A few months before our family traveled to Ethiopia to adopt our younger son, I attended a food writers’ conference. It was my first time away from my older son, and as I drove there alone through pounding rain, I fretted the whole time, missing Gus and worrying about making a good impression on the culinary big shots I knew would be attending. It didn’t matter that I had a perfectly good reason to be there (I’d won an award for an article I wrote). I was petrified.
Cheryl Sternman Rule, a fellow awardee, was one of the first people I met. I don’t know what put me more at ease: her light, easy sense of humor; the kind way she listened to people; or her wild, curly hair. We soon discovered connections — she’d served in the Peace Corps in Eritrea, Ethiopia’s rival-neighbor to the northeast. She had two boys, I soon would.
Since then, Cheryl has launched her blog, 5 Second Rule, into the stratosphere. And this spring, her color wheel of a cookbook, Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables, came out. Bursting with inviting recipes, lusciously photographed by Paulette Philpot, Ripe offers 75 ways to lure veggie-phobic kids over the produce rainbow. The book mirrors her personality, relaxed yet intensely intelligent and substantial. Like her writing, the recipes feel effortless.
How did you become a freelancing mom?
I became a mom first, and was still working part-time in education. After my second son’s birth, I took a year off. But once they were in daycare, I went to culinary school two days a week plus one evening. It was a great break from full-time parenting, different, creative, with people my own age. I couldn’t have gone without support from my husband and great daycare. School led to recipe testing and pitching articles, which was frustrating at first because my ambition exceeded my results. But because I could do it part-time, it worked well from a parenting perspective.
After your “good works” with the Peace Corps, why food?
Can I give a messy answer? It’s not necessarily logical, but the Peace Corps made me a more conscious writer for sure. My mom was a working single mom, and maybe lacked a creative outlet. I didn’t want to model that kind of motherhood. When she died, it was a turning point for me. I wanted my career to have a mixture of the intellectual, creative, and fun.
Since you’re traveling to promote your book, is it hard to be away?
My husband handles Hebrew school, doctors’ appointments, piano lessons. I leave him a list because it makes me feel better, but he doesn’t need it. I’ll be back for my son’s graduation from middle school, and I’m planning his bar mitzvah. It’s nuts, but I’m grateful for the responsibility — it gets me out of my head.
What are your kids’ favorite things in the book?
The sweet things — they love them all. Also the radish and olive crostini. It’s easy, broiled bread with soft butter and mild breakfast radishes.
Yours? Is there a perfect spring dish for Mother’s Day?
Easy. Rhubarb-cherry mini crisp made in little creme brulée dishes. The Gouda-crusted leeks and apples are pretty great, too.
OK, you’re a food writer. But you’re also a busy mom. Do you ever cheat and use convenience foods?
I keep 1 to 2 boxes of emergency microwavable rice in the freezer. I use canned beans and canned broth when I don’t have frozen stock from scratch. I aspire to keep processed food to a minimum, but I really don’t sweat the times I have to rely on convenience foods. My kids ate their fair share of frozen chicken nuggets and boxed macaroni and cheese growing up. We don’t eat that stuff anymore, but during those years when I was just trying to keep it all together, I did what I had to do. We all eat Life cereal. My boys love frozen multigrain toaster waffles. I am human, hear me roar.
Radish Olive Crostini
Serve these fresh, colorful hors d’oeuvres at any outdoor gathering. Or serve them indoors. Or start serving them outdoors, then move indoors if it rains. I’ve given a range for the toppings as baguettes can vary wildly in thickness.
Makes About 18 Toasts (If using a half Baguette or 25 (If using a full Baguette)
1⁄2-inch (1.25cm)-thick slices of French baguette
1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup (50g to 80g) pitted Kalamata olives, drained and minced
1 to 2 bunches radishes (French “breakfast” radishes preferred), scrubbed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves only
Zest of 1 lemon
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Set the broiler rack 4 inches from the heating element.
Lay the bread slices on an ungreased baking sheet. Broil until the edges just turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes, watching carefully. Flip and broil the other side for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. Cool to room temperature.
Spread each crostini with butter and top with olives and radishes. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Finish with a thin drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.