At her home in New York’s Hudson Valley, chef Amy Chaplin keeps replanting her rainbow carrots. It’s not the rabbits and deer that get into her crop, though — it’s her 1 1/2-year-old son, Ezra, who’s in the “very active” phase familiar to so many parents of toddlers. “He’s totally into everything in the garden, ripping up the plants,” she says. Fortunately, there’s plenty for him to explore. Since late March, the family has been living in Chatham, in a renovated 18th-century Colonial house that once served as a general store, and that provides easy access to the sort of fresh, wholesome foods (grains, beans, nuts and seeds) and seasonal produce Chaplin is known to favor. This is what many people eat or aspire to eat today, but Chaplin, who grew up on a farm in New South Wales, Australia, and honed her skills as a private chef and at restaurants including the now-closed Angelica Kitchen in Manhattan, is able to transform her healthful ingredients — often with the help of fermented garnishes — into complex, craveable dishes, examples of which fill her two award-winning cookbooks, “At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen” (2014) and “Whole Food Cooking Every Day” (2019).
Of course, the pandemic has changed the meaning of “every day,” and Chaplin has in turn noticed a shift in her cooking. “In the beginning, I was determined to test recipes and make gluten-free sourdough,” she says. “My mind-set was very much ‘use this time!’” As weeks turned into months, she adopted a less structured approach, partly because she’s been caring for Ezra full time and has less energy to prep. “Some days I’m so tired I don’t want to soak my rice, but I do,” she says. Fiber-rich brown rice, that is. This is an essential for Chaplin, who uses it for various comfort foods, among them onigiri, or rice balls, though they’re often more triangular in shape. A common snack in Japan, they usually feature pickled or fermented fillings. Chaplin would eat them as a teenager in Sydney in the early ’90s, when she first became interested in healthy, holistic cuisine, and soon after trained at a Dutch-Japanese restaurant specializing in macrobiotic cooking, the aim of which is to balance the acidic with the alkaline. Her current go-to recipe for onigiri isn’t strictly macrobiotic, but it does pay tribute to the ideas of symmetry — with the plum offsetting the rice and vinegars — and simplicity. “When you focus on good ingredients prepared carefully, you feel calm, satisfied and grounded,” she says, summing up the philosophy that’s shaped her entire career.