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Cooks We Love: Nicole Spiridakis

Nicole Spiridakis is a food writer and journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including NPR Online and the San Francisco Chronicle. Nicole formerly lived in San Francisco, where she also managed a small wedding cake business. Now a new mom, living in Morocco with her husband, Nicole has a lot to celebrate. Her first cookbook, "Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts," will be released in August by Chronicle Books. We love Nicole’s baking recipes, in particular, because they’re approachable and delicious, and many use interesting whole grain flours, seasonal fruits and chocolate. You’re going to like her blog as much as we do.

Website: cucinanicolina

Blogging since: 2005

Where you call home: Casablanca, Morocco, but I left my heart in San Francisco.

How would you characterize or describe your cooking style today? Vegetable-heavy, with a side of whole grains and lots of baked goods.

What’s your favorite thing to cook at home? Why? Quinoa with loads of vegetables, specifically spinach and/or chard, sweet potatoes and roasted cauliflower. Lemon-tahini dressing on top. Sunflower seeds, too. I’m a vegetarian who truly loves (most) all vegetables, so I try to cram as many of them into my meals as possible. Quinoa has been a staple of my diet since college when my hometown best friend introduced it to me one summer afternoon; it’s a complete protein, which is extra helpful when you don’t eat meat. Oh, and CAKE. I believe in balance in all things. I like to bake and if I eat my vegetables, shouldn’t I get to eat cake, too?

What are three things you have in the pantry at all times? Whole wheat pastry flour, quinoa, maple syrup.

What’s your “There’s Nothing in the Fridge" dinner? The one thing you often whip up with very few ingredients or, perhaps very little inspiration? A big pot of red lentils and garlic with maybe a little bit of vegetable bouillon. Brown long-grain rice or quinoa. Spinach in there too, if I have it.

What are some of your kitchen goals, ie., skills you want to improve on or recipes you want to try or master? I really, really, really want and need to make good whole grain bread. I have a sourdough starter stashed in the fridge that I need to make better use of, and am armed with Josey Baker’s (of The Mill in San Francisco, my favorite bakery/coffee stop in my old neighborhood) new cookbook. There are a lot of baguettes and pastries readily available here in Casablanca, due to the French influence, but not so much of the hearty, whole grain/wheat bread I relied upon and loved in California. So, I’ve got to make it myself at home!

How has becoming a mother changed your experience as a home cook? The main thing that’s changed is that I have a lot less time. I still cook a lot. But now it’s often done in pieces (like I’ll sift the flour for muffins when I have a minute and then finish off the recipe an hour or two later when I have five minutes) and I have taken to multitasking during my daughter’s naps to extreme sports levels (oatmeal is cooked while I brew coffee and I can now peel apples for her applesauce quicker than I can change a diaper). I always did a lot of simple hearty cooking but it’s become even simpler — this winter we ate a lot of roasted vegetables in different combinations paired with a whole grain and a vegetable protein. Part of that is because we relocated to Morocco, which has different food options than California, but it’s also because I’ve been pretty sleep-deprived these last 10 months and need to streamline. I try to mix it up, though, like sprinkling Parmesan on top of the roasted cauliflower every other time I make it, or putting together a quick lemony yogurt sauce for roasted Brussels sprouts.

Nonetheless, I feel like I am able to pretty much get everything in that I’d like to — I still make loads of cakes (my sweet tooth continues unabated) and I can still experiment with different flours and flavors just for fun (spelt flour was this spring’s favorite). I often bring Sierra into the kitchen with me, and have done so since she was very small, and this helps too. I talk to her about what I’m doing and she plays or watches or does her own thing. This way we’re together but I can still get some stuff done. And it’s really fun, too. When she’s a little older, hopefully we can cook together.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks and/or food blogs? I read The Kitchn a lot, mostly for the genius and unexpected tips. I like food blogs with beautiful photography and solid recipes, of course, but I also like the stories they tell. Racheleats, based in Rome, is a current favorite.

Besides other cookbooks or food blogs, where do you draw inspiration for your cooking? Just being at the market, either the farmers market in the States or the souk (open-air market) here in Morocco, can jump-start an idea. Reading various food sections — NY Times, SF Chronicle, etc. — and cookbooks. But my inspiration now mostly comes from what is available. Morocco has a great produce selection but it’s very seasonal and you won’t find everything here that you can get in America. (For example, I dearly miss chard and shiitake mushrooms.) So I try to make the most of what's available and I try to be creative.

Where else can we find you? I have writing clips up on my writing website at nicolespiridakis.com. Oh and did I mention I have a cookbook coming out on August 12? :)

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