my fennel fascination

fennel salad

My fennel fascination has begun again.

The other day, our dear friends Tita and John came to the studio for lunch. We try to take the weekends away from the office, but when our office includes a 24-foot-long table, a professional kitchen, and a small clutch of sheep out the window, it’s hard to stay away. Besides, it was John’s birthday celebration and the power had gone out for half the island, including our house. (It’s one of the quirks of living on a rural island during windstorms.) So, to the studio we go.

Danny had made a batch of fall-apart pork shoulder in the slow cooker. (My new three favorite words: slow cooker leftovers.) There were roasted potatoes. There were carrots roasted with cumin and honey. Lucy set the table with water bottles and napkins for everyone. It was a Sunday supper feast.

Even with all those delicious choices, the first dish I pulled toward me was this fennel salad I can’t stop eating. I joked with Tita, “As soon as it feels like winter outside, my body craves fennel.”

She said without joking, “That’s your body taking care of itself.”

She’s right. My wise soul of a friend is almost always right. I think our mouths crave starch and cookies and stuffing and bread things during the long winter months — and winter has hit here early, as it has in much of the country. (Buffalo! I salute you!) With Thanksgiving next week, we’re heading into the starchiest season.

(This is where I should remind you that we have a gluten-free Thanksgiving baking app for the iPad. And a digital download full of recipes, techniques, and formulas for flour blends you can make. If you’re having any trepidations about Thanksgiving, and you need some calm advice to help you make great and grateful food, we’re here to help. Next year, you can bake Thanksgiving with our Gluten-Free Girl flour blends in your pantry.)

But last year, I started to listening to another part of my body than my mouth. During the winter, my gut and joints and now my head want vegetables. It’s easy as pie to get starchy baked goods for the winter. Clearly, I’m a fan of baked goods, since we now run a gluten-free flour company. And I’d eat one of these grain-free ginger molasses cookies any time.

We have to work to find vegetables on our plates, sometimes, but especially in these cold months. Celebrating the funny, lumpy vegetables like fennel and celery root appeals to me more now than it did a few years ago. Danny and I have found that if we plan our meals around the vegetables first? We feel better. It’s as easy as that.

So I slide a fennel bulb over the mandolin, then chop up those curlicue white rings into slivers. I fluff them with my fingers, then add segments of clementines and lots of fresh chopped thyme. Small slices of Israeli feta. A few splashes of apple cider vinegar and olive oil, sometimes sesame oil, and some salt pinched between my fingers. That’s it. Maybe sunflower seeds if they are within reach. Just writing this, I realize some briny kalamata olives might lend another texture of taste to it all.

Seriously, though, it’s hardly a recipe. I can’t write it up as one. It’s just a winter staple, something comforting for the end of the afternoon, as the light slowly fades into dusk.