something shifting

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.