My body’s craving color.
And to my surprise, I’m not really interested in cookies anymore. After taking most of the last two months off from sugar, I find everything but heirloom oranges, crisp apples, and date puree is just too cloying in my mouth. Give me roast chicken and some rutabaga mash these days.
I think that those of us who are gluten-free tend to think first of baked goods, grains, floured food. Those have their place. I’m not going the rest of my life without a good carrot cake. But most of my life, my meals have been based on the grains first. I’m taking a break to fall in love with every winter vegetable available.
Turns out there’s plenty of color in January.
PURPLE CAULIFLOWER PUREE
1 medium head purple cauliflower, broken into florets
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons butter, softened (we’re loving this one lately)
1/2 cup coconut milk
Simmering the cauliflower. Set a large skillet over high heat. Add the cauliflower florets, garlic cloves, and about 1 inch of water. Simmer the cauliflower, stirring when the water starts to steam away, until the florets are very tender, about 15 minutes.
Making the puree. Drain the cauliflower and garlic and put them into the bowl of a food processor. With the food processor running, add the softened butter. When it is fully incorporated into the puree, which should hold together but still be a little chunky, pour in the coconut milk. (You might need less or more coconut milk, depending on the texture you want.) Stop the food processor. Add salt and pepper. Puree a bit. Taste. Season accordingly.
Feeds 4, if everyone has a tiny portion as a side. 2, if you’re eating this for lunch.
First, there was the photo shoot. The photo shoot for our cookbook, with this woman.
That week was tremendous — a swirl of colors, the smell of food wafting from the kitchen, watching how Penny and Karen and Anne and Justin do their jobs — a week of amazement. It was also utterly exhausting.
It was exhausting for all the right reasons, the way rigorous creative work forces you to bring up the best of yourself, instead of waiting for another chance to do it right. But we began at 8 am every morning, finished at 6, then shopped and prepped for the next day.
Fried. We were fried.
(And let’s be honest. The photo shoot wasn’t really first in the series of exhilarating, exhausting events of September. There was the trip to Alaska two weeks before, which moved us deeply. Story soon. Then two weeks of rigorous testing of the recipes we would be cooking for the shoot. We walked into this alive but barely rested.)
The experience deserves its own piece. We want to share some of the process of creating this cookbook with you. Soon.
After we finished making photographs with Penny, we taught a cooking class at the Pantry. The next day, we left for New York City.
New York City, the glorious, grimy city that still tugs at my heart. It always will.
Generally, I don’t regard time in New York City as restful. This time, however, after the month of running at full speed, we hoped that some time in the city would do us good.
We were propelled there by the Star Chefs Conference. To our astonished honor, Danny and I were asked to speak on a panel called Real Food for Health: Feeding Guests on Restrictive Diets. We spoke with Franklin Becker and Michelle Tampakis. Our moderator, Corby Kummer, is one of my food-writing heroes. He recently wrote a thoughtful, measured piece for the Atlantic Monthly about the rise in the number of people on gluten-free diets in this culture. (It’s so much better than the terribly disappointing and snide comment from Michael Pollan on gluten-free diets. Really, Michael?) Mr. Kummer nearly made me faint when he said publicly that he’s a big fan of our work. Gosh! To see a room filled with chefs, pastry chefs, and restauranteurs interested in how to safely feed all of their guests? It did our hearts good.
There we were, Danny and I, on Park Avenue in New York City, talking about our work.
Six years ago, I was teaching high school, grading research papers on World War Two. Now, I’m doing what I love, with the man I love.
I never forget how lucky I am.
(Okay, I’ll admit that I was seeing red for a couple of days after reading that Michael Pollan piece. In fact, I planned for the first post I wrote here after returning from New York to be a measured, thoughtful piece, a letter to Michael Pollan, showing him why his dubiousness is wrong. In the end, though, I refrained. I remembered how lucky I am. I don’t want to preach. Let him believe what he does. I’d rather keep discovering, in wonderment, than wagging my fingers and saying I know best.)
Danny and I left the Park Avenue Armory at noon. Darling Lu was in daycare, along with her friend Virginia. We had an entire afternoon to ourselves in Manhattan.
We walked to the Met, only to discover that it is closed on Monday. Somehow, I didn’t mind. Simply standing on those steps makes me happy.
So we walked through Central Park, holding hands.
That’s all I needed.
The lovely structure you see in the photograph on the right? I walked under it, with bare branches in winter and full leaf in summer, hundreds of times when I lived in New York. It’s on the west side of Central Park, in the 70s, just above Strawberry Fields. Usually, when I walked there, I was alone.
This week, I looked up to see it, then I saw Danny.
My heart leapt up, once again.
We had time for lunch, a long lunch without a kid asking to see the phone or wanting to dance outside. We had an entire city from which to choose.
We had to go back to Gramercy Tavern.
Danny cooked at Gramercy in the late 90s, when we lived 12 blocks from each other in Manhattan but never met. We’ve been there together three times now, but this was the only time by ourselves.
The food there? It’s perfect.
I know that’s a loaded word. What is perfection but a straightjacket intended to bind us? But really, the food that day was perfect for us: butter-poached lobster with the last of the sweet corn and frail radishes, smoked trout with smoked cippolini onions and picked red onions, pollock with heirloom beans. The sea bass on spaghetti squash with candied pumpkin seeds and tiny diced apples? Don’t be surprised if you see some not-as-good version of it here soon. I’ll never forget it. And peanut butter semifreddo? Need I say more?
When you go to a restaurant that cooks with the excitement of the new season? A restaurant that treats its customers like family? A restaurant that wants nothing more than to make people happy? That restaurant will always be able to feed you gluten-free.
It doesn’t have to be as fancy as Gramercy Tavern, either. There are plenty of restaurants out there like this, near you.
Thank you, Jennie, for making this lunch possible for us. We love you.
By the end of the afternoon, we were missing our girl. Past rows of Brooklyn brownstones and stoops, we ran down the street to her, skipping.
She loved the time with her friends. There was a living-room ballet class, with various tutus and bare feet. A first viewing of Singing in the Rain. Dinners and time on the slide. First scooter rides. Cuddles in the kitchen and time cooking together.
It did our hearts good to spend time with the Perillo girls.
And in the following days, we took Lucy back to Central Park. It’s the perfect place to kick fallen leaves along the curb.
Mostly though, we walked the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, watching and talking with each other.
New York is made of characters.
That’s Payton on the left. I asked if he minded if I made his portrait and he sat up like that. Warm and kind, he made my day.
I don’t know the name of the guy on the right. I just loved that he stood outside the Apple Store a block below Chelsea Market, balancing a new iMac on his bike, trying to figure out how to get home.
(I took that one the day Steve Jobs died. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” Apparently, that was his motto. Yes.)
And we ate.
We ate little doughnuts at Babycakes, reveling in the salted caramel and the vanilla with sprinkles.
We shared breakfast with one of my dearest friends, a 33-year-old whom I taught in high school when he was 14. He’s like a little brother to me. I love to see him thriving, making films. We shared food together at Maybelle's in Brooklyn, where I ate the best gluten-free multigrain bread I’ve ever eaten. (It’s made by Everybody Eats.)
We stumbled onto Lilli and Loo, where I ate the first Chinese restaurant food I’ve experienced in seven years. Spring rolls! Dumplings! Crispy sesame chicken! I was nearly in tears. So happy.
We followed a comment on Twitter to Rice and Riches. People, this is a rice-pudding bar. Only in New York. Entirely gluten-free. I recommend marscapone with roasted cherries, highly.
The last night we were there, we shared a beautiful meal with our dear friend Meri at Bar Breton. Everything, everything about this meal was wonderful.
It was an extraordinary week.
We’ve had a series of extraordinary weeks. Months. Years.
Since May, I have been in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Austin, New York, Pennsylvania, San Diego, Utah, Colorado, New Orleans, Alaska, and New York once again.
I’m a little bit tired.
I will never forget this summer, the lessons, the meals, and the chance to meet so many of you.
However, all I can say is this: welcome autumn.
We’re so happy to be back home.
“I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend
Lucky to have been where I have been
Lucky to be coming home again“
(from a song by Jason Mraz, playing while I finished this piece)
KALE SALAD WITH GOLDEN RAISINS AND PINE NUTS
After all that fabulous food in New York City, all I wanted on our first night home was this kale salad.
I love kale. In fact, I love kale so much that I might have a kale problem. Sometimes people get the wrong impression from looking at this site. All you make is baked goods! We do love making baked goods, especially because we know how many other people love to make them. However, most of them leave the house as gifts after they are made. And, the proportion of kale we eat to sugared goods? Enormous.
One of the keys to this salad is the fish sauce in the dressing. That tiny amount of savory flavor intensifies the taste of the kale. If you’re vegetarian, or don’t have access to fish sauce, however, it’s optional. Play. I love the pine nuts and golden raisins here, but you could easily use walnuts and figs. This is a template, my favorite kind of recipe. Make it, then play with it in your kitchen.
1 large bunch lacinato kale
zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon fish sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/3 cup golden raisins
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese
CUTTING THE KALE. With a sharp knife, cut the kale leaves away from the stems. Pile 4 of the halves on top of each other. Roll them up to make a shape like a cigar. Cut into the “cigar” at 1-inch intervals. This will leave you with ribbons of kale. (This technique is known as chiffonade.) Repeat with the remaining kale. Put it into a large bowl.
MAKING THE DRESSING. Combine the lemon zest, juice, fish sauce, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil. When the dressing is fully combined, taste it. Season to taste.
FINISHING THE SALAD. Add the golden raisins and pine nuts to the salad. Toss. Drizzle 1/3 of the dressing along the sides of the bowl, so it moves slowly into the kale. Toss the salad with your hands, massaging the dressing into the kale ribbons as you go. If you need it, drizzle in more of the dressing until you feel the salad is fully dressed.
Top with the grated cheese and serve.
You will probably have dressing left over after making this salad. Put it in the refrigerator. You’re going to be making this salad again.