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Mother of four publishes cookbook tackling mealtime prep in unique, time-efficient way

By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

Kate Otterstrom and Julia Child have a few things in common: They both love the book, “My Life in France” (written by Child, adored by Otterstrom); they both love food; and they both took several years to get their first cookbooks published (Julia Child: nine, Kate Otterstrom: 12.)

“When it was taking me forever to write this book, that was inspiring to me,” said Otterstrom, who lives with her husband and four children on Spokane’s South Hill. “I’m like, ‘Julia kept doing it, I can keep going!’ ”

Published by Shadow Mountain Publishing in 2023, Otterstrom’s cookbook tackles mealtime prep in a unique way. Instead of being structured according in the traditional “appetizer, main course, dessert” method, it is organized according to the time the cook has available.

Filled with tried-and-true favorites from Otterstrom’s life as a foodie and busy mom, like Moroccan-style chickpea stew, sushi rolls and almond Texas sheet cake, “20-40-60 Minute Dinners: Meals to Match the Time You Have” is a cookbook for “busy people who don’t have a ton of time to compile a menu,” she says.

Not only is it set up according to timing, the cookbook also uses what Otterstrom calls an “interruption-proof” table format that lists ingredients in one column and specific instructions for those ingredients in the other.

Each recipe is accompanied by a story, and helpful guides are scattered throughout the book, like what equipment is most essential for a well-functioning kitchen, conversation starters for the dinner table and tips for making grocery shopping less stressful.

She hopes her cookbook can help busy home cooks reclaim some of the control and joy that can be found in preparing meals. Trying to recapture that happiness for herself was one of her main reasons for coming up with her particular style of cooking, after all.

“Once I started having kids, (with their) timelines and bedtimes and texture issues … it just kind of felt like I lost my joy in it,” she says. “I felt like if I could make this easier on myself … it could make it less stressful and hopefully more enjoyable again.”

That quest for joyful time in the kitchen faced a serious test in 2017, when Otterstrom was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune illness caused by a reaction to ingesting gluten. Suddenly, her days of enjoying delicious desserts and favorite comfort foods with her family seemed to be gone.

Just prior to her diagnosis, she had completed her cookbook and was ready to find a publisher. But her celiac disease made it so she could no longer enjoy many of the recipes inside.

Not one to shy away from a challenge – she also holds degrees in zoology and law and recently returned to practicing law after 17 years away – Otterstrom got to work.

Going through each page one-by-one, she painstakingly added gluten-free variations for almost every recipe in the book, from homemade noodle soup to donuts and everything in between.

“I have an inquisitive drive to figure out how to make things work,” Otterstrom said. “With learning how to bake – particularly with celiac disease – I really kind of felt driven to do that.”

One recipe she’s particularly proud of is her pizza dough, which can be made fluffy, chewy and gluten-free by using a unique blend of tapioca starch, potato starch, gluten-free flour blend and garbanzo bean flour.

“When I finally got pizza right, that was kind of the heavens breaking open and the angels singing kind of moment,” Otterstrom said. “I’d tried and I’d tried and I’d tried for so long, and my family had eaten a lot of not very good pizza. So it was very exciting when it worked out.”

Once the cookbook was completed (again), her publisher asked her to take photos of each meal, a daunting task with more than 50 recipes to cover.

“My mom came over for two weeks when I was nearing my photography deadline, and we cooked through every recipe in the book and took pictures,” she said. “She washed a ton of dishes!”

Otterstrom’s 16-year-old daughter, Inge, provided whimsical illustrations that are scattered throughout the cookbook.

“It was neat to be able to work on it with her,” Otterstrom says. “And she felt very proud of it, as she should have.”

Now available on Amazon and at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere, “20-40-60 Minute Dinners” is meant to be a “handbook in the kitchen” for home chefs of every level, Otterstrom said.

Some recipes don’t involve cooking at all (deli chicken and side salads with chips and cookies, eaten on a blanket in the park), while others are labors of love that could take hours. Otterstrom included those super-simple recipes for a reason.

“That’s real life,” she says. “I’m not trying to present this perfect, curated life that’s ‘I always start making dinner at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and no one ever interrupts me, and we sit down with candles every night at 6.’ That’s not my life at all. And so the reality is that there are times when you have to use convenience food to feed your family.”

Feeding her family – and feeding them well – was what drove Otterstrom all those years it took to complete her book. And she couldn’t have done it without them.

“I’m surrounded by people who have been very supportive and encouraging,” she says. “No one ever acted like (writing a cookbook) was a crazy thing to do – because it was kind of a crazy thing to do. But you don’t need people you love to tell you that!”