When it comes to making family dinners, Erica Daniels, author of Cooking with Leo, likes it best served imperfect, with a side of pineapple spoon bread. It’s number 12 on her Kitchen Rules list: “Roll with it and don’t stress out if it’s not perfect; it won’t be!” The Maple Glen resident’s approach to what most moms call a chore is relatable. Her peanut, soy, dairy and gluten-free recipes are organic and wholesome and don’t look as if they have been prepped for the perfect Instagram. Instead, they make readers as if they’re seated at Daniels’ kitchen table.
Released in January, the cookbook came out of Daniels’ love for her son, Leo, who was diagnosed with autism. Cooking was a form of therapy that brought her back to the basics and allowed her to unwind in the trying task of creating meals that carefully avoided a plethora of allergens.
The grocery store shelves were daunting, but when Leo’s curiosity ventured into the kitchen, Daniels saw a way for her family to bond. The mother of two nurtured her son’s interest and decided to create recipes that exercised Leo’s gifts and catered to his food allergies. This meant that the traditional family recipe for pineapple spoon bread had to get a Leo makeover.
“The most challenging but rewarding part about feeding my family was trying to figure out how I could serve family recipes and make them safe for Leo,” she says. “Leo’s favorite recipe is pineapple spoon bread, which is packed with allergens. It was the most challenging to modify, but the most rewarding to make with Leo and have him be able to eat it.”
For Daniels and her two children, the kitchen doubles as a dance floor. Her kitchen rules are etched with reminders to have fun, drink a little wine, and sprinkle a generous amount of kisses on the chefs.
“A typical evening in the kitchen for us includes Leo, Scarlett and I cooking and dancing along to some music. On a Sunday, we like to spend all day in the kitchen.”
While the cookbook is ideal for those who suffer from similar allergies, it’s great for anyone who loves to cook. “Though this is a personal love story set in the kitchen, it reaches anyone who wants to be healthy or just loves eating good food,” says Daniels.