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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Alden's ice cream

Alden's ice cream

The air was warm today, but the day was not quite as idyllic as yesterday.

When we woke up, we noticed a few red bumps on Little Bean's face. Bug bites? She's outside often with us, and we don't believe in keeping her from putting her feet on the grass, to push the daisies around with her toes. Probably bug bites.

But then I looked at her again, a few minutes later, and several more rednesses had appeared on her white skin. I looked at her, and knew: chicken pox.

Danny had a case of the shingles a couple of weeks ago. (Not only did we have no idea what the shingles are, but we both thought that only decrepit old men suffered from the shingles.) Turns out the stress of moving home and having your child end up in the emergency room the next week can nudge the dormant virus that sprouts chicken pox on a child into a painful case of shingles as an adult. We were all a little mopey that week.

He's recovered. We're laughing and making videos again. And then, these dots.

Little Bean turned 9 months old today. (good god, how?) As Molly said to me on the phone, as we crossed the Sound on the ferry, "She's just celebrating her birthday with pink polka dots!"

That's our girl.

Our doctor confirmed it. She has the chicken pox. And luckily, her case is so mild that she's about as spotty as your average miserable teenager. She'll be fine, and back to sleeping, within days.

Still, it was a bit of a rough day. We spent the gorgeous spring day in ferry lines and an isolation room at the doctor's office, as though we had the plague. By the time we reached home, Little Bean was way past her bedtime and took two hours of coaxing, rocking, singing, and feeding before she went down to sleep.

Oh, this ice cream was especially welcome this evening.

Alden's ice cream is about the only commercial ice cream we buy anymore. They craft it in Eugene, Oregon, with only real ingredients. (You know, like cream and sugar and eggs and vanilla bean.) Obviously, the cookies n cream flavor is off-limits for us gluten-free folks. But the rest? Oh, they make up for that lack.

The vanilla bean truly tastes like vanilla. And it makes an excellent root beer float. The strawberry reminds me of June, those first berries of summer. Many folks espouse the beauties of the mint chocolate chip.

But this evening, we had a few scoops of the chocolate chocolate chip after Bean went to bed. A breeze blew in -- tomorrow will be rain. We had no idea if she would sleep, or if we would be up and down all night again. Not to worry. In that moment, we dipped our spoons in the rich ice cream and savored this imperfect world, again, together.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Flavor Bible

the flavor bible

There are some books in your kitchen that sit there because they were presents, or the cover enticed with possible bites that would fill your life. Maybe you liked the photographs, or you were on a brief kick to eat more healthfully. Any reason could be true. But still, you know the books — the ones you never open. Maybe you made one recipe, once, and you knew you'd never be able to stomach that book again. It still sits there, but you'll never use it.

The Flavor Bible is not that book.

Since we bought this book, back in October, I'm pretty sure it has been opened every single day. I tried to take a beautiful photograph of it, but there's no taking away the smudged fingerprints and dented corners. We are often holding this book in our hands.

Years ago, this book would have intimidated me. There are no recipes. Every food is in alphabetical order, rather than being organized by type or style of cuisine. Before I met Danny, I would have looked at this book and put it away.

But he has taught me how to cook from feel, from experience, rather than from recipes alone. (I still use recipes, most of the time, but now they are only starting points, a gun going off toward the sky. I'm not nearly so straight-backed examining them, as I was before.) For that reason, this book is invaluable.

It's pretty funny, actually, watching Danny try to follow a recipe. A few months ago, when we were finishing up the first draft of our book, I asked him to make dinner with a recipe that looked good, to see how recipes are written, to judge what he wanted. He tried. He did. When I came into the kitchen after putting Little Bean down to sleep, I saw him hunched over the dishwasher, peering at the paper, scratching his head. He turned toward me. "I can't do it. I can see what she wants. But I want to do it differently."

He's the jazz musician. I'm the grammar teacher. I laughed and told him to go on his own.

That's why this book works for him, and more and more, for me now too.

Say you bought some ramps at the farmers' market (they're coming here soon), in your eagerness to celebrate spring. But when you are home, you realize — you have no idea what to do with them. Look up ramps in this book. What you'll find is a list of other foods that go particularly well with ramps: asparagus, bacon, butter, carrots, chicken, chives, cream, cured meats, etc. Some of the foods are in bold, meaning they go particularly well with ramps: Parmesan cheese, pasta, new potatoes. Hm. What to make?

Well, Danny has taught me to think creatively. It's April, so we want something light, not like the pot roasts and meatloaf nights of February. What's for dinner? What about rice pasta with roasted asparagus, sauteed ramps, prosciutto, and Parmesan cheese? Or, grilled halibut with black pepper-ramp puree? Or warm polenta with morel mushrooms and a creamy ramp sauce?

Actually, I'm hungry again. Those are all just ideas from looking at the ramp section of this book.

As well as listing ingredients that blend well with the food you have chosen, the book also offers suggestions of the season each food grows in and techniques that work well with it. Really, there's no way to go wrong.

If you are, unlike Danny, only able to cook with a recipe in front of you, this book may feel overwhelming. However, spend a little time with it, and you might just put those recipe books away. (Or at least at the other end of the kitchen.)

Would you like a copy of this book? We'd like you to have it. Leave a comment here, telling us about cooking in your kitchen, and how this book might help. By Friday, we'll pick a winner, randomly. The wonderful authors, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, have agreed to send along a copy to whoever wins.

In addition to the book, we're having a giveaway on knives. The good folks at Messermeister read this post I wrote on their knives, and they would like to give some to you. In fact, they're giving away a chef's knife and kitchen scissors set. Leave a comment about that here as well. We'll have two winners this week!