A Living Cookbook and Greek Chicken-Lemon Soup

Dear Joey,

As you know, I have a major weakness for cookbooks. If I happened upon an extra bit of money that I could spend on anything, you and I both know I would blow it on a new pile of cookbooks. Never mind the fact that I have three shelves full of them; I can confidently admit that I simply do not have enough of them. There’s always a new release I’m dying to get my hands on; an elusive, hard-to-come-by classic; those charming old cookbooks all tattered and splattered and dog-eared and very well-loved; and the ones I’ve never heard of that I fall madly in love with the moment I lay eyes on the cover.

I seem to go in phases with my cookbooks, working my way through them for a good solid year (at least), learning from them, experimenting with them and being inspired by them. Two years ago, I was all about the family meal. Bringing home baby number two compelled me to take a peek at how other mothers created the sacred rhythm of the family dinner in their own homes. (With two under two? What was I thinking?). Books like Jenny Rosenstrach‘s Dinner: A Love Story, and Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt‘s The Family Dinner were my guideposts. My cheerleaders.

A year later, disenchanted with the American food system (with particular regard to its meat supply), I was all about vegetarian cuisine and Mark Bittman‘s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Mollie Katzen‘s The Moosewood Cookbook took up permanent residence in my collection. (Her divine recipe for pita bread is worth finding a copy of your own). And then, cookbook/memoirs took center stage in my cookbook repertoire, and I was convinced that life would be perfect if all cookbooks were written the way that  Shauna Niequist‘s Bread & Wine and Louisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen were written.


This year, finally in a kitchen of my very own, and backed with an arsenal of family friendly, environmentally sound, healthy and delicious recipes (that were sure to create a sense of belonging for my little brood), I headed into my kitchen with confidence and my copy of Alana Chernila‘s The Homemade Pantry. If I could make it myself, I was going to. Bring on the memory making.

Before long, the books sat on the kitchen bookshelf, unused. The kitchen was quiet, and I sat idly by. Perceptive little Mia caught me gazing longingly at them during dinner one night. She asked what I was looking at, which snapped me out of my little reverie and made me realize just how much I missed pulling up a chair at someone else’s table, to be inspired by their stories instead of just by their recipes. I didn’t really do that anymore.

Dietary changes made it too painful to thumb through the pages of these books. The recipes reminded me of a time when thinking about eating healthy meant balancing food groups, limiting the bad stuff, going organic and non-GMO. Now, eating healthy meant eating so I didn’t feel like I was dying.

If last year’s theme of my kitchen life was the nostalgic joy of cooking, this year’s theme so far has largely been get me through this meal unscathed. Luckily, for me, it wasn’t really hard to figure out how to cook a meal without any grains in it (Grill some chicken. Steam some veggies. Done.)

The problem is cooking food like that is not my idea of fun–and you know me: I love to cook! And plus, I am so over reading about how and why to cut grains out of the diet. The majority of cookbooks I have read lately devote so much time and energy on explaining the perils of wheat and corn and soy and even rice (among so many others), and spend so very little time on the story behind the food they are promoting as healthy, let alone the story behind the recipes themselves.


For me, cookbooks are not so much about learning how to cook, but more about why to cook. Reading them is like peeking into the food life of other people, people who have gone, seen and learned things that I have not. Getting cozied up on the couch with one is not about making a list of ingredients and techniques to master; it’s about steeping myself in another person’s story, imagining the tastes and smells and experiences of another place and perspective for a moment, connecting to the heart of why they cook and being inspired to continue to refine the cooking culture here in our own kitchen.

If you have not figured it out by now, let me drive the point home: for me, cooking much more than prepping fuel to feed our bodies. It is feeding our spirits and nourishing our souls and creating a way of life within our home, knitting together bits and pieces of our collective pasts with the here and now of where we are as a family. It is celebrating heritage and creating a sense of belonging. It is hard to find a gluten-free cookbook (or grain-free one, for that matter) written from that perspective.

I had the loveliest conversation with my dad earlier this week. We were in the midst of running a not-so-fun errand and we found ourselves exchanging gluten-free/grain-free recipes. Ever the cook, he’s been low-carb for years and is always happy to share his recipes for some really yummy foods. I heard all about his lasagna-like casserole (where kale takes the stage), and I told him about my version of Greek chicken-lemon soup (where cauliflower works its cameleon magic). We talked about ingredients and methods, certainly, and also about how delicious the food was and how we really didn’t miss the grains at all. It was nice to share stories with someone who gets it, you know?
Embracing the gluten-free/grain-free way of eating in my own home and filling in my family on the why’s and how’s of why we’re eating differently feels funny enough, but talking about food and cooking with people who aren’t gluten-free or grain-free is even harder. (What do you eat? What do you cook? Is it hard?) So many casual conversations don’t have the room for a genuine answer. Thank God for the handful of people who have come alongside me this week- my dad and two of my dearest friends in the world (both of whom I rarely see–both in the same week!) to ask these questions and to listen to the real answer.

The real answer is Yes, it’s hard, and also No, it’s not hard at all. It is hard to give up the idea and the sentiment of the foods I used to eat. It is not hard to eat differently, especially when the food tastes as good as it does. Yes, it is hard to want to eat anything when you feel like you are dying, and no, it is not hard to not eat the things that make the pain worse.

It has been a week of talking these things out with people who care about me, about us. Talking about the things that are true and good and hard and important. Sharing meals, meager or strange as they may seem. Reliving old memories and being inspired to reinvent old recipes. Creating new memories that inspire new recipes.

I guess this week I learned that my life is a living cookbook, the one I have been looking for.


Greek Chicken-Lemon Soup

adapted from Dinner: A Love Story‘s Avgolemeno

A Living Cookbook and Greek Chicken-Lemon Soup

It may not look like much, but this recipe is proof that it is possible to cook delicious and satisfying food without grains. A favorite of Joey’s, Avgolemeno is typically made with orzo or rice, but my version uses riced cauliflower. Before you freak out, think about this: both my 3 1/2 year old and my 2 year old devoured it. I call that a success. 


4 cups gluten free chicken broth
10 oz. cauliflower
1 small onion
1 T butter (or ghee or olive oil or, or, or….)
4 large eggs
1/4 c lemon juice
1 1/2 c cooked and shredded chicken
salt & pepper, to taste


First, make sure you have pre-cooked chicken to work with. Leftover roast chicken works well here, or just throw a chicken breast or two in the crock pot for a couple hours. When done, shred the chicken and set aside a cup and a half for the soup. Or more, or less. Whatever you like.

Next, prep the cauliflower. You could use a cheese grater to “rice” the cauliflower (more time; courser texter), but I use a food processor (less time, finer texture). If you use a food processor, throw the onion in with the cauliflower to process in one easy step. If you don’t use a food processor, chop the onion finely after you finish preparing the cauliflower.

In a soup pot over medium high heat, add the butter (or other fat) and the cauliflower & onion. Sautee for a few minutes – about five or so – until the veggies are fairly soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a bare simmer (low heat).

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and the lemon juice. Then, ladle in a scoop of the simmering broth and whisk to combine. Then, pour back into the soup pot, whisking as you do so. The broth will turn opaque. Add the chicken and let the soup simmer for about 4 minutes to allow the eggy broth to cook. Add the salt and pepper to taste, adjusting as needed, and serve. Sprinkle dill on if you so desire.

Oh yeah, and DO NOT BOIL unless you want a curdled mess.

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