Parents Who Cook: Aria Beth Sloss

Aria Beth Sloss is a writer, and the author of the novel Autobiography of Us, which has just come out in paperback.

She also happens to married to Dan Barber, a hero of mine and the iconic chef of Blue Hill in NYC, where they both live. I’ve been in touch with Aria ever since I published this fridge Q&A with Dan: I had mentioned her novel was about to be published, and she thanked me and offered to send me an advance copy, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Dan and Aria had a little girl last year, and of course, as part of my Parents Who Cook series, I had to ask how the household’s cooking life has changed since then. Aria shared her approach and tips with great generosity, and I hope you enjoy delving into it — and trying the two recipes she provided — as much as I did.

clotilde

Can you tell us a few words about your daughter? Age, name, temperament?

Aria Beth Sloss

Edith turned one last month. As divine retribution for all the times I scoffed at parents who ascribed real, complex temperaments to their infants, Edith has been the person she is now since the day she was born — cheerful, opinionated, determined, and hilarious. I never dreamed someone so small could make me laugh so hard.

clotilde

Did having a child change the way you cook?

Aria Beth Sloss

I’m embarrassed to answer this, because the change has less to do with the way I cook than the fact that I find myself cooking at all. I’ve always been a baker; my husband is a chef, so for many years, we had the perfect arrangement. Then we found ourselves with this new member of the household, who couldn’t, turns out, survive on cake and cookies.

When Edith started eating solids, around six months, we took what felt like a huge leap in faith by deciding to forgo purees (my heart was in my mouth for most of the first month’s meals) and give her modified versions (less salt, no windpipe-sized beans, etc) of what we ate instead. [Note from Clotilde: this is an approach often referred to as baby-led weaning.] Anxieties aside, it seems to have suited us all very well.

We found ourselves with this new member of the household, who couldn’t, turns out, survive on cake and cookies.

When my husband is home for dinner, he makes dishes very similar to those he made before our daughter was born — beautiful omelets, grain and roasted vegetable salads, tartines with a soft cheese, a lacing of vinegar, and a sprinkling of herbs — and we all eat them together.

On the nights he’s at the restaurant, I’ve developed a few fail-safe recipes: lentil soup (who knew babies like soup?), less aesthetically-pleasing but acceptable omelets, avocado mash on toast, baked sweet potato with miso butter [recipe below!], and a few simple pasta dishes like soba with toasted sesame oil and broccoli. Plus, I’ve started experimenting with sprouted wheat flour, which makes baked goods a lot more nutritious.

Aria and Edith in the kitchen at Blue Hill.

Aria and Edith in the kitchen at Blue Hill.

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Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup

Last week my dear friend Florence tweeted a link to Nadya Andreeva’s ayurvedic blog Spinach and Yoga*, and her recipe for yellow lentil and squash soup caught my eye straight away.

I love a good soup of lentils, but I don’t think I’d ever thought to pair their meaty earthiness with the sweet, soft flesh of winter squash. This version was especially appealing for its use of fresh ginger and spices — cumin, coriander, turmeric — and I had just about everything I needed to make it.

I thought I’d be clever and use lentils of three different colors; in the end they all turned the same shade of brown.

What little I know about ayurvedic cuisine is that it’s strictly vegetarian, but I took the liberty of using the super fragrant fish stock I’d made the day before, using the bones and head of a roasted sea bream purchased at Terroirs d’Avenir’s sustainably-sourced fish stall on the increasingly foodie-friendly rue du Nil.

Another change I made to the original recipe was in fact inspired by the stock photo that illustrated it: the tell-tale milky sheen indicated the use of coconut milk, which the recipe itself didn’t include, yet I knew it would make the soup even tastier.

I also thought I’d be clever and use lentils of three different colors, green, pink, and yellow. In the end they all turned the same shade of green-brown, but I’m certain the variety of textures had a hand in making this the most wowing soup I’ve made in a while.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever dabbled at ayurvedic cooking? And what’s been your winner soup recipe this winter?

* Coincidentally, I see that Nadya Andreeva is just releasing a book this week, called Happy Belly.

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How To Make the Most of Your Cookbook Collection

Notice how English titles are printed in reverse direction from French titles. It's good for stretching your neck when browsing.

Notice how English titles are printed in reverse direction from French titles. It's good for stretching your neck when browsing.

I’m sure your cookbook shelves are just as heavily laden as mine, and if I were to ask you how often you cook from them you might look away, embarrassed, and try to change the subject. Especially if your spouse, who regularly comments on the extent of your collection, is within earshot.

It’s not that you don’t want to cook from all these books; you do. It’s just that it’s impossible to remember what’s in them, and however well built their indexes (or indices), it would be pretty cumbersome to look up “Brussels sprouts” in every single one of them when you come home from the greenmarket on a chilly but sunny Saturday morning in March.

It does seem a shame to let so much knowledge and inspiration go untapped, and here are a few ways to avoid that:

  • Sticky-tab appealing recipes, and regularly leaf through your collection to refresh your memory.
  • In each of your cookbooks, list all the recipes you want to try, with page number, on a piece of paper. Place that custom-made index in the front of the book for quick reference. (This also serves as a good decision tool to see whether you should really keep that book.)
  • Take photos of (or scan, but that’s more time-consuming) recipes you want to try, and keep the image files, renamed with the recipe title, in a dedicated folder on your computer.
  • Keep a running list of dishes you most want to try on your computer or in a notebook, referencing the cookbooks they come from.
  • Pick a different cookbook every month or so, and challenge yourself to cook X number of recipes from it (make X realistic) before moving on to the next.
  • Use the Eat Your Books service.

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Palmiers (Elephant Ears)

I grew up eating packages of two-bite palmiers we bought at the supermarket*. Also, giant palmiers from the bakery that were the size of my face and which I devoured with bliss, savoring the textural differences between the crusty, caramelized rim, and the doughy, buttery folds in the center of each swirl.

Palmiers — litterally “palm trees”, a.k.a. elephant ears in English — are heart-shaped cookies made by rolling up puff pastry with a generous sprinkling of sugar, slicing that up, and baking until golden brown and caramelized.

When you’re ready to cash in your baker’s bonus, all you need to do is roll out the dough thinly, using sugar to prevent sticking as you normally would flour.

Although you can certainly set out to make palmiers from scratch, they are the most rewarding use for scraps of puff pastry, so they are typically a byproduct of some other baking venture.

Indeed, the batch that is pictured above was prepared with the quick and easy puff pastry leftover from baking the amazing caramelized apple tarte fine I told you about a couple of weeks ago.

It is unthinkable, under any circumstances, to throw out scraps of dough, but that sentiment is especially vivid when you’ve made the puff pastry yourself, however quick and easy the recipe is. The idea then is to stack up any bits and pieces you have to form a rough block, and plop that into the fridge to deal with later.

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March 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I will be offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for March is a picture of the lentil kohlrabi salad I love to make this time of year — it is fresh, crunchy, and filling, which is exactly what we need right now.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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