Deep Breaths (+ Salted Caramel Sauce)

[From Greens, October 2012.]

Last week I went to Greens for my birthday dinner with my parents and DW (an aside: my husband and I often refer to each other by our initials – “DW” for him, “NS” for me – which might be a bit silly, but sort of works for us and I sort of like it; thus I think I will refer to him as “DW” here going forward). I was only two days out from running the marathon and my legs were still a little wobbly, but I managed to slip on a pair of (low) heels and did just fine. We drank a glass of wine, nibbled at a delicious mezze appetizer plate, exclaimed over the freshness of the vegetables, ate a mousse-y chocolate cake my mom had brought from a favorite bakery in Sonoma County. We lucked out with a window table and to be honest this is probably 25% of the reason I love going to Greens (though the food is unquantifiablely reliable and wonderful, too): the view of the harbor from Fort Mason and the Golden Gate Bridge makes the slight trek down there so very worth it. It’s a special treat and a somewhat rare one; in fact, the last time we had dinner there was on my birthday two years ago. For a vegetarian like me, it’s one of my favorite places to indulge (if you didn’t know, Greens is a vegetarian restaurant that serves organic dinner fare nightly, with brunch on the weekends and I love it mightily).

[Muir Beach, October 2012.]

The next day we took off of work and went to the Pelican Inn for lunch (I had a Ploughman’s, of course, with chips on the side) with a detour to Muir Beach beforehand. Indian Summer on October 17 was in full swing – I wore a sleeveless shirt whilst sitting on warm sand, cause for celebration indeed. Part of the pleasure of the drive out there is the road that winds through Mill Valley and past the turnoff for Mt. Tam, quickly leaving houses and shops behind for the sloping, empty hills so emblematic of Northern California. (It also goes past Green Gulch farm, which supplies Greens with its organic produce, as well as the Pelican – a neat bit of continuity I appreciate.)

We ate and sat in the sun and savored the sweetness of a stolen Wednesday afternoon, the breeze cool but not-too, the air tinged with that delicious sea-smell I so love, dug our toes into the sand (but didn’t attempt the ocean; it’s pretty and blue but I know how cold it is!), rested a bit. I don’t get out to the beach enough, it’s true, nor do I allow myself to sit without purpose very often (and man, I really do need to do this). Thoughts of wedding cake-baking, work, continental moves, what to make for dinner – all took a wee break. It was California at its finest: a deep-blue day, a clear day, a day fit for dreaming …

But, despite this mooning on about my beloved state, this post is not really meant to be a love letter to California. Nor is it specifically a post about salted caramel sauce except it is, because I am currently obsessed with this stuff and have been taking any excuse to make it. I did a cake last week (reality: the morning of my lovely, beachy, Pelican Inn jaunt I got up early to make butter cream for a cake commission – salted caramel butter cream to be precise – even though I really just wanted to sleep … in … a little, but actually it turned out to be very good I was home because half-way through the buttercreaming we looked out the window to see our car about to be towed and DW ran outside in his bare feet to plead with the (very nice) MUNI woman; then we had to do the dishes and grab a blanket and I hadn’t had any coffee and we were sort of frazzled and out of sorts despite the beautiful sun, and there you have it! Real life.) for an engagement party and really there was no other option but to incorporate it into the final product (second aside: I hear they all loved it; a 10-inch cake for 14 people yielded only a small slice leftover). It’s all sweet-salty caramelly addictive goodness.

And, because I like to plan ahead, I made enough of this decadence so that I’d have some leftovers to drizzle over ice cream (I am pretty plain-Jane so go with strictly vanilla ice cream as a vehicle for my salted caramel sauce). I have shared some of it with DW but, between you and me, have been hoarding that glass jar in the back of the fridge just. for. myself.

Still, the other point of this post is to ruminate a bit on change, and how no matter if it’s huge, like moving abroad for four years, or something I’ve wanted for a very long time, it never fails to send me into a bit of a panic. This is another reason I love yoga: it forces me to breath deeply, calming my nervous system and allowing me to open to everything coming my way. I mentioned that there’s some other stuff in the works when I shared about moving to Morocco a few weeks ago – as if that wasn’t change enough; what is wrong with me?! – that’s also quite a shift for me.

I gave my notice at my job earlier this month, something that is less panic-inducing to type out now but still causes a few flutters. I haven’t not-worked full-time in nearly 7 years, and while it’s for the right reasons my life obviously will be quite different in many ways. Routine is something that I may loathe from time to time but it’s also comforting (not to mention that lovely bi-monthly paycheck magically deposited in my checking account) and did I mention I do not love change? That I tend to dig in my heels?

But here’s the thing: I had a conversation last winter with Emily when I visited Bath in the deep-dark of a cozy Maine winter as we sat around the kitchen table discussing, as is our wont, cooking. She’s been gluten-free for awhile now, and as I have dipped my toe into the flourless baking waters to make her sweet treats now and then. I wrote an article about this for NPR but the thought kept niggling at me that there was more there … even more than an article … possibly even a cookbook?

As it turns out there is a cookbook in that idea and I am writing it. Akin to our move, this is something that thrills and terrifies me. It’s due in about 6 months, and is all about naturally flourless desserts – by which I mean desserts that do not rely upon flour as their base, but rather are “naturally flourless”: relying on nuts and eggs and cornmeal and suchlike to create toothsome, utterly winning desserts that do not compromise on taste or flavor despite their lack of traditional flour (They also do not call for somewhat complicated flour substitutes or expensive, fussy ingredients.) Think lots of puddings, tarts, fruit-infused delights, candies, fluffy cakes with almond and pistachio meal, probably this salted caramel sauce … This is a book for the gluten-free and the gluten-full alike, whether you cook flourlessly every day or just once awhile. Recipes will be clear, interesting, and absolutely accessible; my goal is to produce delicious, naturally flourless desserts that need no qualification. ((A few details: it will be published by the great Chronicle Books and will be available in fall 2014 … ages from now, but it will go fast I know.)

And so off I go into the freelance writing and recipe developing and cookbooking life full-time (well, in 2 weeks that is) (ack). This is something I’ve aspired to for many years and finally, finally am taking a few deep breathes and taking the plunge, though there’s still a tiny part of me that wants to cling to the familiar. But I know in my heart it’s the right thing, and I am so excited to embark upon this new adventure.

I also know in my heart that this salted caramel sauce is something you must make just as soon as possible. It’s naturally flourless o’course, and is a recipe sort of in the spirit of what I hope my cookbook will be: simple and approachable and yielding a delicious result.

Sweet Indian Summer has been good to me this year – it’s another Orange October, which means evenings have been happily spent watching baseball – weather-wise and other-wise. Like every season, I wish it would stay but I am trying to appreciate it, as well as all the changes it brings, as much as I can. Deep breathes help. Salted caramel sauce, too.

Join the Conversation

  1. Congratulations! What wonderful news. As someone living with celiac and who truly enjoys your recipes and writing, I can’t wait for your cookbook.

  2. Your cookbook concept is wonderful. Enjoy the process!

  3. what, you don’t make your own ice cream???

  4. So exciting! I love the distinction between gluten-free flour substitutions for desserts that usually have flour in them and “naturally gluten free” desserts. It’s a good reminder that eating a certain way can INCLUDE so many things instead of requiring constant substitutions for something we once ate and enjoyed. It’s not all about stripping away when it comes to other ways of eating. 2014 is so far away!! I hope we get some sneak peeks before then.

  5. What excitement!! Congratulations! I recall reading that article on NPR when it was first published — your gluten-free treats always do look fabulous; this seems a perfect fit. Continue with the deep breaths and the caramel sauce, and I do believe you’ll be well equipped for all that’s ahead. ;)

  6. I hate to say this because it sounds like a motherly thing to say but there it is – I’m proud of you! And gluten free has become such a topic around here – my friend with migraines went gluten free, a child in Tin’s school needs gluten free, and I have found out many things about having Hashimoto’s that requires inflammation free and not necessarily strictly gluten free but very close (the worst is not the gluten it is giving up tofu as soy is the worst thing to eat with Hashimoto’s – a horrible realization). I look forward to your book and to sharing it with friends, and I also so much look forward to how Morocco will influence your palate. حظا سعيدا يا صديقي {read: good luck my friend}

  7. So much to say….I just caught up on your posts from the past month or so, while baking the recent banana bread recipe (more on that in a sec). Moving overseas, taking the leap into free-lance work, writing a cookbook, another marathon done, and your birthday – congratulations on all! I do so hope you will still find time to keep up your blog, too. And sign me up for a copy of the cookbook, of course.
    The banana bread recipe with olive oil is perfect. I had to do a substitution for the yogurt, though. I poured in the same amount of my sourdough starter – thought the tangy flavor would be about the same as yogurt lends. Viola! Perfect taste and just the right crumbliness. Thanks again for the inspiration. ~Stef

  8. CONGRATULATIONS! So delighted to hear your news, and have no doubt you will hit it out of the park (there’s a b-ball reference for the Giant’s fan in you). As you do with everything. I am sure it will be WONDERFUL.
    If this caramel sauce is a sneak peek, I’d say you’re well on your way. xox

  9. The cookbook premise sounds like a winner to me. How wonderful to have a collection of recipes on the shelf that don’t rely on flour as a reference and source of inspiration! The caramel sauce looks very very good indeed.

  10. Hi there, I always read and never comment, but that cookbook sounds wonderful. I’ve been wanting to read a book JUST like that for a few years now. I have so many gluten free (and dairy free) people in my life and even though I don’t mind splurging for special flours that I don’t use myself, I’m always racking my brains for desserts that are naturally free of gluten (and dairy!). Thanks for taking the scary step into self-employment (jealous!!).

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